By Dennis Okoro
In over 33 years sojourn in the Federal Ministry of Education, I have developed an undiluted passion for education. Every critical appraisal of the extant situation in the Education system comes to a common conclusion that the system requires a serious surgical operation if it is to survive in this 21st Century.
The rot being manifested in this sector has been in the public domain in the last two decades. Governments through series of seminars, summits conferences, and workshops have numerous volumes of recommendations gathering dust in the archives of many Ministries of Education. These contain suggestions on how to move education forward.
Successive administrations seemed to be experts on education and were not willing to listen to the advice of the trained line staff, but would rather employ the so-called advisers from outside the system. With the frequency of change of baton between the Ministers at the Federal Ministry of Education, none stays long enough to muster enough courage and political will to initiate actions on where the nation ought to be in this 21st Century as far as education is concerned.
Every new Minister of Education came into the ministry with a pre-conceived agenda. When replaced by another Minister after 18 months, the new expert on the block, rather than pursue the programme of his/her predecessor, continues his own agenda as if there was nobody in the system when he got there.
What is killing the Education system is poor quality of leadership over the years if we must call a spade, a spade.
Those at the helm of affairs in education over the years have continued to use 20th Century equipment and tools to solve 21st Century problems and at the same time expecting different results.
The recent statement of the brand new Minister of Labour, a Medical doctor, in the Punch Newspaper of Wednesday, December 16, 2015 showcases the point I am making. According to Dr. Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour, and I quote him extensively, ” We have captured unemployed graduates. We are doing two things; we get those who read Law, Engineering and other disciplines but do not have jobs. We would train them for nine months and covert them to teachers”. He continues: “Most of our schools have half-baked teachers. We want to redefine our schools and make them what they are”.
This suggestion of the Minister of Labour as plausible as it may seem, does not fly in my professional opinion. It is one of what I may call a ” quick fix” solution which adds more headaches to the education system than provide a sustainable solution to an identified problem. How does the Minister of Labour think that replacing the current group of teachers in public Schools, whom he described as “half-baked”, with a crop of unemployed and uninterested class of graduates to be trained for nine months will automatically become teachers? You cannot substitute another so-called ” half- baked” with another.
The Minister used the pronoun “we ” in his statements on this issue. Does it mean he is one with his counterpart in the Federal Ministry of Education? If so, then, there is a bigger problem in the Education Sector.
Solving the unemployment problem of the nation in one swoop using education ministry is, to say the least, how low the nation appreciates education and those in the service of education – a dumping ground for all those who cannot find positions in their chosen profession. It is not only in government circles that such impression exists but also among the general public.
An example is shown where a parent took his child to a teacher to coach for a common entrance examination and said ” please I want you to coach my child to pass the entrance examination into King’s College; I do not want him to end up being a teacher” What can you say to that? An educationist once said that no nation can rise above the quality of its teachers.
In this era of “Change,” Education Ministers and Commissioners of Education should go from thinking in quantitative terms and focus on the qualitative. Building more and more physical structures to provide access for more children in school does not make any economic sense if children will leave school and cannot read or write or being able to use both their hands and head to be useful in society.
Teaching is a noble profession. In the developed world, the teaching profession attracts only the best graduates and given appropriate incentives and well paid. Nigeria is one of the few nations, where teaching is for all comers, despite numerous requests to governments to grant teaching a professional status. In the medical profession, the mistake of a ” half-baked” doctor is buried forever, but errors of a “half-baked” teacher in the classroom lives with the society and can be a nuisance.
Many commentators on Education in their passion to provide solution to what is being witnessed in the education sector do make recommendations like declaring education as an ” emergency” or put more money into education etc.
I do not understand the meaning of ” emergency” in education but I do know that throwing more money into education cannot get the nation out of the woods in the provision of education. If it means more money to do more of the same thing, then the nation is bereft of ideas or good thinking.
Can our Education policy makers take time to reflect on what they are marketing today and ask some pertinent questions: what sort of education does the Nigerian child of the 21st Century need to fit him/her for self development and career pursuit as well as contribute to the common good of the society? How do we get there? Who takes us there? When do we get there? What resources do we need to get there?
With all the answers available, a well-articulated, costed strategic plan can be worked out. Implementation plan is worked out in short, medium and long term periods as well as a yearly operational plan with appropriate budgets. Monitoring instruments can be developed together with measurable indicators to tell policy makers, how well the system is working and the outcomes in terms of teaching and learning. The core of the education of the Nigerian child should be focused on what the child is getting in school by the learning outcome.
For many decades, various governments both at the federal and state had focused on measuring inputs into education, class sizes, number of teachers, number of classrooms built, how much money spent etc. With the changing times, efforts should be directed more on what these inputs produce; for example, what percentage of school leavers can even read and write well enough to pursue further studies or pursue a career?
If education is to survive, there is a need for a paradigm shift within the system on how teachers are recruited, trained, rewarded and retained. Quick fixes may be ad hoc in nature but they can’t lead any system to a sustainable solution of its problems.
In the words of John Fallon, the CEO at Pearson, the question education cannot ignore is: How can we do more and better – and most often do it with same or less?” In short how can we improve teaching and learning in our school system at no extra cost? To achieve this, the nation needs all providers of education to move out of their comfort zones and brace change by thinking outside the box.
Mr. Okoro retired as a Director from the Federal Ministry of Education and could be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org