Monday, 19 March 2012

Knowledgeable Nigerian Students: A Dying Breed


I was in a dream, in the midst of unknown faces who were obviously polished men and women; professionals from different fields; intellectuals; very important personalities...I can go on and on! They all appeared to be about the same age or older than my parents but I was not intimidated. We were in a cocktail party and I felt we were of the same ilk. We talked about politics, the economy, our professions and family. It was at this point that every guest started introducing his/her child or children to the small crowd. I noticed that most of that the children to the main guest were about my age; but I was shocked when it dawned on me that they were far less polished than their parents.

 I tried engaging them in discussions bothering on their areas of endeavor but was somewhat disappointed. Their answers to my question didn't flow naturally as those of their parents; in fact, they appeared memorized. It was so obvious that this set of people lacked knowledge of their fields…and I wondered what was wrong.  Suddenly, my name was announced on the microphone, and I was told to introduce my children. My face beamed up with smiles; I was sure my kids would outshine the rest. I started by calling their names one after the other followed by a litany of degrees and certifications which they had, I was really proud. Then questions which I considered relatively simple started flying from all angles, and my kids could not utter a word of answer...they just stood there like morons...my heart was racing, I was sweating like a woman in labor...then came the laughter; I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me; all eyes were on me and my kids; fingers were pointing at us...and someone in the crowd said 'hopeless generation'...in a jolt, I woke up, still sweating.  Almost immediately came the Oracle's voice and I knew it was a divination; below is the message.

Do not be troubled, I only wanted to show you the gaping void; the big difference between intellectuals from before and within your father's generation; your generation and the generation after yours. The polished men and women who wowed you with their brilliance and intelligence were generations before yours; their children represented your generation and your children represented the generation to come, and you -Chief Priest- were a spectator.

As It Was:

It is no news that once upon a time (1960s-1980s), Nigeria’s education system was one of the best in Africa, if not the world. It produced great intellectuals who did Nigeria proud both within and outside the shores of the country. The system produced people who were readily absorbed in the labor market. Nigeria's education system HAD export value, and so were the products. Nigeria could have generated huge revenue by providing world class academic services to the whole of Africa and beyond, but this was not to be as, like the ever depreciating value of Naira, the country's hitherto strong educational system collapsed.

As It Is:

Nowadays, a system that used to produce more professionals than mediocre now churn out mediocre in thousands; a system which reeked of meritocracy has turned into some sort of unction market where degrees are sold to the highest bidders; a system where teaching and learning were the main focus has turned into a haven for bribery, immorality, witch-hunting, greed...you name it!

A visit to the Public Primary schools would show you unwilling teachers who have resorted to selling biscuits, groundnuts, etc because the government has refused to pay even that meager wage that is due to them- there is totally no incentive to teach. A visit to the Public Secondary schools and you would see teachers who, like their Primary school counterparts, have lost every motivation to teach. They try to help themselves out by providing goods which their colleagues can buy 'on credit' pending when salaries are paid. The tertiary institutions would make you shudder as you would see, yet, unwilling lecturers whose main focus has shifted to writing, publishing and selling worthless books at exorbitant prices; selling exams scores and grades to students and turning students to sex items- the excuse being that the government does not pay them well enough and as at when due.

The Great Oracle, it is now clear what the system has turned the teachers and lecturers into...what about the students?

Once upon a time, teachers were so interested in their jobs and were highly regarded by society. This respect shown by all and sundry was not lost on the students who took their teachers as demigods. This submission allowed for easy molding of the students into what they later became-intellectuals; very polished men and women.

As things decayed; government disregarded teachers; society saw them as very poor people who really needed a change of profession; teachers lost their pride and the motivation to work vanished too. These changes were also not lost on the students who started disregarding the teachers and school authorities. Teachers lost the zeal to control and students became authorities of their own. These days, we see cultism- a scourge that has not been properly checked in tertiary institutions – filtering into Primary and Secondary schools. In the secondary schools especially, students dress like touts and come as late to school as they wish...and this is just the beginning.

With the victimization and hardship that now characterize the tertiary institutions, students do not now believe in studying or knowledge; they just want to get the certificate- whatever it may take- and get out of the school as empty as they entered. They leave the institutions, most times, not worthy in character and in learning. In fact, there is nothing different between the Nigerian Police Force and the education system...they are both dilapidated and the key players are self-preservative and selfish because the government has failed to provide for them.

As It Will Be:

Chief Priest, in your generation, graduates are referred to as 'half-baked'...in your children’s generation, they would be called 'flour'...

Kai! The great Oracle!! Is it going to be that bad?

Yes! Even a blind man can see into the future and tell that it is too dim for the next generation. I see a generation that would love to have strings of degrees and certificates attached to their names but would not work for them; I see a generation where there is a surge in the lecturing profession because of the sharp/corrupt practices therein; I see a generation where people would shy away from being teachers at the primary and secondary school levels because of lack of incentives; a generation where the serious minded and privileged ones would have to look outside the shores of this country for proper education; I see a generation which is totally not equipped to take over the reins of the economy and the nation.

What really is the problem, Great Oracle?

The problem originated from the government, who, over the years has thought it wise to starve the education system of funding and support. Funds were not made available for research nor were there incentives for employees of this system. To survive, they had to device other means of getting money which have spiraled into full blown corruption and immorality. This, in turn, resulted to little or no attention being paid on proper academic work.

Not until recently did the government review salaries of lecturers which stayed un-reviewed for decades even though the economy had changed a whole lot within the same period. While political office holders had their salaries reviewed over time, teachers and lecturers were forgotten. This becomes evident and annoying when one considers what was obtainable in 2009 and before the recent review according to this letter as written by the  Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). A Federal High Court Judge used to be on the same salary scale as a University Professor years back, but by  2009, the Judge received N26,875,840.00 as annual salary while the Professor received a paltry N3, 859, 078. 60. 

Though things are considerably different now due to the salary review; it came a little too late as the damage had already been done - a retrogressive culture had been instituted and there appears to be no going back on lecturer's love for and pursuit of money.

It has become so obvious that even when umbrella bodies governing these lecturers make demands from the government which seem to be for the benefit of staff and students and go on resultant strikes; all the government needs do is grant the requests that directly swells the lecturers' pockets and touché! Problem solved. That explains why the standard of living of lecturers have increased, their age of retirement too but the universities still remain glorified secondary schools with little or no research going on because of lack of funding.

Still out of lust for money, most lecturers presently fight over courses that have large amount of students even when they lack strong command on such courses. All they are after is selling substandard books which they hurriedly published in areas where they know little or nothing about. They only have to plagiarize- flagrantly- works done by authorities in such fields and within weeks, new books materialize. The cost? 2,000 Naira a copy.  There is an aging Professor in one of the Nigerian Universities who coyly took 13 undergraduate courses all to himself in a semester just in the bid to sell books. Since each of these courses he took requires as average of two hours a week; he obviously missed a lot of classes which means that his students missed out on the knowledge for which they paid. Again, his greed affected the allocation of courses to new lecturers; marred their development in the profession and set the wrong example for them to follow.

Someone might argue that government provides billions in funds for overseas research through the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and some other governmental agencies like the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) and Niger Delta Development Council (NDDC); however, a closer look would show you that by and large, only a few individuals benefit from it and that it adds little or nothing to the system. A closer look would also reveal that the government only ends up patronizing and generating revenue for foreign universities while Universities in the country stay empty handed.

The amount of money said to have been spent or earmarked for research abroad could have been used to equip a number of universities in the country with the infrastructure needed for adequate research; thereby making world class research and study readily available for Nigerians. I am not suggesting that the government has done wrong by sponsoring a number of Nigerians for research abroad, but what is wise about doing so when there are local Universities begging to be funded? Even after funding individuals for research and further studies abroad; if they eventually return home (which they seldom do), the barrenness of the local universities would render them useless and the knowledge gained never put to use.

This lack of University funding also directly affects the study curriculum in Nigerian universities as approved by the Nigerian University council. For instance, learning Computer Science in a well equipped foreign university would entail amongst others, learning Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.  In Nigeria, the curriculum shies away from Robotics because there is no laboratory for this highly practical aspect of computer science. So in other words, the study curriculum in Nigerian Universities is mediocre and far from world-class. Nigerian students from a particular discipline can hardly be compared to their colleagues in foreign universities.

Nigerians do not have the right picture of what a tertiary institution of learning should be. A tertiary institution is not just an expansive land on which classrooms and office blocks are built and which has 'lecturers' and students who have scaled the hurdles of JAMB; but this is the picture in Nigeria. A tertiary institution should be a citadel of learning especially by the way of research; an academic institution where society and organizations run to for solution to certain problems.

Recently, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan announced nine new Federal universities which would undoubtedly toe the path of the existing universities- empty, save for lecturers, students, office blocks and classrooms. The move appears to be a proliferation of mediocrity; I would say 'rubbish was just multiplied' by GEJ.

Just like agriculture, education went to the back-burner since Nigeria discovered oil.  Nigerian is so blessed with human resources, mineral resources, good climate, etc but we have a natural disaster called 'bad leadership'. In the United Kingdom, education has turned into a major export product which, according to experts, rakes in about 246 Billion Naira a year from Nigerians only. Nigerians are also found studying in Malaysia, the United States of America, Turkey, Russia etc. In Africa, South Africa, Ghana, Egypt, Benin Republic and Zimbabwe have all usurped Nigeria as the destinations of choice for proper education...how shameful. I cannot come to terms with the fact that the government has not thought along the lines of bringing Nigeria's education system up to a standard where it can be exported -if not the whole world- to countries within Africa.

I would not forget to mention the big gap between industries and tertiary institutions in Nigeria. These two entities should be in a close relationship, but would you blame the industries for not trusting the institutions that lack the infrastructure needed to foster an industry-institution relationship? No! I would say.

Another issue is the failure of school management and lecturers to see and treat students as customers instead of as a pack of no-goods who are being done a favor. If this absurd view can be changed, students would be treated better. Without students, there would be no school; but the major challenge here is that universities know that everyone wants to go to school, even if it means doing a course he or she never liked. Therefore, there is no fear about not having interested applicants to take up even the most useless of courses and because of this, Universities can afford to treat students as slaves, idiots, goats...

Again, students have been subdued into believing that they are goats who the institutions are granting some sort of favor by offering them admissions; students have been subdued into believing that they should not enjoy their institutions and lecturers but their institutions and lecturers should enjoy them; students have been subdued into believing that no matter what wrong is done against them within the four walls of their tertiary institutions, they have no right to complain nor react; they have been subdued into believing that they really do not need lasting knowledge in their fields; they are made to believe that they would succeed in life as long as they can buy worthless textbooks/handout, read to pass exams, 'sort' lecturers to have high scores and pay unscrupulous members of management to graduate with top classes.

Great Oracle, what do you think would be the solution?

I believe the solution lies with our acknowledging the problems mentioned above and agreeing to move forward from them. Part of the solution should be business process re-engineering championed by the use of Computers and Learning Management Systems; this would aid ease management of institutions and promote fair play and honesty amongst students and lecturers alike.

As the Oracle, I would make sure the Shrine plays its role in saving Nigeria's education system and students. I want to use this opportunity to advise Nigerian students to stand up for their rights whenever they are being marginalized by their institutions or lecturers. If you find the task daunting; the Oracle is here to help. Send us an email at save.9jastudents@gmail.com  while stating the name of your school, the problem you have, who are involved and what you have done so far to solve the problem. We would try our best to give you the needed advise or wade into the issue if need be. Spread the message to non-shriners who might need help.

Long live Nigerian Students! Long Live Nigeria!!

Kai! Oracle! I am a lecturer and it appears you have taken a hit on me and my colleagues, but I am equally the Chief Priest so I can only say…

The Oracle has spoken!!