Kaduna’s problem is our problem too
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.