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

I had the privilege of attending a seminar on education where we discussed how the nation can advance its education sector to bring out the geniuses in our children. Alero Ayida-Otobo gave a pretty amazing speech with a strong theme that touched a nerve or two in me; Rooted in Reality: Rooted in Hope.

It is undeniable that we have a failing education system. There are approximately 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria (about 47% of the world’s out-of-school population) and nearly one in five out-of-school children globally is Nigerian. Wait! 10.5 million children? That is 2 Finns and 3 Swiss without schooling.

Our education system is so unsupportive that the socio-economic status of the family you were born into first informs your chances of getting an education, before they think about the quality of that education. I call it Birth Accident; they didn’t choose their family, they just ended up there. It could have been anyone – Unfair!

Again, let’s look at the statistics. It is estimated that about 41% of Nigeria’s approximately 190 million people are aged 14 and under and 70% are under 30 years old. When I relate this statistic to the widely established strong correlation between an effective education system and national development, I shudder to think of what our fate would be in the years to come if we did not save the day. Well, I really don’t know how to sugar coat it, but the harsh reality is that we are a bankrupt 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 its full potential.

However you want to see it, we are so full of talent in this country! I am sometimes baffled by the level of creativity we display on social media and often wish our environment was a little more conducive, just enough to nurture the budding talent hanging around.

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 Given our dysfunctional social system coupled with generally outdated curricula, archaic learning outcomes, and the mass of intellectual dwarfs (a significant percentage, not all) who parade as teachers, it’s almost safe to say that the Most schools in Nigeria have turned into a weapon of mass talent destruction. How then can we raise geniuses when it seems like such a Herculean task to be able to thrive effectively in our current learning and community environments?

We may have heard stories of Nigerian geniuses thriving overseas; the Imafidon family, Njideka Akunyili, Isreal Adeboga and others. If they had been part of the 10.5 million children, what would have been their fate? Now, that is NOT to say that there have not been outstanding geniuses that have emanated from our flawed educational system.

I speak in general terms. I’m talking mostly about public schools. I speak on behalf of the 10.5 million children. They also deserve a chance because even though we are a talented people, we can never expect a seed to bloom in an arid desert, no matter how good.

We need to build an effective education system that broadens participation by giving everyone an equal opportunity to benefit from a quality education. For us to achieve this, we need to look at some essential connected avenues;

Teacher quality
We all know that many teachers who have been recruited in our public schools have not been subjected to standard tests before their recruitment (look at what is happening in Kaduna now).

Many of them learn to occupy themselves or simply because of their inability to obtain the desired jobs, hence the large number of incompetent mechanical “role models” who shape the future of children.

We need teachers who can see the future in children and create that future in the NOW for the child. There is an urgent need to establish a standard system for critically assessing teacher competence. A teacher must first see himself as a parent and as an advisor to the children above all else.

Additionally, TRAINING cannot be overstated when it comes to our teachers. For example, there are behavioral disorders in children (such as attention deficit hypersensitivity disorder – ADHD), which can slow down a child’s learning process, which most of our teachers do not know. Of course, if they are unable to identify these behaviors, they will not be able to manage them effectively.

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

We are so obsessed with the traditional way of learning that our strategies are structured in such a way that they limit thinking; leaving little room for critical thinking. Just because Chioma answered a question logically outside of the scoring scheme doesn’t mean she’s necessarily wrong. In real life, there are times when different avenues can lead a person to a desired solution. Logical/critical thinking is therefore a very important life skill. Our schools must take this into account when setting criteria for learning outcomes.

learning style
Evidence has shown that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work, because as students are different, so are their pace and learning styles. The famous Chris Imafidon was born autistic. Today, his family is considered the smartest family in Britain as he is the father of 5 geniuses. I had the opportunity to hear him speak in the seminar as he recounted how even his set of twins did not follow the same schedule of growth and pace of learning, even though both are geniuses. Now, how many dozens (sometimes hundreds) of students sat in a class? Students usually connected with teachers from the same learning tribe as them and therefore learned better. The others would have understood better without the style of presentation and perhaps the pace, 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

Professional courses
I think education should be structured in such a way that not only academics would be the key to unlocking our full potential. 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 little help identifying theirs. Some obviously have no aptitude for academic work, but are gifted with their hands. Programs should include vocational courses of the children’s choice.

Subjects like music and language classes SHOULD NOT be extracurricular. Teachers and parents need to be able to help children discern the difference between talent they love and admire and talent they have but do not yet admire. So if you, as a teacher, lack the basic skills required to teach, either you are developing the skills or you have nothing to do within the confines of an education system.

There are several truly peng private schools across the country that are doing a fantastic job. But if we’re realistic, many families can’t even afford the basic cost to send a child to school for a day. On the other hand, the state of many of our public schools is really very sad. Our public schools need funding to provide adequate teaching materials and an enabling environment. The level of education of a person should not depend on the wealth of the family in which he was born. We can build all the infrastructure we like, but if our education system stayed as it is; by neglecting children and/or producing millions of incompetents, we will only provide these young people with defensible reasons to rebel against a society that has failed them.

Only people with skills and knowledge can drive our development initiatives. Effective education increases the quality of what we seek.

There is a creative energy in our country. Perhaps inflamed by all the religious activity going on, or perhaps our unique talents as a people are “follow us,” but anchored by our flawed social and educational system. Either way, we don’t need to ignore the failing system that threatens the flourishing of these talents, or we might see the rise of Finns and Swiss in our country.

Photo credit: The time of dreams

Back To Top