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By Chidera Anushiem
Knowledge is power; information is liberating; education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. — Kofi Annan
Whether we admit it or not, education is the oxygen that fuels development in the world. Without it, there will be no good leader, no enlightened followers, no technological advancement and living generally will be a whole lot more arduous. Strangely, in Nigeria, we all have turned the blind eye to what world-class tertiary institutions can do for us and so far, the negative effects have been hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles.
At a specific time of the year designated for the purpose — and in every tertiary institution in the world — parents, families, friends and enemies alike gather to level mountain-moulds of rice, to tear down the remains of slain chicken, to backslap their wards who have done well in ‘learning and character’, and sing sonorous serenades of hope to those on the other side of the divide. The ‘best graduating student’ prize is awarded to some, while certificates of attendance are awarded to others. Ultimately and wrongly so, to observers and prospective employers, people begin to either succeed or fail in life the day they convoke.
It is not within the precinct of doubt that our eponymous heroes past will be disappointed in our tertiary institutions and the kind of graduates they produce. We have first-class graduates who were best in their class but cannot be classed among the best in society; second-class graduates who remain second-class citizens and third-class graduates who can only hope for a good teaching job to come their way or they end up driving people who occupy the C-suites. The colonialists from whom we borrowed the model for our educational system and classification of results still revel in its excellence while we chew the cud of its failure. Sadly, in the farm land of this fiasco, we all have our plots of blame.
First and foremost, it is axiomatic that our fathers in academia are prime suspects in this debacle. These days, abundant cases abound where lecturers award marks to the extent to which the students appeal to their randiness and appetite for bribes. Those students who are ready to ‘meet them at a hotel’ finish with marvellous results; people who are undeserving get wonderful marks, whereas those who have refused to dance to the tune of their music are awarded marks which are not even enough to purchase a sachet of water —whether they burn the midnight candle or not. In the end, our tertiary institutions churn out misfits who are destined to fail from the word ‘go’.
In addition, a fastidious look at the Nigerian academe will reveal academics who are grossly under-qualified, unfit for the job and were appointed under unceremonious conditions. They glorify niceties and denigrate sound instruction. The mention of this draws the mind back to a case of a lecturer in a certain federal university who organized a test, and in that test asked the students to draw a rectangle with three lines! Not that students were taking the course in fine arts — infact, that course was meant to be an agricultural one! We know of lecturers who are good story-tellers; we know of lecturers who are great comedians; we also know of lecturers who sing their praise gloriously when they announce that topics shall be taught using their undergraduate notes. Make no mistake about this: sometimes, these notes date back to the days our fathers were born! It then begs the question: has nothing changed from the day my father was born till date? The sad tale is that these irregularities eventually rub off on the kind of graduates that are produced from these institutions because like begets like. A student who is taught from obsolescence is bound to be outdated.
More than ever before, our lecturers are forgetting the wise words of Lee Iacocca, which say “management is nothing more than motivating people”. These days, it is saddening to see that our lecturers and school authorities want more deification by each passing day. We hear of cases of gross victimization of students (with no one to hear their cry for justice); we hear of the cases of students who fail exams because they failed to prostrate before a lecturer one morning; more often than not, we feel the pain and anguish of students who fail because they refused to wash their lecturers’ cars. Our vice-chancellors and rectors so much desire to sit at the same table with their counterparts from the best universities in the world, yet they have failed to ask themselves some salient questions: in Harvard or MIT, are lecturers as feared as they are over here? Are students victimized as much as they are over here? Are students expelled indiscriminately as they are over here? The moralist school of thought may present a seemingly-delicious counter-argument that lecturers act in loco parentis. But what do we call that system in which lecturers are meant to be feared and not respected? Perhaps, we should say that our lecturers act in loco lionis and not in loco parentis.
Besides, the kind of radicalism and student activism that gave us the likes of Wole Soyinka is being yanked off our educational milieu by the day. Quite simply, the presence of an active student voice translates to a better university, and as such, better graduates — even though our VCs and rectors are loathe to admitting it. An evidence to this claim is the fact that from the period of 2005-2009, when the University of Ibadan had no extant students’ union, the university was consistently ranked number 3 in Nigeria, according to Nigerianfinder.com and the World Education News and Reviews. In stark contrast to this was the period of 2014-2017 where there was a union — the premier university reclaimed her premiership in the rankings of both local and foreign organizations. To further justify the aforementioned nexus between a student voice and a world-class institution, just recently—months after the suspension of the Students Union— the stock of the university had fallen again and she was ranked fourth in Nigeria by the National Universities Commission. As a friend rightly observed days back, of all the federal universities in the South-West region, only the Students’ Union of the Obafemi Awolowo University can be said to be neither toothless nor extinct. If indeed we do not want to raise aluta warriors, then how about the fact that all Ivy league schools have students’ unions (either in the postgraduate or undergraduate forms)? These unions have not made them any worse, only that our school authorities have blinded their eyesight to this regard. In the end, we produce graduates who are afraid to challenge existing maladies in society, and if education is obtained and is not usable to right the wrongs in society, then to what end is it obtained?
It was Robert Kiyosaki who rightly admitted in his book: Why A-students work for C students, that it is a worldwide phenomenon to see first class graduates work for third class graduates, but the difference is that while the first class graduates in developed countries are generally more well-to-do and great problem-solvers, our first class graduates are configured not to be problem-solvers. They are rather configured to ply their trade in the la cram, la pour, la forget enterprise. Our educational system captures perfectly the words of Cardinal Ottaviani which say: “today, nearly everyone can read, but only a few can think”. While we waste no time to parade a few of our graduates who are doing well today, we know that these few are only shanties in the Potemkin village. A careful peep at Nigerian graduates doing well in the world will reveal one thing: they have some connection with the developed world. It is always a case of either having been schooled in such environment or having lived there— whether temporarily or permanently.
Moving away from the aforementioned, it is also an open secret that our tertiary institutions are crassly under-funded. A journey to the proposed 2018 budget will reveal shocking bus-stops. In the proposed budget, the allocation for the purchase of four vehicles for the NUC is pegged at #85 million, whereas, the budget for research and development is padlocked at #8 million; while each federal university is to receive the sum of #89 million for capital expenditure, Kings College, Lagos is to receive a whopping sum of #172 million naira. With such ultimogenitural system in place, our tertiary institutions are only being wheeled into the intensive care unit. Apart from that, those at the helm of affairs must begin to see our tertiary institutions as the backbone of our national development. If we indeed want our tertiary institutions to be numero uno in the world, we must borrow a leaf from the United States, where a total sum of $37.6 billion was allocated to Harvard University in 2017— almost twice the 2017 National budget of growth and economic development.
In addition to the foregoing, our educational system is so radically theorized that it scares away foreigners like a virus. As a writer once remarked, “we have doctors who technically know no better than conductors, engineers who do not move near engines, and Professors of mechanical engineering who take their cars to mechanics for engineering”. It is so bad that students are asked to draw machines that even their lecturers have not seen; they can describe an equipment with words but may not be able to recognize that which they had described in writing when they see them. A graduate that is produced from such a system is almost made with no critical thinking skills, and so far, non-thinking graduates have been an obvious commodity in the labour market. In the same vein, our tertiary institutions are suffering the illness of poorly-maintained facilities. We have magic boards that can only perform the magic of keeping the duster stuck to it; e-libraries in which books are meant to be read by themselves and toilets in which even mosquitoes do not operate in for the fear of their own lives!
On the part of the students, it is no longer news that the reading culture is diving down the dangerous ditch of decline. It is trite knowledge that the obituary of the reading culture in Nigeria has been announced, it is only awaiting interment. Students are in the art of consistently trying to fashion out non-extant means of getting monetary benefits without responsibilities. They channel their mental creativity to such negative activities as cyber fraud, kidnapping and armed-robbery. Most of them pass through school but don’t allow school pass through them; they engage in all sorts of clandestine activities to get undeserved marks and in the end, we have a crop of graduates who are nothing to write home about.
Taking the foregoing into account and as a matter of paramountcy, our government must begin to allocate the recommended 26% of our national bodies to the educational sector. This year, the President is proposing a budget that allocates a paltry 7.04% to education— a 14-year low as pointed out by Tijani Mayowa of the Cable newspaper. There is no logical justification for us to wish that our tertiary institutions become the world’s best with such allocated. We cannot have the best of graduates and tertiary institutions because only funding will bring concepts and equipment that were hitherto imaginary to real world. Asides that, there is the need to reinforce and re-vitalize the educational system; lecturers must be well-recruited and well and adequately paid.
Secondly, lecturers in our tertiary institutions are not deities and should not demand to be seen as such. Lecturers are meant to be figures who their students love, respect and look up to at every point in time and not doctors and professors who expect to be lionized by their students. The gospel truth is that in a sane society, lecturers are not feared but rather are respected.
Moreover, randiness and corruption among lecturers should be outlawed and very stringent punishment enforced for any offenders so as to encourage worthiness of marks obtained by students and, consequently, better graduates.
Our system is wrought with the ill of students wanting to graduate with good grades so as to ensure they ‘get a good job’. If everyone is getting a good job, who will then employ the good-job seekers? As a matter of urgency, we must now begin to operate a system which encourages every graduate to become a producer and not die a consumer. The need for entrepreneurial attention cannot be over-emphasized. Students must be able to see that the wellness of the economy of a nation is a function of how many local companies are thriving in that country.
According to Adekunle Adebajo, a law student of the University of Ibadan, “While we fight over whose University is the best, while we quarrel over who is better by far or who is the oba awon university, the sad reality is that we are all nowhere to be found on the international stage.” We must begin to swallow this bitter pill of truth because, in reality, we have a longer way to go than we can ever imagine.
In conclusion, there is no better time than now to disabuse our minds from the need to produce graduates, with no measure in place to make them great contributors to societal development; there is no need to chase undeserved marks if they will not transcend into national development. We must seek to produce problem solvers as graduates, labour employers and we must look to better our society though our certificates. If we must forget anything, it should not be the words of Rancho Chanchad which say “pursue excellence and success will follow you, pants down”. The conclusion of the matter is this: despite the ills of our educational system, and in contrast to the apocryphal belief, whether first class or they say it is pass, a man’s degree does matter, no matter the class — if only he is ready to put it to good use.
Chidera Anushiem is a first-year student of pharmacy at the University of Ibadan. He can be reached via mobile phone +2347087135115.