Educational reform and nation building in Nigeria (2)
CONTINUED FROM FRIDAY 20/11/2015
Parents must be invested in our schools as institutions, not just in how their own children are performing. We must recognise how connected we all are. We must ask ourselves, even if our children are at the top of their class, what good is it doing them if the overall standard is subpar? A rising tide raises all ships, and a better intellectual and moral environment benefits all within it.
This raises for me a number of pertinent matters. Financing public education requires huge investment. Is it realistic in contemporary Nigeria to saddle the government with the funding of public schools at all levels? Or should parents be required to help fund public education as well? If so, how much financial sacrifice should parents be willing to make?
The argument I often hear from our colleagues in our public universities is that many parents are willing to spend exorbitant sums to send their children to private schools. Why then, are so many reluctant to spend a fraction of same on public school financing? If we expect meaningful rehabilitation of our public schools, then the issue of parents’ financial involvement has to be part of the conversation.
However, it is important to acknowledge that majority of parents of students in public schools seem to be the least able to pay more than they already do. If they had more, they would probably join more wealthy citizens in sending their children to private schools. Whichever way we go with this as we rethink educational reform in Nigeria, we must keep in mind that the level of poverty in our communities will require that we continue to give full financial support to students from indigent homes and communities.
In addition, alumni should realise that they have a particularly important role to play in the lives of our schools. In my travels abroad to institutions all over the world, I am always struck by how some of the most important programs, scholarships, departments, and endowments are the result of alumni investment and involvement. Particularly now, given the high number of successful Nigerian professionals all over the globe who benefitted from our top-notch education in the post-independence era, I believe it is important for our schools to reach out to alumni and for alumni to answer that call and invest in the institutions that ensured their prosperous future. As a scholar of comparative religions, I find it fascinating that practically every faith tradition contains this concept. Whether it be tithing in Christianity, zakat in Islam, or sara in traditional religion, each of these religions appreciates the necessity of showing our gratitude by returning part of the bounteous harvest we have received.
Finally, I must admit that I am such an ardent advocate for public education because I myself am a product of the system.
I am forever grateful for the strong liberal arts education I received at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. I know how much I benefitted from its adoption of the U.S. general education system, and I will be forever proud of the high marks UNN graduates received on the Nigerian civil service entrance examinations. This intellectual tradition has served me remarkably well, and because I have seen first-hand the great difference a strong public education made in my own life, it gives me great hope for the future of Nigeria to know that this can be a reality for a whole generation of future civil servants, educators, politicians, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, and citizens of Nigeria.
It is through a strong educational system that we can reform our national image, ethos, and unity. If we want good governance, we must look to education. If we want social justice, we must look to education. If we want to decrease poverty and increase literacy, we must look to education. If we want a skilled, disciplined, and hardworking labor force, we must look to education. If we truly want change in our country, we must begin to rethink and reinvest in our education system
It is through a strong educational system that we can reform our national image, ethos, and unity. If we want good governance, we must look to education. If we want social justice, we must look to education. If we want to decrease poverty and increase literacy, we must look to education. If we want a skilled, disciplined, and hardworking labor force, we must look to education. If we truly want change in our country, we must begin to rethink and reinvest in our education system.
As students, faculty, and staff of the University of Ilorin, we have an important role to play in this important national enterprise of constructing a pathway to an effective education system that will enhance nation building. We can do this here at the University of Ilorin by creating a new value system that will advance the common good, transform our curriculum to reflect a new civic responsibility that will speak directly to the pressing challenges of our nation, and encourage a student culture that will put the national interest before the narrow self-aggrandizement that is pervasive in our society.
Finally, I would like to welcome all graduating students present here today to the community of educated men and women. I am glad that you have had a truly purposeful training in this great institution and that you have acquired the kind of experience here that has prepared you to set out on your next journey in life. There are certainly great challenges ahead of you, but with determination, hard work, and trust in God and in this nation, you will achieve greatness in your career and your life. As you enlist in the National Youth Service in various communities across Nigeria, just as I did 40 years ago in this very city, I hope you take up the challenge to make your own contribution to this country’s nation building efforts, begun by our founding leaders more than half a century ago. Be good ambassadors of this great institution and may Almighty God sanctify all that you have been and continue to guide what you will become in life.
I congratulate the new Chancellor, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Abdulmumin Kabir Usman. I pray that Almighty Allah will make your tenure a productive and peaceful one for this university. I thank the Vice-Chancellor for inviting me to give this convocation lecture. God bless Unilorin, God bless Nigeria.
God bless you all.
•Olupona is a professor of African and African American Studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and a professor of African Religious Traditions, at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University