Certificated illiterates and unemployable graduates
“We do not need to look far to know why our nation has seemingly lost its soul. Education, which constitutes the backbone, the central nervous system, of any nation, has collapsed in our country. It is not as if the system has been taken over by bad men and women. No. It is just that we have had a complete system collapse, triggered by years of military rule which had total disregard for systems and processes…. This has resulted in a fractured society with no shared values and no clear navigational aids.”
– Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, 2014 Convocation Lecture, University of Uyo.
WE are having a serious crisis on our hands that many of us are yet to come to terms with. Our nation’s education sector is suffering from systemic collapse. Some years ago a UNESCO report noted that Nigeria’s educational system is producing “unemployable illiterates” who lack the critical human and analytical tools to connect, compete, and collaborate in an increasingly globalised work environment. A huge percentage of our youth population is out of work. That’s already a ticking time bomb. The 2013 UNESCO report has it that over 10.5 million Nigerian children of school age are out of school. With the crisis of unemployment and the comatose state of our nation’s educational system we are headed for troubling times.
Recently, Olusegun Adeniyi has brought a fresh perspective to the issues. He highlights the fact that many of our universities and colleges are producing “certificated illiterates” as teachers at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education, who then go on to produce “unemployable graduates.” In his THISDAY column of October 15, 2015, titled “Teaching Computer On Chalkboard,” Adeniyi narrated his experience of being on a panel of six judges, made up mostly of university professors, who were elected to oversee the process of selecting winners for the 2015 edition of the Maltina Teacher of the Year Awards.
Adeniyi noted that out of the hundreds of entries submitted, 275 valid application forms were shortlisted for the final process. His experience marking the essay scripts of these teachers “was very revealing. Many of the teachers did not understand the questions they were asked and thus wrote, for want of a better description, utter nonsense! What makes that a serious issue is that this was a form each filled without any supervision and at their pleasure.” Adeniyi’s findings, as was the case with the other judges especially Prof. Pat Utomi, showed that many of the teachers lack English language comprehension and communication skills.
For people who are supposed to teach young minds, nothing could be more distressful. One is then tempted to ask: What is the quality of knowledge being imparted in our public schools today when the teachers who should impart this knowledge lack the capacity, the skills and the tools to effective communicate what they know to their students? Many astute observers could easily conclude that this is a signpost of the disaster waiting to happen. In other words, we are recycling illiteracy in the name of education; and as long as this continues our country is headed nowhere.
For the past couple of years the result of the May/June Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) for Nigeria is a far cry from what should obtain in a country that is serious about the quality education of its students. The 2015 result recently released by WAEC showed that only 39 per cent of the total number of candidates that sat for the examination obtained credits in five subjects and above including English and Mathematics. By any standard of assessment, 39 out of 100 is not pass. It is fail. If we go to the tertiary level of education the record is also dismal. In the 2015 list of the world’s best 1000 universities released by Webometrics, no single Nigerian university made it on the list. This means that in terms of international university performance dictated by the core missions of teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook, Nigeria is nowhere. Without having a single world-class university, the prospect of quality teaching and cutting-edge research as key components of the drivers of social change is already defeated.
Many of our educational institutions lack the capacity for rigorous and robust intellectual engagement. Nigeria’s budgetary provision for education is one of the poorest in all of Africa. The persistence of industrial strike action and the collapse of infrastructure have both conspired to rob our citadels of learning of the credibility and consistency that visionary educational institutions are known to build over time. Criteria for admission and recruitment have been infected by politics, quota system and mediocrity. As a result of the poverty of vision, the lack of imagination, the dearth of creativity and the scarcity of mentors and role models, there is no longer any incentive for students to work hard, for parents to push their children to succeed and raise their expectation because it does not reflect in their life’s outcome.
There is no link between what people achieve in the classroom and where they turn out to work and their eventual status in life. Excellence and hard work no longer have any positive correlation with success. The crisis becomes acute when we add the emerging situation of all kinds of certificate syndrome today. Many of our elite schools and colleges have made failure a thing of the past. Students are promoted to the next class even when they fail because the school cannot afford to lose the exorbitant fees paid by the parents. Certificates and results can now be acquired at the expense of toil and sweat. Let us not even talk about the issue of discipline and morals in our schools. It is almost like a criminal offence to correct an erring child. A teacher who attempts this has to be prepared to bear the wrath of the parents of the child.
How do we then reinvent the wheels? How can we resuscitate our comatose educational system and make it serve as the vehicle for social transformation? How can our educational system prepare today’s young people for leadership and public service in a fast changing world? These questions are far from being merely academic; they touch at the heart of nation building and authentic human development.
Today’s students need to know that the individuals who are emerging as the new winners of the 21st century are those who possess above average creativity, strong analytical skills, a knack for foresight and good people skills. They are the right-brainers who are taking over the present economy. They are the inventors, the designers, the listeners, the big-picture thinkers, the meaning makers and the pattern recognisers – those who know how to optimise and creatively maneuvre the facts, not just memorise or regurgitate them. All this they do while knowing how to effectively team up with others. Even in remote villages of the world, people with such talents are popping up.
To succeed in this new world order, young people need to be taught leadership principles that will equip them with more adaptability, knowledge, ingenuity and resources, not just to survive on the margins, but to thrive in the 21st century. They need to be infused with the passion, the dynamism and the entrepreneurial spirit to shape their lives and future and the future of the world. Today’s challenges place a higher premium on the ability to champion change, drive for results and an ability to lead a process of continuous improvement.
For instance, a young Nigerian who aspires to be president or senator or minister or governor or who wishes to attain the echelon of any other area of professional life, should know from an early age what schools or colleges he should attend, what sort of books he should read, what sort of friendships he should cultivate and what sort of places he should go to learn the rudiments of life and leadership. This is how best brains are discovered and helped to focus their energies in the right direction. In Europe and America this is how young people are equipped and prepared for the challenges of the future. In Nigeria, we too can do the same.
• Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja. (firstname.lastname@example.org) / 07066363913.