The debate surrounding the structure and quality of education in Nigeria is enormous and wide ranging. Although this paper may not be able to detail all the challenges, it will bring some of them into focus. It is however important to state from the onset that the overall responsibility for profound evaluation of Nigeria’s educational system that will provide answers to the glitches facing education in the country is principally the responsibility of the government (Federal and States) through the policies they make for the technocrats to implement. My experience as an elementary and secondary school teacher in Nigeria in the 1970s and ’80s and my over 20 years of international teaching experience in both further and higher education have put me in a position of strength to contribute to this debate.
The significance of education
The importance of education in our national life cannot be overemphasised. Globally, education is considered a fundamental right that all human beings should be accorded. The United Nations recommendation was that all governments should spend at least 26 percent of their Gross Domestic product (GDP) on Education. This is because the world body recognises education as the bedrock for a nation’s advancement. Education is the most powerful instrument to change the world and the oil that powers the engine of change and national orientation. To be educated is to have knowledge and knowledge supports growth of wisdom which is the live wire of human development; knowledge gained from quality education remains invaluable throughout life. It is therefore a given that quality education enables human progress, whilst poor and inadequate education is worthless to the receiver, as it fails to help neither innovation nor creative thinking. A poorly educated person remains stagnant, disorientated, non-competitive and an embodiment of confusion. Poor education leaves the receiver with no idea of the world beyond their immediate space and environment. They are normally far behind their peers who are knowledgeable and creative in their approach to latest trends, developments and the opportunities therein.
The rapidity of decline in the quality of education in Nigeria is alarming. Nigeria’s education policies since independence have steadily and systematically caused untold damages to the Nigerian society. This is rather regrettable and is the reason for poor products from secondary and higher institutions of education in Nigeria where they mostly breed mediocrity in place of excellence. Many schools and universities have turned from being the producers of excellent graduates that the nation was proud of, to manufacturers of expertise in different brands of cultism, heinous armed robbery, and political banditry.
An overview of Education Policy in Nigeria since 1960
It is crucially significant to mention that the current bad shape can be attributed to the accumulated failure of leadership as well as weak and inconsistent policies by succeeding governments (military and civilian) since independence. It is the view of this paper that the situation may get worse if our young technocrats in education and other vocations continue to accept, with complacency, that the weak and erratic education system currently in place is the norm. Complacency will continue to give comfort to leadership failures from the ruling class and administrative inefficiency of policy makers in addressing the problems that are currently facing us all, and that will simply translate to destruction in perpetuity of the structure and quality of the country’s education system. The accumulated culture of impunity being inflicted by the failed leaders, past and present, must not continue unchallenged. The young and upcoming technocrats and professionals must not sit back and allow the spent policy makers to continue to impose on the country, the obsolete, not-fit-for-purpose education policies that are no longer marketable domestically and internationally. In order to enable a complete overhaul of the system, the Federal government of Nigeria will need to declare a state of emergency to make intervention possible.
The Primary/Elementary Education in Nigeria
Currently, there is a notable upsurge in the private nursery and primary schools’ sector. Although private schools are particularly ubiquitous in the Nigerian metropolis and semi-urban cities around the country, the sector is normally controlled by public policy. Nigeria has witnessed several educational reforms dating back to the pre-independence era. It was to the credit of Nigerians, notably the agitators for self-rule that led the British colonial rulers to change the structure of education in 1954 from 8-6-2-3 system, that is, 8 years in primary, 6 years in secondary, 2 years in higher school certificate (HSC) and 3 years in university to a new system of 6-5-2-3 that took students through a 6- year system of primary, a 5-year of secondary, a 2-year of higher school certificate and a 3-year program of university. The change resulted in reducing the number of years at the primary and secondary school levels.
The review was recognised as a patriotic struggle to effect a change in the educational structure for the general good of the country. But since 1969, the Nigeria’s education policy had gone through many changes. The 1969 National Curriculum Conference was the first national attempt to change the colonial orientation of Nigerian educational system and promote what was believed to be the new national consciousness and self-reliance approach. Participants at the conference were eager to develop a new education structure that will empower the country towards the path of scientific and technological development. They viewed the colonial education system as lacking in vitality and relevance. In short, the conference recommended changes in the system, from the existing 6-5-2-3 system to a new 6-3-3-4 system; that is 6 years in primary, 3 years in junior secondary, 3 years in senior secondary and 4 years of university education. The newly recommended system had adopted the American system of education which Japan had adopted after 1945. The significance in the 1969 curriculum conference focused on the Nigerian children in the Nigerian society. But although the Federal Republic of Nigeria had adopted the new structure as an instrument “par excellence” for effecting national education orientation and development, government’s commitment to improving the quality of education in schools declined uncontrollably, thereby posing uphill challenges for successive governments.
It is therefore appropriate to ask the questions: what is wrong with Nigeria’s education system? What are the real problems? Public schools in Nigeria are at the level of zero improvement from what it had been since independence and the condition in most classroom is less conducive to learning compared to what they used to be 40 or 50 years ago. School buildings are dilapidated, equipment is out-dated and old fashioned, teaching resources are mainly consists of blackboards and white chalk. There are no improvements in teaching and learning, as teaching methods remain predominantly archaic. No application of computer technologies except in affluent private schools. Teachers are lacking in contemporary innovative teaching and presentation skills as a result of inadequate training and absence of continuing professional development. Teacher confidence and self-esteem are very low due to lack of payment of salaries for months running into calendar years. These are part of the serious challenges mitigating progress and improvements in Nigeria’s education. A primary school teacher recently said: “We still use blackboard and chalk up till now. The classroom environment is very poor. We sometimes have more than 200 pupils in a class. Some sit under the tree to receive lessons. The classrooms are already old and unpresentable. Most of the schools need renovation. Take a tour of our schools and what you will see is a combination of poor learning environment, low skilled teachers, inadequate facilities, and poorly educated children.
While these underlying factors build up together, the results are certainly that of poor national orientation and poor attitude to civic responsibilities by individuals resulting from inadequate education provision.