What Manner of Education? 3
Having examined the various areas we have problems with our education, let us proceed to consider the ways we can revive it and make it relevant to our needs.
We must address the fundamental essence of education – development of our ideas. This is a very promising dimension we can tap in to improve our socio-economic situation. Instead of forcing foreign stuff into our minds, we need to liberate our thinking process. We must expunge the uncountable impossibilities established around us. It costs nothing to think. We dream for free. Why should it be impossible to dream certain dreams just because of the prevailing opinion? Solving this problem will not come easy, and will involve a series of practical steps that will have to be taken and nurtured over a long time for the benefits to mature.
To begin with, we must go back to a strict, impartial and purposeful implementation of the National Policy for Education, NPE, or better still, draw up a similar document at the state level. According to the NPE, students in the junior secondary schools have to take an exam towards the end of their 3-year programme. The JSCE will enable the schools determine which students can actually pursue further formal education. It will test the students’ aptitude for certain areas of study and provide a sense of direction for their future career options. Those who do not have the intellectual prowess to continue academically are meant to proceed to technical schools where they will learn crafts and acquire very useful skills that will make them useful to themselves and the society. Unfortunately, because nothing works in Nigeria – and this is not just about the government; it is also about us – the implementation of this policy has failed. Instead, the JSCE has become a “junior WAEC”; just one of those exams taken to proceed to senior secondary school. Consequently, individuals who have very good talents end up forcing themselves into areas they have no prowess in.
A number of reasons are responsible for this trend. One is the inability of various governments to share in this vision of the NPE. It is a treatment that is meted to most policy documents in Nigeria. Sharing in this vision would enable governments to draw up practical steps to implement it. The State Ministry of Education for instance, can set up a good number of technical schools where these non-academic-oriented students can pursue other careers. There is a problem of acceptability, which is also an attitudinal problem even on the part of educated people. We love glamour. We want to wear fashion clothes, sit in air-conditioned offices and drive in vehicles marked with green number plates. We think technical jobs and other creative jobs are inferior and meant for poor people. We stigmatized such jobs and those who do them. One way to make this path of education appealing to people is to evolve very sound and visionary policies in this regard. We would have to draft the curriculum for these schools to include basic subjects like English and communication skills so that the technical student too is able to speak glamorous English, dress well and communicate effectively. This will elevate their self-esteem.
However, government will not have to rely on goodwill alone. We would have to make laws that empower schools to screen junior school students independent of any external interference. The JSCE would then be an important exam for those transiting from junior to secondary school, and its result should be made a mandatory requirement for admission into senior school. Once a certain minimum standard is not met, the owner of that result should be forwarded to a technical school. This has to be established by a law accompanied by strictly-implemented sanctions across both public and private schools. The practice should be driven home firmly even to the interior villages. The standard must be set, and the reputation must be made that a new non-negotiable order has come. If the state is going to be responsible for providing jobs for its people; if it’s going to be responsible for their welfare, then it must have a say in how they are trained.
If implemented, this policy will shift attention from certificates. It will save us the agony of cracking our brains trying to deal with exam malpractice. It will reduce pressure on our academic institutions. It will reduce the number of unskilled graduates seeking jobs and threatening national security because of idleness. It will also impart a sense of purpose and personal fulfillment in these citizens so trained. Economically, these gentlemen will surprise the society with how much creativity they possess. They can create wonderful innovations that if invested in on industrial scale, will provide tremendous job opportunities and create products that will find new markets everywhere around the world.
To be continued.