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Education in Nigeria: The Missteps, the Gaps (Part One) By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju

April 8, 2013

Somewhere in the mid 1970s, someone in government woke up inebriated and proposed the abolition of civics as a subject in Nigerian primary schools. With that singular act, the slide southward in educational standard, ethics and civic responsibility in Nigeria started. A parallel to this can be drawn with the American policy of truncating geography in K12 curriculum in America. As a result, Americans are largely ignorant about other countries of the world. Most Americans think of Africa as a country and people like Sarah Palin out of complete ignorance sees the Kremlin from her bathroom.


Somewhere in the mid 1970s, someone in government woke up inebriated and proposed the abolition of civics as a subject in Nigerian primary schools. With that singular act, the slide southward in educational standard, ethics and civic responsibility in Nigeria started. A parallel to this can be drawn with the American policy of truncating geography in K12 curriculum in America. As a result, Americans are largely ignorant about other countries of the world. Most Americans think of Africa as a country and people like Sarah Palin out of complete ignorance sees the Kremlin from her bathroom.

Why is Nigeria getting everything wrong? Our missteps are a legion. From the abolition of teachers grade II, A-Level etc. Now the country seeks to scrap NECO, castrate JAMB and strengthen the ingrained inefficiencies and monopoly of WAEC. We must know that the so called human capital is all about education. We cannot harness our human capital if those humans are uneducated or miseducated. The consequences of a poorly educated populace are dire, especially for a country desperately in need of foreign investment with a literacy rate of less than 60%. No matter how you dissect it, there is no short cut to national greatness. No nation can achieve meaningful socio-economic, political, technological and cultural advancement without solid educational investment in its citizens. With incessant policy rollbacks, poor funding and lack of direction; how can we expect to equip our youth with the necessary attitudes, knowledge and skills that will enable them contribute meaningfully to national and human development and compete on the global stage? 


In every facet of our national life, we are content violating the rule of hole; which states that when you are in one, stop digging. The distinguishing characteristics of education in Nigeria are ballooning growth without measurable development, increasing quantity with declining quality year over year and lack of consistency in policy. Our policy makers are an integral part of the corrupt elite and they have taken Nigerians hostage. Their wards attend elite private schools for their early childhood education, attend the best private secondary schools and proceed to Europe or America for tertiary education. They have no incentive to revamp the system. When they do, they create overlapping agencies with duplicate functions to accommodate cronies and to have more access to the federal gravy train.


The first missteps on education in Nigeria came through faults in policy implementation and frequent changes in government during the military era. It has continued with succeeding democratic governments. Every succeeding government painted the previous one as unfocused and unpatriotic. Education was not spared. They abolished old policies and guidelines, enacted new ones and established new agencies with new mandates. Due to these frequent changes, successive governments have not been able to create the enabling environment for the achievement of set goals and objectives defined in the national policy on education. All kinds of digits have been assigned to "visions" like vision 2010, 2020 and so on. We got hung up on bombast instead of staying on point. These policy somersaults especially as it affects education has led to poor funding, decaying infrastructure, declining teacher quality, poor renumeration and the consequent poor student performance in WASC, NECO, JAMB and finally miseducated and unemployable graduates.


Up to 1975, Nigeria recognized teachers as indispensable human resource and the most important element in the educational system. The teacher was treated as the pivot on which we hinged our educational development. Right from the Teacher Training Colleges, teachers are taught to interpret the aims and objectives of education and ensure that the children are educated in fulfillment of those aims and objectives. At the Teacher Training Colleges, teachers chose to be teachers and took on teaching as a vocation. These set of teachers bred the excellent minds of today. Unfortunately the last set of good teachers to come out of Teacher Training Colleges graduated in 1976 and they are due to retire soon. Somewhere along the line, someone decided to abrogate a tested system that has served us well in early childhood education; the very foundation of learning. Teachers Grade II Certificate was scrapped. National Certificate of Education (N.C.E) was decreed as the minimum standard. The National Teachers Institute (NTI) got the job to train Grade II teachers and bring them up to speed in line with the N.C.E curriculum. In no time, the NTI became an avenue for monumental corruption like every other parastatal of Nigerian government. No teacher failed, none was retired for failing to make the cut. Grades were routinely bought and everyone passed.

Since 1970, Nigeria has had three different iterations on educational policy; 1977, 1981 and most recently 2004. In 2004, a new National Policy on Education was formulated with new guidelines on teacher education. In summary, it states that teacher education will:
a. Produce highly motivated classroom teachers at all levels
b. Encourage creativity in teachers.
c. Help teachers to fit into the community and enhance their commitment to national goals.
d. Provide teachers with the professional background to make them adaptable to changing situations.
e. Enhance teachers commitment to their profession.

Teachers in Nigeria's educational institutions are expected to be professionally trained. The policy, like every document Nigeria produces (Usually a wholesale reproduction of other countries policies.) started on moony futuristic note, was chock-full of grand abstractions and objectively disordered. However, it recognizes that:
1. Teachers must be trained and be competent
2. Teacher Education must be reformed to improve quality at elementary, secondary and tertiary education levels. 
2. Educators must be certified. 

Like all else in our national life, the National Policy on Education exists on paper without any serious or measurable attempt at implementation. Today Nigeria's educational system continues its death spiral. Teacher's education and training is totally absurd. The prevailing condition on teachers's education now is; secondary school leavers from poor socioeconomic background and or those with poor grades are herded into Colleges of Education and polytechnics because of their low entry requirements. In Nigeria of today, no one wants to attend trade school anymore. Everyone wants a college degree, they will only entertain other options unless they fail to get into a university. Professor Peter Okebukola in a lecture delivered at the launch of Alfred Debbie Opal Foundation, Lagos, 15th July 2010 summed it up very nicely: 
“What I find pathetic is that the dregs of the class, those who are among the bottom 10 are the ones who apply to colleges of Education. They may have three credits, get in through pre-NCE, and after a lot of patch-patch, bribing and cheating, manage to make up to two merits with which they can combine with their ‘O’ level to apply for a B.Ed in the university. At the university, they are loaded with education courses and graduate with a 2.1 without any knowledge really.”
Prof. Okebukola should know. He was a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC). Like everyone else, during his tenure he was powerless about The nation's falling educational standards. This nation's ills defies the cures of lone men and women. The system either co-opts or emasculates lone voices.


During my time as an undergraduate and up till this moment, the university admission policy in Nigeria does no good to the teaching profession. Students who end up reading education are mainly those whose cut-off marks do not secure them a place in the course of their first or second choice. It is an established fact that faculties of education are populated by rejects who have no interest in the profession they are being trained in. The lack of motivation and extreme ridicule starts from school. We refer to them as "Oja Dugbe" that is, Dugbe market. A reference in derision of their "all comers" status. These students graduate in frustration and take up teaching for lack of alternatives. What result can one get out of a teacher who took up teaching out of frustration not by choice? What do we hope to get in performance terms without genuine interest from accidental teachers? In addition, graduates of political science, sociology and the sciences routinely crash the teaching profession for lack of opportunities after years on wandering on the streets. 

Nigerians love to pay lip service to teacher education, classroom infrastructure, teaching aids and renumeration but no one does anything. Cliches such as "teachers are the bedrock of any modern society" gets traction only in debates and feel good conversations. Teachers are no longer assured of employment in Nigeria. The prerequisite for employment into anywhere now is a letter from your Senator or Representative. Every politician and their mothers' and wives now has slots that they fill up with children of their cronies. Merit stands no chance in our national equation. To be a teacher these days is to belong to the lowest rung of the food chain. At a time in Ondo State in the late 1990s landlords were beginning to reject teachers as tenants; a state whose mainstay used to be education. Market women no longer offer them credit because they were owed back salaries and could not pay their creditors. The teacher is no longer revered or respected as it was till the mid 1970s. He is not even recognized, the neighborhood tailor had more worth. In no time, this cascading disaster found its way into tertiary education. Since its only a foolish goose that goes into a fox's church, the massive defection of our academia to saner climes began. We lost our best and brightest to brain drain. With exploding population, schools are notoriously understaffed due to faulty projections. The existing classrooms cannot accommodate surging young population, new classrooms are not being built at the pace of growth and new school are not opening. The teacher student ratio is often in excess if 1:25. In the Universities, lectures for courses like General Paper and certain electives like Introduction to Computers and Math 101 can only be held in amphitheaters. Students often exceed 250 per class session with a hapless Professor and his assistant in a steamy overcrowded hall. What can be learnt in such an environment?


It is a sad commentary on how indifferent we have become; especially the middle class. Today in Nigeria, rich parents can afford world class education for their wards at all levels while the poor contend with hell class education. Nigeria is a nation of miracle and short cut seekers. This nation covets greatness without investing in its youth, instead it cannibalizes them though its policies and through determined deprivation. I grew up in the early 1970s in rural Nigeria but I had the best teachers a village could boast of. Public education was it! The private schools had no chance because they cannot attract the best teachers. In rural Nigeria, the teacher had no other life than being teachers and beacons. They were the envied middle class. They loved their jobs and were fiercely dedicated to teaching. Today, the role reversal is complete. Nature abhors vacuum, with surging demand, the private schools mushroomed and picked up the slack. Every charlatan with some money now owns a school. The easiest way to riches if you are not a politician or top civil servant is to establish a church or a school. Churches and schools are the new holy grail of wealth acquisition.
    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters