LAST Wednesday, the United Nations, UN, Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Matthias Schmale, said that our dear country, Nigeria, is not on track to meet many SDGs (Strategic Development Goals) by the year 2030. Schmale said this in a speech at the opening ceremony of a three-day capacity building workshop for the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC’s educators on the UN Strategic Development Cooperation Framework, UNSDCF.
Let me quote Schmale: “As it stands, Nigeria is not on track to reach many of its SDGs by 2030, a situation compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine. With women and youths hit, especially hard by growing unemployment, spiraling inflation, and insufficient access to quality education and health services, we must take a fresh look at how best to support the most vulnerable in society.”
One sector where we clearly will miss the SDG target date is education, prompting the question: Do we still value education in Nigeria?
This question becomes pertinent in the face of prevailing realities in our country, as it seems education now means one thing to people in government, and something totally different to people not in government — the governed. Generally, there is agreement by many scholars that education is the process by which the mores, values, skills, and attitudes of a social collective are transferred from one generation to another in a structured manner.
Before Westerners came here to interrupt the development progression of our societies, there was education, mostly informal, and since they came, that form of education has continued parri-passu with the formal, western type. Our own informal system of education mainly had parents, relations, peers, peer groups and economic activities to deliver the instruction of the social collective from one generation to another, compared to the western type, which had schools — primary, secondary, and tertiary — with teachers, administrators, etc.
Current experience, since colonial times indicate that colonised peoples go through both the formal and informal system of education. In Nigeria here, it is common to hear someone upbraid another with the remark, “you lack home training”, a reference to the informal complement of education.
However, there is consensus that the purpose of education, formal or informal, is to equip the individual with knowledge that will enable him/her to be useful to him/herself and the larger society. So Nigeria, with nearly 400 linguistic and ethnic groups has primary and secondary schools, and tertiary institutions of various grades — colleges of education, polytechnics, universities, and other specialised institutions. Those qualified for admission go to these schools and still receive instruction in the informal mode.
The issue for me is how well are we doing with education? First, the informal. As observed earlier, informal education is delivered mainly by parents, relations, peers and peer groups, mainly in the course of one activity or the other. Given today’s realities, is this still the situation? As the economic situation gets worse, parents spend more time outside the home in pursuit of resources with which to run the home. As such, their children are left to their own devices most of the time.
For instance, a typical urban couple living in a Lagos suburb leaves home between 4-5am, to work on the island, and returns between 10-12 midnight, dog-tired. When will such a couple find time to mentor children? While parents are away, un-mentored and un-supervised children, responding to various stimuli in their environment form character that is far from the ethos of the collective. Many parents may not know it, but they’ve been rearing monsters that turn around to terrorize society as cultists, terrorists, bandits, militants, armed robbers, kidnappers, and others. The result is that the entire collective gets more endangered by threats from within. That is a grim reality of current experience in Nigeria today.
On the formal plane, there is trouble, big trouble. There are not enough schools. Where there are, there are not enough classrooms, and where there are classrooms, many do not have seats and desks. In many schools, in this season of rains, roofs are leaking. There are communities where instruction is still being delivered under the shade of trees. In 21st century Nigeria, with the exception of private primary and secondary schools that charge cut-throat fees, most public schools are not wired for ICT (Information and Communications Technology).
The blackboards that teachers used to teach their great-grandfathers are still being used for the children, when children in many countries that are poorer than Nigeria are using the keyboard to learn.
For the past seven months, the university tier has been comatose due to a strike by ASUU, the union of university teachers, and there seems no end in sight. At the bottom of issues is funding, which is why primary and secondary schools are also in the condition they are. I really wonder why the Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT, is not as militant as ASUU. If it were, maybe I would not need to ask the question: Do we still value education in Nigeria?