Kaduna’s prob­lem is our prob­lem too

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT COMMENT & DEBATE -

We pre­tend that our ed­u­ca­tion is not in crises. It is. We can choose to live a lie but this can in no way cover up the truth. What hap­pened in Kaduna last month is a pointer to this un­set­tling fact. The state gov­ern­ment tested 33,000 teach­ers in the state on tests meant for pri­mary four pupils. Sixty-six per­cent or 21,780 of them failed the ex­am­i­na­tion.

The news went vi­ral when the state gov­er­nor, Nasir el-Ru­fai, could not hide this dis­turb­ing fact. As usual, we have since moved on. Be­cause we be­lieve it is a prob­lem for Kaduna State; not our con­cern. But it is our prob­lem and it is our con­cern. That test by the Kaduna State gov­ern­ment held the mir­ror and we be­held the ug­li­ness of our hypocrisy.

There can hardly be a big­ger scan­dal than this. It throws up the lin­ger­ing crises in our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem. Th­ese crises are con­sum­ing the na­tion but we do not seem anx­ious to ad­dress them. That th­ese teach­ers are less com­pe­tent than their pupils points to a deeper malaise rooted in the con­flict­ing poli­cies that our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem has been sub­jected to since the Gowon ad­min­is­tra­tion un­wisely, in my view, and in ret­ro­spect, took over mis­sion schools at a time the state gov­ern­ments were in no po­si­tion to prop­erly man­age them. And the sys­temic rot in the sys­tem be­gan.

Pri­mary school ed­u­ca­tion in our coun­try, the real foun­da­tion of a coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tional de­vel­op­ment all over the world, is to­day a pa­thetic vic­tim of the pol­icy sum­m­er­saults that have af­flicted it over the years. At a stage we did not even know which level of gov­ern­ment, fed­eral, state or lo­cal gov­ern­ment, was re­spon­si­ble for the fund­ing of pri­mary schools. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment once thought it wise to as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity for the pay­ment of the salaries of pri­mary school to, I be­lieve, lessen the grow­ing bur­den on the states dur­ing our long trek through the tun­nel of mil­i­tary ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The gov­ern­ment later threw this heavy re­spon­si­bil­ity back to the state gov­ern­ments, most of whom were, and are, un­able to help the teach­ers feed them­selves and their fam­i­lies. It is un­fair to ex­pect hun­gry teach­ers to put in their best for the pupils en­trusted to their care. For years, pri­mary school teach­ers are rou­tinely on strike in many of the states, my own state, Benue, not ex­cepted, for most of the year.

I do not think Kaduna State would be the worst case in the fed­er­a­tion. If the same com­pe­tency test were given to teach­ers na­tion-wide, the re­sult would cer­tainly shock the rest of us. Per­haps that would pull us out of our com­pla­cency. The fact is that no one is look­ing over the shoul­ders of th­ese teach­ers any more to pe­ri­od­i­cally as­sess their com­pe­tence and de­vo­tion to duty. In the mis­sion-run schools, we had school in­spec­tors who car­ried out this func­tion. Teach­ers who did not mea­sure up, and were found to be in­ca­pable of mea­sur­ing up, had to drop the chalk and clear them­selves out of the class­rooms.

It does not take rocket science to see that the crises in the pri­mary school sys­tem has a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on our se­condary schools and ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions. We hold our breath ev­ery year when WAEC and NECO are about to re­lease their re­sults. The rate of fail­ure in th­ese ex­am­i­na­tions ought to wake us up to the fact that if we do not so­lid­ify the foun­da­tion of our ed­u­ca­tion from the pri­mary schools, we are but build­ing the ed­i­fices of our higher ed­u­ca­tion on a sink­ing sand. You do not have to be a builder to know that. The cases of col­lapsed build­ings ev­ery year is am­ple ev­i­dence that houses built on poor and rick­ety foun­da­tions have never stood pretty on that foun­da­tion.

It should be a mat­ter of na­tional pride that we have more uni­ver­si­ties than any other African coun­try. But it is also a na­tional shame that the prod­ucts of th­ese in­sti­tu­tions with gleam­ing of­fices and class­rooms, are so poorly ed­u­cated that they are not of much use to them­selves let alone the coun­try. Ex­perts, in­clud­ing min­is­ters of ed­u­ca­tion, have not shied away from ad­mit­ting that a full 80 per cent of our grad­u­ates are hold­ing cer­tifi­cates they did not earn be­cause they were found want­ing in learn­ing, if not also in char­ac­ter.

It is no se­cret that our ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions ex­ist for the chil­dren of the poor. Th­ese are the peo­ple who still have some mea­sure of con­fi­dence in our uni­ver­si­ties and other ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions be­cause they give their chil­dren cer­tifi­cates. The rich cart their chil­dren off to Ghana, Malaysia, In­dia, Europe, the United States of Amer­ica and other coun­tries that still care for their fu­ture and the fu­ture of their lead­ers of to­mor­row by mak­ing ed­u­ca­tion the foun­da­tion of that fu­ture.

Given the level of the crises in our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should de­clare a state of emer­gency in that sec­tor. I have said this be­fore. I of­fer no apol­ogy for re­it­er­at­ing it. We need to re-ex­am­ine what we wish to make of our ed­u­ca­tion. If we agree that the pur­pose of our ed­u­ca­tion should be noth­ing more no­ble than to pro­duce cer­tifi­cated mo­rons, let us ac­cept it as our na­tional pol­icy on ed­u­ca­tion. If, on the other hand, our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem is to pro­duce ed­u­cated chil­dren able to hold them­selves up in the world and con­trib­ute to our na­tional de­vel­op­ment, then let us ac­cept that chal­lenge and take ur­gent and mea­sured steps to ac­tu­alise it. A cos­metic ap­proach to th­ese crises would not do.

We must do this with­out feel­ing squea­mish about it. Let’s go back to the ba­sics. The gen­er­als in their wis­dom scrapped teach­ers train­ing col­leges. The re­sult is that they made teach­ing a dump­ing ground for peo­ple who stop there on their way to bet­ter things. Teach­ers are trained be­cause teach­ing de­mands much more than the abil­ity to wield the chalk. It is un­wise to en­trust our chil­dren to un­trained men and women who have nei­ther the tem­per­a­ment for teach­ing young chil­dren nor the com­mit­ment to the pro­fes­sion. Teach­ers trained at the level of ad­vanced teach­ers train­ing col­leges have not suc­ceeded, as the gen­er­als hoped, to lift pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion to new heights. In their un­trained hands it is sink­ing.

I think we moved too fast and too high for our own good. Time to de­scend from the Olympian height to the val­ley. Let me say this again: if we do not get our pri­mary school ed­u­ca­tion right, we can­not get our se­condary schools and ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions right. Our pre­tence has caught up with us. It can only get worse if we con­tinue the same way and ex­pect dif­fer­ent re­sults.

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