Education exalts a nation

Clerics and evangelical Christians should please forgive the appropriation and reworking of a text of the Holy Book, “Righteousness exalteth a nation,” used to explain the importance of education to the economic development of Nigeria.

While reacting in his usual robust manner to a previous serving of this column, Najeem Jimoh, friend, university classmate, journalist, former student union activist, and former Editor of The PUNCH newspaper, averred that education exalteth a nation, without quite using those exact words.

He says, “To be able to face our hydra-headed challenges, we must also quickly redefine the etymology, the contents and the focus of our education to address our needs, including food and security.

“To continue to mass produce an army of unemployable graduates with unsatiable appetites for Western products, western values, theories, idiosycracies and even Western stereotypes about our people will complicate our survival crises.”

Two Greek words, “Pedo,” for child, and “Agogos,” for leader, were combined to form “Pedagogue,” another word for “Teacher,” the personnel engaged in pedagogy, the activity of teaching people by leading them.

Some argue that pedagogy is the method adopted by a teacher for teaching, and that the body of knowledge taught depends on the belief of, not just the teacher, or educator, but also the society that wants to achieve certain political or social goals.

That should explain the premium placed on ideology by the ideologues who led the path of socialism in the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Communist People’s Republic of China. They thought the society could only prosper through a path different from capitalism of the Western world.

Whether you agree or disagree with these revolutionaries is not the subject of this discourse. The intention is to examine the role that education plays, or can play, in the economic development of a nation like Nigeria.

It is necessary to state from the get-go that education for development cannot just be about head knowledge of basic information, but also about application of the knowledge that has been designed to activate the head, the hand and the heart.

In other words, education for development must generate both the knowledge and the attitude to run society, to suit both existential and intellectual needs of society. A friend said that he places food and education on the same pedestal; that neither is higher than the other.

Food without education is like a waste of the mind. An advert by America’s United Negro College Fund says, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste!” You already know that an attempt to educate a hungry man is an attempt in futility. A hungry man, being angry, will not cooperate in the learning environment.

The first principle of the education ordinance and regulation of Nigeria’s Colonial Administration reads: “The primary object of all schools should be the foundation of character and habits of discipline, rather than mere acquisition of certain amount of book-learning or technical skills…”

In the opinion of Lord Frederick Lugard, first Governor General of Nigeria, “The object which education in Africa must have in view must be to fit the ordinary individual to fill a useful part in his environment, with happiness to himself, and to ensure that the exceptional individual shall use his abilities for the advancement of the community, and not to its detriment, or to the subversion of constituted authority.”

Though this philosophy failed in the most part as it presented Africa with selfish and sometimes mediocre politicians and the military that employed violent and extra-constitutional means to subvert “constituted authorities”, the point is clear that there must be stated objectives for education within a country.

The late Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of Western Nigeria, avers, “Any system of education which does not help a man to have healthy and sound body and alert brain, balanced and disciplined instinctive urges, is both misconceived and dangerous.”

This reminds you of the oft-quoted claim of some scholars that the major problem of Africa is ignorance, poverty and disease. This has become a vicious cycle of a dog chasing its own tail with no end in view.

Awolowo goes further to propose that a nation that wants economic freedom and prosperity “must provide free education at all levels (which Jimoh may not quite agree with, because of the high cost of education these days) and free health facilities for the masses of the citizens.”

Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett’s Theatre of the Absurd, “Waiting for Godot,” reveals two men, the first of which is “Estragon,” impulsive and simplistic, whose major concerns are eating and sleeping as he does not think he will escape the suffering and physical degradation that life had thrown at him.

No wonder, he and his partner, Vladimir, the philosopher, with a social conscience and passion for political correctness or social appearances, continuously talk at each other, while waiting for Godot or their fate that never showed up.

For education to exalt a nation in this 21st Century, it must provide food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and entertainment for the citizens, develop appropriate curriculum that will provide the manpower with the requisite knowledge of science, technology and the arts. And it must be homegrown.

UNICEF reports that Nigeria is the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, 13.2 million, most of whom are in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. You should have no problem correlating this lack of education to high grade insurgency, banditry and kidnapping pervasive in Northern Nigeria.

It is testimony to the words of Awolowo, who said, “The children of the poor you failed to train (or educate) will never let your children have peace.” Unfortunately, this prediction is playing out in the most vicious and violent manner. The Bible says if you sow the wind you will reap the whirlwind.

Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina, home state of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), once observed in apparent frustration, that heads of most of Nigeria’s security agencies, those being kidnapped, and those who kidnap them, are from Northern Nigeria.

Those who worry about the economic woes of Nigeria must look into the direction of its politics. Economics, derived from two Greek words, “Oikos,” and “Nomos,” actually means the regulation of the affairs of the home, which is the welfare or the economy of a people.

Schools must teach civic education to citizens who will eventually become politicians, community leaders, businessmen and women, corporate players and professionals of all categories. American Justice Louis Brandeis thinks the office of the citizen is the highest in any country.

Dan Scratch, a Canadian schoolteacher, asserts that “The purpose of education in a democratic society is to instil the values of cooperation, fairness and justice into the hearts of our students… These values are essential to maintaining and improving a functioning democracy in any country.”

One of the reasons that Nigeria is moving in back-and-forth lockstep with economic failure is because the house regulations or the political ground rules are not right. If leaders in all walks of life in Nigeria do not share common political values, there may be no economic progress for the nation.

Political and economic success depends to a large degree on the quality of personnel who run them, not just infrastructure.

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