By UGOO ANIETO
It is with deep sadness that I write this open letter to you Dr. Jonathan. At the beginning of this year, I made a personal resolution not to remain silent or wish away the evil on issues that directly or indirectly affect me, especially in my own country Nigeria. This year started on a sad note with struggling Nigerians being made to bear more brunt of the economic woes when in fact, these people have for more than four decades endured the outcomes of poor government policies, corruption, ineptitude and other maladies. Call me ignorant, and in fairness, I am ignorant on issues that border around the removal of a fuel subsidy, perhaps that is what Nigeria actually needs but since I lay no claim to any diploma in Economics, I count myself the least qualified to discuss this matter. ONE thing that comes to mind in all this is that, your government DID NOT make any genuine attempt to “tighten” its belt as it advised Nigerians to do. For example, reports indicate that it would cost nearly a billion Naira to feed you and about the same amount to feed the vice-president, so technically Nigerians would have to go hungry in order to fulfill this “obligation”. Other ridiculous issues abound including the nearly fifty million Naira it would cost Nigerians to buy newspapers for Mr. Sambo alone. I do not know the vendors that Mr. Sambo’s office patronizes nor do I know the number of newspapers he reads in a day but at that cost, it shows the lack of commitment to tackle government waste.
As I said earlier, I am not an economic whiz kid therefore I shall stick to topics I have reasonable competence from now onwards. I do not know whether you are aware that there is no real schooling/education currently happening in Nigeria for the most part. From the primary school to the university it is checkered by mediocrity because less and less qualified teachers teach pupils, less attention is paid to details and far less care is dedicated to actual dynamism of the education industry. What is the obvious result of this kind of “criminal neglect?” (Borrowed from Tosin Otitoju). An unschooled community is better than a poorly schooled one; imagine quack teachers, lawyers, engineers, microbiologists, everything in quackery? Everyone is at risk of been “killed” by this sad development. I do not know exactly where we got it all wrong but I do know that when an illiterate military man took over the government of my country, he entrenched the corruption that was already running in trickles, he unschooled the society and made it a national character for people to abandon hardwork in favour of quick money. Teaching became a profession for the “not too smart” in the Nigerian system and teachers became the laughing stock of the society.
“You must study, study, study” – Lenin’s exhortation to the young communist league members in 1918, when they asked him how best they could contribute to the strengthening of the communist state. For Nigeria to truly become the giant of Africa, we must start now to invest properly in our education system. In fact, education should be declared a national emergency, with the entire schools from primary to the university handed over to a high caliber board comprising of real and time tested intellectuals only for re-organization. What are the key issues to be addressed?
1) A solid primary education: This should not be taken for granted anymore for it is the most vital part and hardest part of educating an individual. Teacher training courses specifically tailored for primary education must be developed and the standard raised to a very high level. It is abominable to have a primary school teacher who mixes tenses and yet we expect this same individual to raise our children. We have to recruit these teachers from the best of the best only and PAY THEM well as if they just got jobs in an oil firm! People shun teaching because it comes with little remuneration given the present comatose state of the Nigerian economy. We would not use money as an incentive less we bring in charlatans too; we must ensure fidelity of this system by constant evaluation of these highly skilled teachers so that we get the best out of our money. We have to delineate the things we want our children to learn in school; the history of Nigeria is a MUST KNOW for every child. It is a big shame and a growing concern that Nigerians now know more about other countries than they know about their own. I was in primary school in the late eighties, early nineties, and those days we knew all governors, all commissioners in our state and all state capitals and we read many of the children’s books. Civic education should be MANDATORY and failure to pass the class should result in non-promotion to the higher class. It should be a criminal offence not to have your child enrolled in school. In fact, children should have 100 percent free education that should include provision of uniforms, essential school supplies, lunch that should be free for kids from lower income homes, medical care and everything that is required to make a child succeed in life unless of course the child decides otherwise in the future. Mastery of at least one Nigerian language should be compulsory; it is becoming an issue of concern that Nigerian children being raised in Nigeria by Nigerian parents are encouraged not to speak their own language by their parents and most especially in some privately owned schools, the late Fela Kuti would call this nonsense COLONIAL MENTALITY.
2) Our secondary school system would use the same work as the primary but this time with a lot of emphasis on individual subjects. English, the arts and the sciences are gradually dying in schools. I learned that most schools currently do not have teachers in specific subjects; in fact, youth corp members, who are like recurring decimals in the Nigerian system, now currently sustain 50 percent of secondary education teaching. We are trying to build important things on the cheap and we are destined for failure. The same aggression I described for the primary school system must be employed here because this serves as a bridge to the ultimate labour industry in Nigeria. Staffing our secondary schools with temporary teachers is suicidal; we must build a solid teacher-based education, the right remuneration, the right supervision and constant evaluation of the curricula. Strict compliance must be enforced, we must let go of mediocre teachers who think teaching our children is a “job” instead of work. As pointed out earlier, for the primary education, we have to emphasize on civic/national orientation. It is disheartening to note that Nigerian children and even older people do not have sufficient knowledge of the history and values of Nigeria. We cannot build a nation on ignorance and mediocrity. A massive re-orientation of our people is very necessary; we must tell them what they need to know about their country so that they will be bold to talk about their country all the time through positive enlightenment. Secondary education should be free or heavily subsidized so that people, who ordinarily would not go to school, could afford to be in school. It should be mandatory that no child would leave school until at least after JS 3 and this should be his choice and not a result of inability of the parents to pay fees. Even at that, the child should have access to alternative education opportunities that does not require him to go to a formal school if he chooses to continue with his education at any point. It is not uncommon to have issues of teenage pregnancy occurring amongst school-aged children and we as a country should do everything possible to keep the girls in school with that pregnancy even if it means alternative schooling.
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3) Tertiary education: This is the biggest problem as far as education is concerned in Nigeria. Nigeria’s tertiary education especially in the sciences and engineering is at least 50 years behind current trends and this is not acceptable for the “giant of Africa”. How can you be producing engineers and scientists who end up working in the banks and government offices only? What has happened to our industries and research facilities? Nigeria is a fertile land as far as research is concerned but years of mismanagement has kept us in the woods. Those who had opportunity of making Nigeria great, wasted Nigeria’s money. To make matters worse, the children of these criminally wealthy do not go the schools where 99 percent of our youths go. At the rate we are going, our diplomas would not be worth anything at all in the next 20 years. We need a critical rescue. Sometime ago, you expressed dismay that only 60% of university lecturers have PhDs in their field, but then I have to tell you than even at that less than 30% have functional PhD degrees that can withstand international standards. I am concerned more in the sciences because Nigeria is in dire need of homegrown scientists now to begin to tackle our myriad of issues and explore the yet unexplored research fields in Nigeria. You asked for the best of the best to be selected for further studies abroad to fill this vacuum, whilst I applaud your dexterity towards solving this issue, I must not fail to remind you that solving a problem goes beyond solving the effects and you should focus on the root cause of this problem. Sending young Nigerians abroad may sound like the best thing to do but cost wise we are not making a bargain. Why don’t we designate some Universities in Nigeria as postgraduate institutions, bring in the best of the best of the professionals in all spheres of life from all over the world, select our best students who are interested in the academia and research and train them 100% free? These students would be paid salaries slightly lower than what the least paid lecturer gets, this is the American way and what does it achieve? It encourages the student to focus on their studies and be the best at what they can. These dream postgraduate universities would be modeled like the very best of the universities in the world where research facilities are open all year round, no power outage and the best of the professors with a proven track of publications and research skills employed from all over the world. These would also include Nigerians in diaspora who want such positions. This is a cost intensive project but would pay off immensely in the future considering that we will be producing our own highly skilled researchers who would not only replace the retiring workforce in regular universities but also go ahead and start their own research laboratories. Our undergraduate institutions must be re-organized to meet the current standards; a university is not just a massive parcel of land with decaying structures but a center of excellence where the best brains are employed. Therefore we must seek affiliation with the best universities around the globe. We must find the means to provide the latest knowledge to our students by streaming important web conferences, encouraging our students to undertake exchange classes, bringing in experts for sabbatical in our universities, etc. Student life and activities must be re-organized as well. We can no longer afford to allow cultism as it is the case in most universities, therefore tough laws must be enacted to tackle this hydra headed monster.
The dream postgraduate school I talked about earlier must have affiliates with the best universities across the globe to ensure that we are at the forefront of research in all fields. Admission standards would have to be high and maintenance of student status equally high in order to make sure that we have those who really desire to be there. You cannot have a good primary, secondary and undergraduate education if you have poorly trained lecturers, who do not have any meaningful standard of evaluation. The time has come to introduce the tenure system in Nigerian universities, where lecturers should be made to earn their place through a carefully mapped out evaluation guidelines, a lecturer who does not pass the evaluation should be let go after a designated time. Time has come when people must not see the university as just a place to get a job; we must do away with mediocrity. I obtained my bachelors and masters degree from a Nigerian university and I did have this lecturer (a professor) during my masters education who required inducements in order to teach his classes. Such a person had no business being employed in the university in the first place but sadly, no one amongst his colleagues could stand up to him to tell him that he was not doing the right thing, so sad.
Dr. Jonathan, there are so many things I would love to tell you but I guess you have an understanding of my concerns about our education. It is outdated, ineffective, riddled with corruption, ineptitude and no has no foresight. The time has also come to get rid of HND certificates too because it creates a lot of work place imbalance and discrimination, with degree holders rubbing in their “superiority” on HND holders, this is very wrong. Please let us have a blue print on converting all the HND granting institutions into degree granting institutions but we have to retain the OND certificates for those who need just that to ply their trade. I urge you to take a bold step toward making Nigeria great again. This is no time to play lip service to corruption and mediocrity; education is the greatest key to economic growth. I also would point out that not everyone would have to obtain formal training therefore; we should also look into other forms of educating our people to provide them with necessary skills for whatever trade they desire. I will be writing you again shortly on other issues in our country.
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