An important event this week is the reopening of schools for most our children. They will be resuming tomorrow as you read these notes, and it is important we reflect on the state of education in the country. I say most, not all, because in reality many other schools opened two weeks ago in conformity to the British school calendar. Why are some schools in an independent Nigeria following the British school calendar? A passerby might ask.
The plain answer to such question will be “because some schools, called international schools, follow the British curriculum and their students sit British international exams.” If you are unlucky enough, and your interlocutor goes on to ask, “Why do some schools and students in an independent Nigeria follow the British curriculum and their students sit British international exams?” At that point your answer will have to be a painful “because these international curriculums and exams have values and recognition that most Nigerian schools can barely dream of achieving.” Thank heaven, political correctness will save you, and no interlocutor will ask if there is Ministry of Education in Nigeria.
Let us be clear, all parents have the right, even the duty I daresay, of giving their children the best education they can possibly find and afford. It is a private affair, so let no government official dare dream of meddling with this sacrosanct right and duty. Publicly as a country, we must, however, ask ourselves how the government and we as a people feel about the current state of our education. If you think having schools and qualifications that cannot compete with those of the rest of the world is just bad, you are wrong. It is a disaster. If you think having schools full of and producing students that cannot read and write properly and articulate their thoughts and aspirations clearly is sad, you are wrong. It is catastrophic.
If we want to proficiently address the state of education in Nigeria, we must first understand and accept that we have a serious crisis in our hands and consequently declare a state of emergency in the sector. I have not heard those in charge of the country’s affairs say so, but the fact is that nothing will work in Nigeria if education does not work; I wonder if they know that.
Luckily, but also sadly for us, the situation has not always been this way. There was a golden age in Nigerian education and it went beyond the 1960s when Sir Eric Ashby, a president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and a master in Cambridge University, chaired a commission which concluded that education in Nigeria was as good as the best in the world. There was a time not too long ago when Nigerian schools, from secondary to university, were still considered amongst the best in the world. Just in Lagos, students from schools like Igbobi College, Kings College, CMS Grammar School, Queens College, Methodist Boys High School, Holy Child College, and St. Gregory College, were known to stand tall amongst their peers from anywhere in the world. Today they are shadows of their past. Something went wrong somewhere.
What went wrong, when and where?
We don’t know where many of those governing us went to school and we don’t know what experiences, inspirations or aspirations they had in their school days, so we can’t boldly ask them to go back there to revisit it and relive them for some hours; we don’t know if they were part of the golden age.
Those who went to those great schools and were part of that golden age need little remembering to understand that beyond the obvious mix of good dedicated teachers and a sound curriculum, what made their schools great was a shared ethos of greatness, a sense of belonging to something important and the continuous practice of taking responsibility for their houses, their classes, their schools, and their nation.
These combinations led them to actively participate in debates and quizzes, sporting competitions and civic engagements that were in turn good for the country as a whole.
Those who went to those great schools need little remembering to understand that they stood on the shoulders of giants, they will remember the roles of their old boys and girls in keeping their schools great. It is now their own turn to look back and give back to their schools.
Dear old boys and girls, there is an emergency out there, your schools need you and you owe them. Those who can, should find ways of giving some of their ideas, money and time back to their school to make it great again; today is the time to start.
As for those elected and paid to manage the education in the country, this is the time to revisit your roles and understand that you are dealing with one of the most important parts of the country’s life. It is time to renew your vows, and recommit yourself. As our children go back to school tomorrow, the minister of education and her team should decide what they want these students to achieve by the end of the year, identify what they need to achieve those goals, and put in place the necessary process to achieve them.