By Segun Ogunlade
True education is supposed to help us experience our environment, question it deeply to find the different options that exist in it, and then choose the ones to embrace as a matter of urgency. But we don’t do any of these. To be educated in an ideal world means to upgrade one’s capability to solve complex problems. You cannot solve complex problems without first questioning your environment.
Many things have been said about many Nigerian students knowing the theoretical solutions to problem but never the practical solution. Yet, the latter supersedes the former in the order of importance. You could know all the theories and laws in the whole wide world but if you cannot demonstrate what you know by using it to solve real-life problems, your knowledge is as good as useless. You could know 2x plus 2x to be 4x, but if you cannot use that answer to solve any problem in your environment, that in itself is problematic.
Unfortunately, what the Nigerian educational system is best suited for is to make us know the theory of everything but rarely use those theory to solve the myriads of problems besetting our nation.
The educational system that produces us is one that is based on what is and not what can be. We were trained, not to question things, but to accept them the way they are. But that is not the true essence of education. True education is supposed to help us experience our environment, question it deeply to find the different options that exist in it, and then choose the ones to embrace as a matter of urgency. But we don’t do any of these. To be educated in an ideal world means to upgrade one’s capability to solve complex problems. You cannot solve complex problems without first questioning your environment.
Being educated also means availability to different options and not limiting oneself to only one option. Imagine you need a new phone and your prayer to God or whatever you believe in is to give you money so you could buy it. By praying that way, you have unintentionally locked yourself out of other options that exist. It means if you don’t make enough money, you will never buy a new phone. But buying is not the only way to possess. The end purpose of purchase is ownership but it is not the only way. That is why a truly educated person would have prayed instead that he needs a new phone and keeps options open.
Whether he buys the phone with his money or someone buys it for him, the end result is the same – he has a new phone. That is the mistake we often make. We all believe the only way to own is to buy what other people have made. What if we produce for ourselves the things that we need? Nature has given us enough resources to make that happen, we just fail to see it.
As you would have also noticed, our academic training is tilted towards getting a certificate and using it to get a job. That is why there are many unemployed graduates who still think the only way to live is to get a job. We were not trained to solve problems in our society but to buy our way over the problem without ever fixing it. That is why we are busy making money just so we could buy the products of inventions from other climes whereas they are busy using the products of their invention to take our money away. While we save money to buy the next big gadget in the market, they are thinking of how to make money by taking the next big gadget to the market for sale.
By being good buyers in the world market, our money goes to solve some of the economic problems of the countries we buy from while our economy suffers a perpetual lack of money. If we had been producers, we would have retained a lot of money in our economy and that would have gone a long way in helping our economy develop. I am confident that when we start many of the things we need locally, we will also retain a large chunk of money in our economy and the federal government wouldn’t gave to always pump money into the economy to sustain it.
Our inability to question things, including the activities of our leaders, has made us people that produce what we couldn’t consume and consume what we couldn’t produce. When people gather in academic boardroom in advanced countries, they are thinking of how to make. But when they gather in our country, they are thinking of how to buy. That culture has made us the best buyers in the world. That inability has also eliminated our choices and we are left to think that the only way to be civilised is to be like the Europeans and the Americans. But the fact is that a man without options is like a slave. The two of them don’t control what happens to them, thereby lacking control over their necessary human experiences. By not experiencing and questioning our environment, we have locked ourselves out of options. That is why we have failed at everything people in other climes are successful in because we want to copy the options they exploited. That inability to understand what works best for us in relation to our peculiar problems is why we don’t seem like people that could ever grow beyond our problems.
It is not as if the Europeans or the Americans are better than we are. If the circumstances surrounding us as Nigerians change, we could do the unthinkable. That is why many Nigerians thrive outside the shores of the country and become success at what they fail at back at home. Average kids in a public school in the U.K. or the U.S. where we like to copy things from learn in the best possible environment. His lessons are held in a classroom that is suited for learning and well ventilated. His desks and chairs are strong and not rickety. He has a school councillor that could guide him in some of his decision. All these are not enjoyed by an average kid in a public school in Nigeria. Yet, we expect the same kid to compete with the kid from the U.K or the U.S.
The fault of in our educational system is that of systemic failure that we are all victims of by being born as Nigerians. By being born a Nigerian, one is naturally disadvantaged because of the unavailability of some of the things that could aid his mental development. We suffer from lack of things that should have been made available to use by the government. We have to provide for ourselves what people in other countries get from their government. All these factors combine to affect our mental concentration that when we finally made little success, all we think about is to show people that we have left the struggling class by rushing off to buy things that we thought could make life easy for us. But we never sit down to think about producing some of those things so as to ease our struggle. The few amongst us that try to produce some of those things we buy from other countries are not supported because we are used to everything that is not produced within our borders.
The problem is with the government as is it with the governed. We could blame the government for spending too little on education but that could raise the question of what has been achieved with the little that have been made available to stakeholders in the sector. Many countries that don’t have the resources we have in Nigeria have better educational system. That shows our problem is self-inflicted. The choices we make regarding the management of our resources will determine the type of our country we will have.
The difference between thriving countries and struggling countries is the management of resources. If with all our education we couldn’t manage our resources, it is as good as not being educated at all. Education is supposed to help us solve our complex problem and to help us live our lives better. Anything contrary to this is an abuse of its purpose.
We need to design a curriculum that is suitable to answering some of the questions we have. We need an educational system that would make us think as producers and not being contented with being buyers.
We need an educational system that is aimed at promoting Science, Technology and Engineering because that it is the direction the world is tilting towards now. Very few countries still groom its citizens to take up jobs in government ministries and agencies before they could live a good life. To compete with the rest of the world, we need to design a new curriculum that is made for producers and not buyers by being scientific and technological-minded.
The government has a lot to do in this regard by providing enough funds to conduct research in universities and other institutes. All our resources shouldn’t be used to service political offices and offsetting foreign debts. Stakeholders in the sector even have more work to do in redesigning the educational curriculum in line with modern requirements.
Segun Ogunlade is a Public Affairs Analyst.