Before the Federal Government misdirects education again
One of the most trending issues of national concern in the last one week is the revelation by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo that the Federal Government was redesigning education curriculum. The close connection between education and other segments of development as captured in the United Nations’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) makes interesting to scholars, researchers, practitioners and operators in all fields and sectors issues, concerns, activities and policy directions over the SDG 4. A deep sense of concern about the implication of a possible misdirection of the education sector in the country with its attendant retrogression and non-attainment of developmental goals constitutes the rationale for a quick professional engagement with the official revelation by the country’s second citizen, during the 23rd Convocation Lecture of the Lagos State University delivered by him on Thursday 16th May, 2019. For the wheel to come full circle and for proper engagement with the question, it is imperative to highlight in what follows the specific words of the VP that constitute this revelation.
It is obvious that there is need to change both the substance of education that Nigerian children receive as well as the methods by which they are educated. We are clear that the key to achieving this is to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math Education and the need for a workforce with STEAM skills to drive economic prosperity….The Federal Government new policy is to introduce Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics curriculum in primary schools…We recognise that schooling should support the development of skills in cross-disciplinary, critical and creative thinking, problem-solving and digital technologies. These skills are essential in all 21st-century occupations.
The national curriculum being developed would not only include the teaching of coding, digital arts, design thinking, robotics, critical thinking and other skills but also using these skills in interpreting traditional curriculum topics. The aim of the Federal Government is to ensure that from early education, primary school onwards regardless of social background or geographical location every young person should have a fundamental level of digital and STEAM literacy.
There are four major logic-based derivatives in the submission as produced above. They are that there is need for curriculum change, that a decision had been taken to focus on STEAM, that a cross-disciplinary approach to skills development will be employed, that the new national curriculum is already being developed and is intended to provide for the acquisition of fundamental level of digital and STEAM literacy at all levels of education in Nigeria. A more creative look at the submission may however reveal other derivatives that may not be as central and significant.
The submission unarguably signals the next direction of education in Nigeria and also hints of the nature of the reform desired for education by the Federal Government. It is portentous of danger and calamitous educational experience and one must be quick to comment in view of the inappropriateness of the components mentioned in the excerpt, for the current state of education in the country. Although the components may at best be right ingredients for educational reform elsewhere, the submission is grounded in the need to “change both the substance of education that Nigerian children receive as well as the methods by which they are educated”.
If this must be taken seriously, then it is instructive to state that the first condition to meet is technical soundness which requires an investigation of what can work and what may not work for Nigeria, as against the blind imitation or sheepish embrace of curriculum designing orientation that is dominant or globally popular. Technical soundness as well as change in the structure of schools, in the form of teacher-students interaction, are sine qua none to curriculum change which is never approached bureaucratically but rather organically. For instance, as stated in the submission, “the national curriculum being developed would not only include the teaching of coding, digital arts, design thinking, robotics, critical thinking and other skills, but also using these skills in interpreting traditional curriculum topics”. These words expose a bureaucratic disposition rather than an organic engagement with the curriculum. This bureaucratic thinking needs to be replaced by an adaptive and realistic approach that is focused on grassroots problems and conditions of Nigerian schools.
The ideas articulated in the excerpt are great and interesting but unfortunately do not match the peculiarities of the education sector in Nigeria, altogether, with regard to what should be done as education reform. Therefore, this piece ventures to alert the government and alarm the citizenry to the risk of importing a curriculum from an overseas model under the guise of redesigning education curriculum. While appreciable instances of best practices may be contextualized for replication in curriculum constructions, it should be noted that there is no acceptable practice that is bereft of faults and failings which is why curriculum importation or imposition is deemed bizarre in the education parlance. For, a curriculum is a product of peculiarities and identities which are hardly undifferentiated even between two historically homogenous and geographically neighbouring states.
Accordingly, a process of curriculum redesigning, begun today and approached diligently and professionally, is not likely to have been completed or attained its implementation stage even at the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term tenure of another four year. I hope to demonstrate this claim in what follows. But the salient question is, what kind of curriculum reform does Nigeria need?
A curriculum redesigning for Nigeria is expected to be a product of purposefully formulated national education standards for the country which are cognizant of what is required to function as a Nigeria focussed but globally oriented citizen in the context of today. The Nigerian national standards so generated will most probably have the potential to facilitate the acquisition of Nigerian focussed 21st Century Skills. The specific descriptions and peculiarities of Nigeria as a country should play a leading role in the formulation of the standards, based on certain descriptions of the country. What this means is formulating a Nigerian curriculum for Nigerian settings as against importing to or imposing on Nigeria some alien fragments of curriculum components in the name of education curriculum redesigning. What Nigerian children deserve is home-cooked education meal and not a hurriedly put together stuff known as fast education food.
To be continued tomorrow
•Rufai is the immediate past Dean of Education, Sokoto State University and a Jeddah-based Education Consultant/Strategist.
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