We’re all familiar with the saying, “it’s the little things…
By Olusola Adeyoose
The research work at Igbo Ora, the location of my community posting, has further exposed me to the decay in the Nigerian educational sector. Our first trip was to Igbo Ora Grammar School. We left the premises of the General Hospital in high spirit, eager to relate with secondary school students. Our spirit was however dampened when we got to the site and saw the eyesore.
We were not surprised at the state of the buildings in the school. I was even taken aback as I expected worse. But some politicians have donated buildings to the school probably as part of their constituency projects.
We however did not envisage that a number of their students will have no sandals. They were barefooted in the sandy classrooms; some even had no chairs to sit on. They either sat on the floor or stood by the windows. One would think they were not students. They were like farmers who had come to till the soil.
The principal advised we speak to the students in Yoruba. But we thought he was just being cautious. We were soon confronted with reality when the students interrupted our attempts at oration. ‘E so ni yoruba’ (please address us in Yoruba) they told us, the language of instruction in Igbo Ora Grammar School isn’t English; most of their students don’t understand it. It is Yoruba.
We had to interpret every entry on our questionnaire in Yoruba. SS2 students could not understand what we meant by age in years, father’s occupation, number of siblings, and other biographical information. It was quite stressful explaining all through our questionnaire what we meant by ‘sexual remarks’, ‘politely admires your face’ and other entries in Yoruba.
The experience at the school ruined the day for most us. Not even in clinic have we ever been exposed to that kind of sore. One of my colleagues remarked that she had thought students will complain they didn’t understand courses like physics and chemistry because those require some level of abstraction. But here in Igbo Ora, students preparing for the SSCE cannot even read or write.
We chose to assess sexual harassment and mental health status of secondary school students because sexual harassment is underreported and adolescents are a vulnerable group. But after the trip to Igbo Ora Grammar School, we had to adjust the research methodology to include only students in SS1-3.
But despite that and our efforts in explaining the questionnaires in Yoruba, we still got many unintelligible entries. A student wrote ‘kapter’ (carpenter) as father’s occupation. Another wrote tainor (tailor). I’m yet to decipher which occupation one of the students who likely is a wordsmith meant by ‘asimble’.
There was largely no difference between all the public schools we used for our research. The only seeming exception was Adegoke High School - the only private school we visited. At that school, the students were well behaved and some exercised ambition. I remember a student asking if it is true that we work on dead bodies. The students could fill the questionnaires themselves, though we still explained a thing or two.
Despite the level of enlightenment and information proliferation in this age, here is a town still in darkness barely 70km from Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo State, and the largest city in West Africa.
The last time I was home, the discussion during Newsline on national television was on the poor regulation of private schools in the country. The reporters covered the fact that many private schools are sited in residential areas, many do not have qualified teachers and they lack standard recreational facilities.
This no doubt is true. Good education involves all round development. But the reporters failed to show that private schools are all that is left of basic education in Nigeria. They failed to report that there are no longer teachers for many courses in public schools, and academic activities are at an all-time low.
The only functional public schools are the Federal Government Colleges, and some other schools owned by government agencies. Like the international schools of universities, and military-run schools. Most of the state-owned schools are already a shadow of themselves. You attend them at your own peril. But that kind of biased reporting is what we get from public media.
There has always been evidence of decadence in education. Yet, successive governments have failed to intervene. Year after year, WAEC reports pass rates in the range of 30 - 40 percent, yet no one raises an eyebrow. What does it take to pass the SSCE that well over half of our students do not turn out successful? A significant proportion of this would not even have passed but for examination malpractices. What percentage of our students can then genuinely pass the O’ level exams?
Our leaders rather spend heavily on creation of tertiary institutions we barely need. I have always argued that state governments are the greatest threat to our progress as a people. Many of our governors establish new universities even when they can’t finance existing ones. That was Jonathan’s legacy - 9 new federal universities, because of his political interest. That is the greatest gift many of our governors think they can bequeath their people.
Many of these institutions are low rate schools anyway. Aside poor financing, many of the students we churn out of secondary schools who attend these institutions are incapable of instruction. We end up producing half-baked graduates who cannot even write application letters.
We do not need more tertiary institutions to improve the level of literacy in our nation. What we need are functional primary and secondary schools. They will teach our children how to read and write. A man who can read and write is educated. This proliferation of tertiary institutions in the name of educational advancement is only a voyage in self-deceit.
We can achieve much if the huge sums wasted on creation of new universities are used to develop our primary and secondary schools. Tertiary institutions certainly have their place. But basic education comes before high level training. The existing tertiary institutions can meet the needs of the nation. What we need is to finance them and place them on the world pedestal.
It is unreasonable to keep producing graduates devoid of skills, who only come out to join the unemployment train. What we need more are skill acquisition centers, where our youths can learn all forms of crafts; tailoring, baking, carpentry and the likes. Products of such institutes would be independent and they would come out to be employers of labour.
Financing such institutes and providing trainees with funds to establish their craft on the completion of their programs will help create jobs and revive our economy. We have had enough of certified graduates who can add no value.
The neglect of education is fraught with meaning. Every Nigerian should be worried. We perhaps will not have lost over 20,000 souls to insurgency in the North East, if much of that population were literate.
Also, we cannot enjoy good leadership when our youths are not well educated and when we continually underutilize human potential. Where will the leaders come from? We cannot have responsible leadership, when our citizens cannot participate in governance; when the masses cannot question their leaders.
As it stands, it will be pretty difficult to elect a credible leader under our political climate because our people are not capable of critical thinking. At the last gubernatorial election in Ondo State, the popular mantra was ‘dibo ko sebe’ (vote and make soup) a political gimmick to appeal to the stomach of the electorates.
An enlightened electorate will not fall for such schemes but the ruling elite have once again proven smart. With poverty and illiteracy, they will perpetually keep us in bondage. After all, to continue to neglect the education of our youth is to decimate the future.
Adeyoose is a medical student at the University of Ibadan. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org