I recently wrote a Business Pitch document for my small firm and at some point I spoke of the prospect of selling societal magazines in the North “due to the high level of literacy in the region”. That was one part of the document I am sure intending investors will not understand, even me, I almost did not understand it because the idea that there is “illiteracy” everywhere in the North has spread, like one of those new meaningless songs, in virtually every household in the South. That almost everyone in the North can read and write Hausa and/or Arabic is somehow not literacy, they must read and write English to be said to be able to “read and write”. So you find people who say “how come he went to school for that long and he cannot speak good English”. But a more reasonable question would have been “how come he went to school and he can only speak English”.
If education is, among other things, supposed to prepare us to meet the world, then the most spoken language in the world should count even when we acknowledge that for this same reason of orientation it is not widely spoken. More people speak Spanish than they speak English, and the people who speak Chinese in the world triple, in number, those who speak English. But in our narrow perception of education, if you can’t speak a particular brand of English you are not literate. This narrowness is recognized and approved of, sadly, even by our higher institutions so that the very first education that our schools need is that English, it itself, is not the whole of education; English is a language.
Some may argue that English is given this high premium because it is the lingua franca of the country but there is nothing in the psychology of education that says education should be done in the lingua franca, if anything, there is much that says it should be done in the language of birth of the person to be educated. To borrow the brilliance of Olakunle Soriyan, everything in a room is Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics as far as education classifies them. Any nation which teaches these 4 in a language other than the language of birth of its children is already disadvantaged because they first have to learn the language before learning the knowledge. We say that less emphasis be given to English in courses that are not related to English. This way a man who knows economics, commerce, and trade, in and out, can be an authority in finance and business even if all he understands of language is Igbo. As earlier stated, I believe educated people in our time should speak more than one language but if they must speak just one language it should be either the language of their birth or the language of their choice, not the language of the school’s forcing. It’s putting them in advantaged position.
The second area in which our schools need education is the area of testing. Often times what is tested is the memory of the student not his knowledge. If a Mathematics question is posed and there are 15 steps to solving it, a student will fail if the formula escapes him even if he remembers and knows too well 14 of the 15 steps. Another student who does not know 14 of the 15 steps will pass better because he remembers the formula and step 1. This is testing memory, and still, in a very wrong way. Another example will be a student who understands the question, knows the answers but forgot the exact terms to be used. He will not pass as well as the one who remembers the key words even if he does not understand the concept. This is poor manner of testing that needs review.
Someone asked how exams can be done over the internet and my answer to him was you do not think exams can be done over the internet because of what you have come to know as exams; an event during which you are to remember what you were told and write it down. But if we truly want to educate people then exams should be an exercise during which your understanding, grasp, and ability to utilize information is assessed, so that the needed information (including the formula) can even be presented to you during it. This way, you can have the internet to yourself and you still will be unable to cheat because you are not being asked to recall the information but you are being told to work with the information. This will expand the possible achievement of a student as what comes out of him will not be some narrowly guided reproduction but a creative interpretation and utilisation of information.
When I did my project I wrote a lot under recommendations and I thought I will impress my Professor. Yes, I did impress my Professor, but then he told me I must strike out those suggestions and his reason was that I was not qualified to make them not that they are not good, creative and possible. I was not qualified to give an opinion, I could only repeat opinions given by others and say I support them. This is the third problem of our educational system; excessive emphasis on rankings and restricting achievements on the basis of that. You need to have been to primary school to go to secondary school. You need to have been to secondary school to go to a University or a polytechnic. You need to have been to a University to be an authority in a field. The students seem to have learnt this. That is why for them it is get to school, be in school, do what you are told, graduate and see what happens.
How about operating a more open and flexible system where qualifications are not within such restricted definition. Imagine a young man who chooses to create an NGO at the age of 18. He does community work for the next 5 years and when he is 23 he decides to go into a University to study Sociology or Social Works. His achievements so far on the field will not count, he will have to score over 200 in jamb and pass a number of secondary school subjects including Mathematics. If only we allow ourselves to define academic achievements a little bit beyond exams and pass marks, then we will have students carrying out voluntary researches, some of which can be funded by the Universities. Why exactly are research projects restricted to final year students and at the end of their study? How about opening up to more work that are not constricted to these timing and structure. How about finding a way to make voluntary work, findings, and discoveries part of academic achievements no matter in what level of study it is done? Imagine what that will do for our community in terms of development.
Lastly, our Universities and Polytechnics are the largest gathering of young people who are supposed to be productive. University of Benin for example had 40,000 students as at 2010 but not a single service in the city is known to be rendered inside the school. Hundreds of students are studying computers and its engineering but there is no computer workshop to service the over one million residents of the city and in turn empower students with practical skill, experience and financial support. Hundreds of students are studying Agriculture and there is almost no farm from which the millions of people in the state, or at least students within the school, can get food at affordable prices which will in turn empower students of Agriculture with practical skill, experience and financial support. The same can be said of other fields and other Universities but for want of space. It goes to one issue; our schools have not come to see education and knowledge as something that should be functional. It seems to just be an exercise in stress and ranking based on figures assigned to reproduced information.
In summary, to ensure that our schools give education and shun out productive people, we must first educate it and to that effect, four major areas is humbly suggested here; flexibility in language of education, utilization of more productive testing patterns, broadening perspective on achievement and ranking, and emphasising functionality.
If you won’t agree with anything I have said so far you will at least agree that our education system needs discussion and better ideas. If you won’t take any example to portray this you will at least be alarmed by the lack of originality in the project works submitted year in year out and the fact that almost every University graduate needs to be trained in his field of work and study when he gets to his work place. We can’t keep wasting human resources in this manner. Something needs to be done and I hope these ideas flesh the conversation a little.