by Japheth Omojuwa
How can you change a nation if all your life you were taught to “do as you are told”?
The Nigerian educational system has failed and it is currently failing. Virtually everyone agrees with this. Sadly though, when government more often than not looks to fix the system, they throw more money into it. They build more schools and look to employ more teachers. The failure of the Nigerian educational system is much more about how it is done than where or by whom it is done. The system is essentially built to create zombies – students who do not contribute to their own learning, who just go to class, listen to a teacher dole out what is often obsolete knowledge and who must answer the teacher’s examinations questions the very way the teacher taught them. This is not how to culture a generation expected to take its destiny in its own hands.
The teaching process must be participatory to be effective. The situation where an all-knowing teacher comes into the class, says it all while the helpless students take notes is not a healthy one. That colonial era style teaching process has failed us. It is the reason four out of every Nigerian graduate is jobless. This is not just about the absence of jobs; it is about the absence of those to fit into the available jobs. The colonial masters did not need us to be confident or creative, they just wanted to be seen as all-knowing and all-powerful. These suit their interests in keeping us docile and non-thinking. The balance of power between the colonial masters and the colonized did not change until some of the citizens in the colony started getting opportunities to study abroad. Studying abroad was strikingly different from studying at home. This is obviously and sadly still the case today.
What can we do differently? First we must understand that education has to be participatory to be effective and long lasting. An average human learns better by doing than by listening. What if topics were discussed by students with teachers merely acting as facilitators? This means that the students are automatically challenged to learn more before and after each session. This is obviously a more mentally stimulating process than that that only requires the students’ passive participation. Have we not seen many so-called 1st class graduates only useful as messengers in the office? They are best at carrying out instructions to the letter; they are not exactly good at thinking on their feet or thinking creatively.
Any system of teaching that places all the burden of learning on the teacher has failed from the beginning. It cannot help the students learn better than those who are trained by involvement and participation. The reason foreign students are more confident at expressing themselves is because they were trained to express themselves. The general docility of the Nigerian people is rooted in the Nigerian educational system. This is why our elites will not have their children in our schools. They know the system was built to create more zombies than thinkers. If Fela Anikulapo called us zombies, it is because more of us are than more of us are not.
We need to develop a new system. This current system of note taking was developed centuries ago. Those who started it have since evolved better styles of learning. We cannot stay stuck in a failing system. Until we evolve a better learning process in our public schools, most of the problems we intend to tackle as a nation will always be there. This is because people are the primary resource to change a nation. How can you change a nation if all your life you were taught to “do as you are told”? Thank God for the Internet and other technological resources. How do we leverage new technologies in advancing the interests of our students? The time for that change is now. Until then, the oppressors of the Nigerian people will have fewer people to question them and this only means that change will happen but only in trickles.
— Note: I’d like to acknowledge using some of the ideas from my discussion with Nicola Phillips of the Portsmouth Highbury College in this piece.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.