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Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school-Albert Einstein.
This quote by Albert Einstein is lost on Nigeria. The country has forgotten everything-the foundation set by education pioneers, the academic excellence, the pure joy in being educated.
In the 17th and 18th century when the missionaries landed in Nigeria, their aim was to introduce the Christian religion. To achieve this, they introduced formal education using a method of the 3Rs (Writing, Reading and Arithmetic) hence the establishment of the Nursery of Infant Church in 1843. In the following events, Missionaries would go on to establish post-primary education schools, Christian Missionary Society (CMS) Grammar School, in 1859 By the time the British colony got established in to make trade and communication easier for the colonial masters, they founded the first government college, Kings College in 1909 with 10 male pioneer students.
It had as its policy, “to provide for the youth of the colony a higher general education than that supplied by the existing Schools, to prepare them for Matriculation Examination of the University of London and to give a useful course of Study to those who intend to qualify for professional life or to enter Government or Mercantile service.”
To ensure the effectiveness of this policy, the school was designed to accommodate 300 students, with 8 lecture rooms, a chemical laboratory and an office. This was based on ensuring a productive and successful life after being educated. At least one person from the school was awarded scholarship to study in Great Britain. A popular recipient of this is Alex Ekwueme who was awarded a scholarship to study in the United States of America.
Students in Classroom. Photo: KOKO Tv
Kings’ College was not the only school to effect this policy. Harold Demuren, the first African to be elected president of International Civil Aviation Organisation, won a USSR scholarship after his study in Ijebu Ode grammar school.
Students of these schools with the conducive learning environment, qualified teachers and relevant curriculum continued to enjoy academic excellence with their students travelling abroad to study further and on their return securing high placed positions in multinational companies like UAC, Leventies.
However, there were students who study within the country and still continued in the path of excellence. A popular example is Dora Akunyili, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe amongst others.
These benefits informed most parents of the need to send their children to school after they had seen the success achieved by their children’s educated peers.
After independence, there was need to educate more people to tackle the need for economic development that Nigeria was saddled with. Hence, the Nigerian government took over management of government schools and more government schools were established to cater for the growing number of people enrolling in schools.
The academic excellence continued although the government was faced with the challenge of establishing more schools to accommodate the growing number of students since they could not leave the task to the missionary schools alone.
Most parents could not afford to pay the fees this left only the children of the elites and wealthy to enjoy.
This problem informed Obafemi Awolowo’s decision to agitate for a mandatory Free Universal Primary Education programme in January 17, 1955. In his words, “In order to attain to the goals of economic freedom and prosperity, Nigeria must do certain things as a matter of urgency and priority. It must provide free education (at all levels)…” He was not wrong- Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Edo, and Delta (the Western Region quickly became a source of reference in education and development, attracted an influx of non Nigerians including westerners relocate to serve as teachers and headmasters. This statement is also in line with the Article 6 of the 1984 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states categorically, that “Everyone has a right to education. Education shall be free in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”
The government was once again faced with another challenge of catering to the fast growing number of children in the schools since it became free. Schools designed to accommodate 300 students were overcrowded with inadequate facility to accommodate the teeming number of students. With the government bothering itself with other concerns, education took a backburner and by the 90s, the unavailability of chairs, space, equipment and budgetary allocation changed.
With the decline of the Nigerian economy other sectors quickly followed suit – education, health, infrastructure, security.
The education sector suffered a great deal from the decline: schools were no longer maintained; some became dilapidated, and teachers were owed salaries for an extended period. The students bore the brunt most from this as an environment conducive enough for learning became absent and incessant strike actions were no longer a novelty.
Students fell behind in their curriculum since they stayed at home when they were supposed to be in school. Obi et al in their study, Impact Of Government Expenditure On Education: The Nigerian Experience in the journal, International Journal of Business and Finance Management Research, citing Aigbokhan et al. (2005), noted that the period 1978 –1999 was one of the worst times for education in Nigeria’s history.
It also mentions that it quickly led to the “deterioration of educational fixed assets, inadequate funding and declining standards”.
Government schools became a shadow of themselves and business men began to take advantage. Because the government could not establish as many schools as were needed, they opened the floor for individuals to set up private schools with standards to be strictly followed enforced by the ministries of education.
But officials tasked with this sacred can hardly claim to have been very strict with the enforcement of staNdards.
A teacher who choose to remain anonymous explained to Guardian Life that there are three classes of private schools – the mission schools owned by churches, the international affiliated private schools established by foreigners and the Nigerian-owned private schools.
The teacher transitioned from teaching in a Nigerian-owned private school to teaching in a mission school. While teaching in the former, she noted that the proprietor charged extra fees from students taking the Senior School Certificate Exam to ensure that she paid to acquire the question papers before the exam dates.
This malpractice is not lost on the parents, the school and the Examination council, the teacher said.
This case is not in an isolation. Since the Owosho and EXPO 77 scandal, the West African Examiation Council has had to battle the scourge of examination malpractices. The Council on a number of times came up with innovations to rein in the ugly trends. But each of these innovations have turned out to be only effective temporarily.
The teacher added there were instances where parents whose children were appropriately disciplined came to the school and threatened to pull out their wards if the teacher was not sanctioned. In this regard, in a bid for the school to maintain its clientele, school owners danced.
A woman whose child attends a school in a highbrow area of Lagos state told Guardian Life that paying the school fees meant that her child would be taught phonetics and would speak like the white man. She also argued that it is beyond the fees: sports such as gymnastics, swimming, international excursions and possible connections can be got.
“I do not think the fees are outrageous. I am paying for quality. Besides, my child will be able to meet other children like her and who knows? She might establish relations that will seal her future in Nigeria.”
Low-income families who cannot afford the mission and international schools enroll their wards in private schools, a lot of which are unregistered. To make up for the limited availability of resources, most teachers in unregistered private schools do not undergo the necessary training and have qualifying certifications.
More so, parents are lured with false academic excellence and stellar performance of their students which was purchased through education malpractice, bribery and corruption. Our source told us that some of these ‘low-cost’ private schools in their secondary level, bribe examination council officials and secure the question papers for Senior secondary examination exams, have the subject teachers solve them and the students merely copy the answers.
With this, it is easy to conclude that this set of private schools impact little or nothing to the development of the child, it is easy to say that private schools have done otherwise but not according to the two-year study research carried out by James Tooley and Pauline Dixon in their study Private Education is Good for the Poor: A Study of Private Schools Serving the Poor in Low-Income Countries in 2005. The research which was carried out in India, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya reveal that the calling for the closure of private schools that offer low quality education means denying the poor, “the role of reaching the poor and satisfying their educational needs”.
Tooley and Dixon found out that 75% of the students in 540 schools attended private schools. 43% of these schools are unregistered. Yet the authors of the study noticed that success rates in Mathematics and English is high the study also faults United Nations claims that private unregistered schools be closed because “so many children are in unrecognised private schools that do not appear in government statistics”.
A source at the Lagos State Ministry of Education said the state government was aware of the existence of many unregistered private schools in the state. The source said the government was already working with the owners to ensure they are standardised and registered.
“What we are doing is that we are educating private institutions in the education sector as to what the rules and qualifications are to get them approved. We are doing that knowing that such schools are not approvable at all. In order not to create unnecessary displacement and further enlarge the out-of-school children, we are trying to bring them onboard to see what they can do to meet up to standard by guiding them. However, those that are not approvable are kicked out of the booth.”
Yet, a principal in a Lagos State-owned secondary school, who pleaded anonymity, disagreed with the credibility of the aforementioned research. While she argued that the problems with public schools differ from area to area, she noted that she has not noticed any effort or changes made the government clamp down on the number of unregistered private schools.
She, however, added that government schools have managed to maintain teaching standards and quality assurance. According to her, “90% of their teachers have teaching qualifications and the student: teacher ratio is 50:1”.
Also, mass promotion in public schools in Lagos has been discontinued and students are required to get the pass mark of at least 50% to move onto the next class. Parents’ belief that the government should be responsible for everything including school uniforms makes some of the students go to their teachers who out of their goodwill, purchase for them some school essentials.
Yet, parents withdraw their children to attend these unregistered schools.
Who is responsible for this rot?
According to Justin W. van Fleet of the Brookings Institution “There are seven countries in which 40 percent or more of children do not meet a minimum standard of learning by grades 4 or 5. In countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia, over half of in-school students are not learning basic skills by the end of primary school”.
A civil servant who chose to remain anonymous reaffirmed this stating that the “Government primary schools hardly graduate students who can read and write. Also, children are not given enough attention like their private counterparts. Government primary schools hardly graduate students who can read and write. Also, children are not given enough attention like their private counterparts.”
Teachers, on the other hand, argue that public schools offer quality education, but parents will rather take their children to special centres that promise guaranteed success in external exams, albeit through dubious means.
“If you do not bribe your way through, you won’t know if they are really good at the subjects. After all, there is a difference between having a result and earning a result,” a teacher told Guardian Life.
Yet, we cannot ignore the excellent academic standards set by certain schools and their dedication towards ensuring their students are able to compete with students across the world.
Rather than engage in blame-game, concerted efforts should be directed towards ensuring that public schools regain their lure. “The well-to-do in the society and alumni of the public institutions, foundations and the rest should see these schools as public property and as a donation to humanity,” the source at the Lagos Ministry of Education said.
“ We should develop the habit of willfully trying to intervene in these public schools without necessarily expecting positive. The fewer the uncatered, the better the security”.