‘Our curriculum must be reviewed to promote sound character and self-reliance’
A former president of the General Conference, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Professor Michael Omolewa, in this interview with IYABO LAWAL, posited that a review of the school curriculum to promote character, independent thinking and self-reliance in youths coupled with the political will from elected functionaries are needed to propel Nigeria’s education sector to enviable heights.
What is your assessment of the education sector in the last two years?
Let us take a look at what was on ground before this present administration came on board. During this period, there was general decadence, when you have universities ranking and Nigeria did not feature at all, when there was complaint about inadequate funding, there was restlessness in the system, industrial actions here and there. Because at the time, it appeared as if politics and who wins election was the priority, so, education played a second fiddle.
I believe the education issue is of great importance to the present government; you remember the criticisms of the establishment of new universities, that people argued was not well thought out, that how could a serious government establish nine universities only in one day and so when the new administration came, I think the expectations at the time were that there would be a general overhaul and I think in policy formulation, it is always very difficult to effect a change; a wholesome, speedy change.
Change is always gradual, there are certain things you cannot do quickly, and so by 2015, there was a lot of continuity in the sense that those universities that people were complaining about were retained. You also discover that structurally, you see all those institutions in place, however, a major change was effected by the appointment of some people that are very distinguished, eminent educationists and educators. For instance, the National Universities Commission (NUC), even though the system remained, the chairman of the commission, Professor Ayo Banjo, a two- time, vice chancellor was a distinguished academic that you can ever think about as far as this country is concerned and beyond.
I remember then when there was a debate on university ranking and why Nigeria was not featuring, we were getting despondent, I was then in Paris, Prof. Banjo then said why should we always be expecting outsiders to tell us the direction we should go, why don’t we also identify what should be our own criteria, like how comfortable are our students, how proficient are they in the language of the people, how competent are they in terms of post-graduation performance and so on. Instead of thinking of how many books are in the library, that we should be thinking of who has written those books in the library, are they people who don’t understand us, who have different set of values and aspirations and that we should not be carried away by that. When you now have a person like that, of course, one will feel comfortable because you are rest assured that the direction of the NUC for the next years will be based on quality, integrity, predictability and excellence.
Another one is Ishaq Oloyede, who was president of Association of African Universities (AFU). It was during his time that the association got into prominence. He is a performer and a man of distinction. So you find the structure not changing but you find the actors changing. When people talk about continuity, there is continuity of the institutions but those institutions are under new management and that is very important.
Another area is that you also find other institutions like the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Teachers Institute and so on that are manned by very dynamic, vigorous people. For instance, you find this new Mass Education Commission being led by the executive secretary that was trained in adult education; who knows that mass literacy should become a centre stage in educational performance. If you look at the past exercises in mass literacy drive, for example in 1944, there was a mass literacy drive which was trying to show that if you find a bulk of Nigerians that are literate, it would be to the advantage of the nation because people will be able to participate in decision making, they will become more productive, more articulate and more confident but that programme failed in 1960 and we blamed the colonial administration that they did not want us to be literate so that they could just enslave us.
In 1960, we had actually not had any major achievement, the efforts in 1982 by former president Shehu Shagari failed abysmally not because he didn’t want to do it, but his rule at that time was terminated. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who came later, in 1985 to be precise, introduced his own and for eight years, due to the political circumstances at the time, very little achievement was recorded and so the new administration now says that it wants to embark on a mass literacy campaign and it’s going to be led by someone that has the training and so on. It means that there is now a direction towards change, change in bringing people to become literate.
And I do know that what the mass literacy campaign will do is to take advantage of the dividends of democracy, it will involve consultation, negotiation and bringing in the mass media; it means the National Assembly will have to come in with legislation and help to articulate the programmes and at the end, you find more Nigerians who can read and write and therefore able to participate more effectively and efficiently in national development.
There are now more universities and the truth of the matter is that we need more institutions to cater for those who are out there. There is no wisdom in denying people access to institutions when you should be helping them gain access because of equity, because you also want them to have an opportunity to show their ability to be part of development of the nation, so the issue of access has been taken on by the new administration also.
There are criticisms over the fees being charged by private universities, but I think the fact that individuals or institutions decide to invest in education is itself very commendable because you can decide to invest in something else, and make money. One can hardly make profit in education; you are only investing in the future.
Our education curriculum must now prepare people for self-reliance, independent thinking, courage and determination; the one that will really be in defiance of all obstacles, you must be persistent, you must be prayerful and hardworking, you will reach the goal.
What does this administration intend to do between now and 2019?
I know there is a proposal by government for a review of the curriculum and that is why I want to commend the present administration because of its decision to undertake some changes. In other words, all those changes will help this country but they have to be translated into reality and move away from hope.
For example, government has decided to reintroduce history into schools, and that will really help because all those who have been saying how can you have a nation without history, that even in the United Kingdom (UK) if you want to become a citizen, from wherever you come from, you are tested on history, you have to find out how UK became what it is; if that is one of the major achievements of this administration, I think that is commendable. Because one begins to wonder what successive administrations were doing by allowing basic components of self-reliance and independent thinking escape from school curriculum.
This new curriculum is expected to produce people with character, so that one will not just be looking for money but things that are more than mere financial gains. If you are only chasing money, that is an exercise in futility, but if you have the fear of God and the value of caring for others, then one will be a happier person, so the new curriculum should be aimed at doing that.
Besides, we are now in a global village so there is competitiveness which means the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) must be built into every level of the curriculum, teachers must be ICT conscious and competent and even the young ones in pre-primary school must be targeted. Those who are saying because it is a global village we don’t require development of our own, they forget that in a global village, there are huts making up the village and in the huts, there are rooms, so if your hut is dirty, the village will take note of you, you will be different. For you to be part of the global village in competence, in resourcefulness, you must concentrate on developing yourself through the curriculum, the content, teacher preparation, facilitation, examination, monitoring, supervision and everything that goes into the supervision industry.
Finally, private institutions from primary to tertiary level must be encouraged; the reason is because we need these additional elements of intervention to complement and supplement what governments offer. And all governments have persistently said that they cannot do it alone, and so helping these private institutions right from primary to tertiary schools should be encouraged.
There is the mass education as well, if we are to achieve this in only two years where others had failed for even longer years, it means that there would be the need to bring the community to commit heavily, there will be need to bring parents, everybody just to be part of it because it’s going to be an investment for this nation for the future.
But while it’s good to encourage these private institutions, we must lay emphasis on standard. The argument is that standard in most of these schools is low, short of glorified secondary schools. Must we allow these schools simply because we want to encourage access?
I have three answers to that, there is the quality assurance organisation, NUC that does the accreditation, and if it knows that a particular programme is substandard, it would not accredit it. The South African government has this tracker; it is so efficient and effective, they monitor this teacher-learner ratio, they visit the institutions to find out the facilities, the environment and quality of teachers. Secondly, most of the universities in the world that have been very successful have remained private institutions, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and so on, are private institutions. The first university in West Africa, Fourah Bay College is a private university.
Government should be giving private universities and private institutions grants to perform because they are doing what government is unable to do. I believe giving them grants would also improve the quality of their performance.
Another point is this, you cannot rise above your teacher, the quality of the teacher and supervision is so important, that is why in many of the universities now, they say you cannot be a full lecturer unless you have a doctoral degree. The PhD is able to groom you through supervision and so on until you have the PhD, you will now become a little bit more efficient and proficient also in determining the performance of the learners.
Don’t forget that most of these private universities will also die a natural death, when students are running away and you cannot afford to pay workers, you will just discover that you will close down the university.
This curriculum review, how soon will it happen?
The Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) is now under a new management. At the time of the review, there would be a process that would be launched, and once this is done, you will need to have the Joint Consultative Forum (JCC), NASS and others. So it’s going to be a continuous process which is going to be vey successful. I think it will be as radical and revolutionary as the one proposed under Gen. Yakubu Gowon, except that this time, there has to be civil society active participation in the process of the curriculum.
For instance, if history is being brought back, there would be the need to have the History of Education Society of Nigeria; where you have people like Israel Osokoya, one of the best curriculum developers; Prof Alice Jekayinfa, from the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN); she used to be president of that society and she sold a lot of ideas to the University of London, and of course, you have to bring in the Historical Society of Nigeria so that they can write books that would meet the needs of the new curriculum. Then of course, you have the supervision by the regulatory organisation like the National Examination Council (NECO), West African Examination Council (WAEC) and others.
I am sure that this new phase of learning will let us all know what took place on January 1, 1914 at the amalgamation, will demand our knowing how many people were there at the time, what was the representation at the time and some of the undergraduate projects will go to the archives to find out why amalgamation was envisaged at the time.
The new curriculum must ensure that national integration is priority, we should not be breeding sectional oriented people; those who take advantage of where they come from or what religion they practise to get to the forefront. It has to be something that is based on patriotism, skill formation. Apart from national integration, they must also be thinking outside the box, the wider world beyond Nigeria. We have higher phases that we ought to relate to and it is only when you achieve them that you can actually become truly educated.
Finally, this idea of unity school is so imperative to building the nation. So, universities must not just be clustered by only those from one particular area, they have to be broad, different ideas so that these young learners are exposed very early to differences. In 2003, UNESCO had the intangible cultural heritage convention which means that everybody is encouraged to respect the dress, the dance, the language, the attitude and the values of the individual groups within the village so every student must be familiar with that and they must also know diversity is not supposed to be a yardstick for oppressing people, it is supposed to be a means of celebrating differences.
There have been complaints over the centralisation of entrance examination to tertiary institutions with many questioning the role of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and whether or not it should be scrapped. What is your take on this?
Former education minister, Mrs Chinwe Obaji introduced the post-UTME to address criticisms arising from JAMB results. With the post-UTME, once you have a high score in JAMB, the university would be able to know whether you really deserve that or not. It also helps because it also meant that the university was also involved in determining the type of applicant it wanted.
I know that there is a lot of calls for the scrapping of JAMB, but with this new management under the headship of Prof. Oloyede and with the five new initiatives he is taking, I believe that many people perhaps will begin to have a rethink on JAMB.
The universities also have systems in which they use to screen candidates, let each continue and I’m sure there will be a consensus as to what the future of JAMB will be.
What about tackling lack of funding, seen as one major problem confronting the sector?
You know UNESCO recommended a particular percentage, in addition to that, this global monitoring report about performance of MDGs is always emphasising the funding element. There is very little you can do without funding. I talked about mass education earlier, in the places where there have been successes, the funding was massive. Cuba for example. Cuba is of course a small place, about three million while Nigeria is about 150m million but funding is priority.
And it’s not just funding provision, but monitoring of the judicious use of the funds. I think that any government that is really serious in using education as an instrument for effective change and development in a nation will take the issue of funding very seriously, that is why the education package must involve the input of all the elements in the society – National Assembly because they are responsible for the budget; the Executive arm, and then the parents because I believe that if carefully managed and recognised that human resource development is priority, then funding will follow.
Strike is another issue that requires a permanent solution to put our education system on the path to greatness. How do you think this can be addressed?
Strike is always a product of disaffection, lack of confidence in the negotiating process. What can be done is keeping the process of dialogue open all the time, ensuring that people who are disgruntled know that they can always put their own case before those who will decide their fortune and their fate.