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Jean Clare Oge Igwegbe: Fixing Nigeria’s Broken Educational System



I was privileged to be a participant at an education seminar where we discussed how the nation can move its educational sector forward, in order to bring out the geniuses in our children. Alero Ayida-Otobo gave quite an amazing speech with a strong theme that hit a nerve or two in me; Rooted in reality: Anchored on Hope.

There is no gainsaying the fact that we have a failed educational system. There are approximately 10.5 million children out of school in Nigeria (about 47% of the global out-of-school population) and almost one in five out-of-school children in the world is Nigerian. Hold on! 10.5 million children? That is 2 Finlands and 3 Switzerlands out of school.

Our educational system is so unsupportive that the socioeconomic status of the family you were born into informs your chances of having an education first, before they think about the quality of this education. I call it Accident of Birth; they didn’t choose their families, they just found themselves there. It could have been anyone – Unfair!

Again, let’s look at statistics. Approximately 41% of Nigeria’s almost 190 million population is estimated to be 14 years and below and 70% below 30 years. When I relate this statistic to the widely established strong correlation between an effective educational system and national development, I shudder to think of what our fate would be in the coming years if we do not salvage the situation. Well, I really don’t know how to sugar coat it but the stark reality is that we are a failed nation. We need to wake up for our sake and that of our children.

No child is born a nuisance. Everyone on earth is endowed with a particular natural ability that can be fully developed to their full potentials.

Whichever way you want to look at it, we are so full of talents in this country! I sometimes baffle at the level of creativity we display on social media and would often wish that our environment was a little more conducive, just enough to nurture the budding talents loitering.

The environment and interactions we find ourselves in can either help us harness our gift or contribute to its eternal suppression. Given our dysfunctional social system coupled with the generally outdated curriculums, the archaic learning outcomes and the mass of intellectual dwarfs (a significant percentage, not all) who parade as teachers, it is almost safe to say that most schools in Nigeria have turned into a weapon of mass destruction of talents. How then can we raise geniuses when it seems like such a herculean task to be able to effectively thrive in our current learning and communal environments?

We may have heard stories of some Nigerian geniuses thriving abroad; the Imafidon family, Njideka Akunyili, Isreal Adeboga and the likes. Had they been part of the 10.5 million children, what would have been their fates? Now this is NOT to say that there have not been exceptional geniuses who have emanated from our deficient educational system.

I speak in general terms. I speak for most public schools. I speak for the 10.5 million children out there. They deserve a chance too because even though we are a talented people, a seed can never be expected to blossom in a dry desert land no matter how good it is.

We need to build an effective educational system that widens participation by giving everyone an equal chance at quality education. In order for us to achieve this, we need to look at some critical connected avenues;

Quality of Teachers
We all know that many teachers who were recruited into our public schools were not subjected to standard tests prior to their engagement (peep what’s currently going on in Kaduna).

A lot of them are teaching to keep busy or simply because of the inabilities to get desired jobs hence the large number of mechanical incompetent “role models” shaping the future of children.

We need teachers that can see the future in children and create that future in the NOW for the child. There is a dire need to establish a standard system to critically screen the competency of teachers. A teacher must first see him/herself as a parent and as a counsellor to the children before anything.

Also, TRAININGS cannot be overstated when it come to our teachers. For instance, there are childhood behavioural disorders (such as Attention Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder – ADHD), that can slow down the learning process of a child which most of our teachers don’t know about. Of course if they are not able to identify these behaviours, they would not be able to effectively manage them.

Learning Strategies
We need to reengineer the learning process by broadening the narrow definition of CURRICULUM which tends to define learning outcomes.

We are so fixated in the traditional way of learning that our strategies are structured in such a way that caps one’s thinking; giving little room for some critical thinking. Just because Chioma answered a question logically outside of the marking scheme does not necessarily make her wrong. In real life, there are times when different avenues can get one to a desired solution. Logical/critical thinking are therefore very vital life skills. Our schools need to put these in consideration while setting yardsticks for learning outcomes.

Learning style
Evidence has shown that a one-size fits all approach does not always work, because as students are different, so are their learning pace and styles. The famous Chris Imafidon was born autistic. Today, his family is regarded as Britain’s brainiest family as he is a father of 5 geniuses. I was opportune to hear him speak at the seminar as he told of how even his set of twins did not follow the same curriculum in growth and learning pace even though both are geniuses. Now how much more tens (sometimes hundreds) of students sat in a class? Students would generally connect with teachers of the same learning tribe as them and hence learn better. The others would have understood better but for the style of presentation and perhaps pace, feeding back in my next point of tweaking the traditional style of learning.

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. – William Shakesphere

Vocational Courses
I think education should be structured in such a way that it is not just academics that would be a key to unlock our full potentials. We are all born creative. We are just creative in different ways. Some people are able to identify their talents more easily while others may need a nudge to identify theirs. Some clearly don’t have aptitude for academic work, but are great with their hands. Curriculums should be inclusive of vocational courses for children to choose.

Subjects like music and language courses SHOULD NOT be extracurricular. Teachers and parents alike need to be able to help children discern the difference between the talent they love and admire and the talents they have but don’t admire yet. So, if you, as a teacher, do not have the basic skills required to teach, you either build the skills or you have no business within the confines of an educational system.

There are several really peng private schools across the country doing fantastic jobs. But if we are being realistic, numerous families cannot even the basic cost of sending a child to school for a day. On the other hand, the state of many of our public schools is really quite saddening. Our public schools need funding to provide adequate educational materials and an enabling environment. One’s standard of education should not depend on the wealth of the family that they were born into. We may build all the infrastructure we like but if our education system remained the way it is; neglecting the children and/or churning out incompetent millions, we will only be providing these youths with defensible reasons to rebel against a society that failed them.

Only people with skills and knowledge can drive our developmental initiatives. Effective education expands the quality of what we are looking for.

There is a creative energy in our nation. Perhaps ignited by all the religious activities going on, or perhaps our unique talents as a people is ‘follow come’, but anchored by our deficient social and educational system. Whatever the case may be, we need not ignore the failing system threatening the thrive of these talents else we may see the rise in Finlands and Switzerlands in our country.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Jean Clare Ogechi Okpala is a public health and development professional. She is particularly focused on mental health initiatives that involve children, adolescents, women and girls. She is also a researcher, content creator and writer. She blogs at: IG: jean_deroy Twitter: jean_deroy

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