By Ridwan Adigun SULAIMON, Lagos
It is time to stop pretending! A worse advice to give to any child in Nigeria today is to give that ages-long advice that: “go to school (that is, higher institutions of learning), get good grades, so that you can get a good job.” Although this advice is originally defective, but it has worked for an era, at least, so I will not focus on its original defects here.
Information gleaned from the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) Brochure, 2019, indicates that Nigeria currently has at least 556 higher institutions of learning – 172 universities, 7 other degrees awarding institutions, 129 polytechnics, 90 monotechnics, and 160 colleges of education. This means that, on the average, since Nigeria has 774 local governments, then in every seven local government, there are at least five higher institutions of learning. Just enough to go around! Sounds great, yet so sad!
So sad that, today, even if you go to school and get a good grade, whether a good or a bad one, the jobs are not even there. Thousands of graduates are churned out of these institutions every time and majority of them are unemployed; and majority of the majority are now even said to be unemployable. No wonder, Nigeria, according to the World Poverty Clock, overtook India as the country with the highest number of poor people in the world. In Nigeria today, it might be better to tell a child that, if you don’t want to be poor, don’t go to school (that is, don’t go beyond basic education or secondary school); Or rather, if you want to be rich, drop out of school. That’s on one hand.
On the other hand, after religions, schools have become the second Nigerian ritual that has little or no positive effect on the health of the Nigerian society; and yet, many people believe that life is incomplete without it. Just as you would see that majority of religion faithful in Nigeria are completely unfaithful in everything else apart from regular visit to places of worship, so also you would find that majority of those who have also gone to school have also remained uneducated; the saddest thing is that many even graduated as schooled illiterates.
During my one year National Youth Service for instance, I have seen graduates who cannot construct two English sentences without breaching the very basic rules of grammar. And there are many of them out there. The least that schools should be able to offer is literacy, if not a complete package of education; and now, it has even failed in that. Then one wonders how and why many people managed to scale through schools despite such a level of illiteracy which brings one to tears.
In his piece titled: “Have I told you School is a problem in Nigeria,” Ganiu Bamgbose aptly captures the scenario when he said: “Schooling in Nigeria has lost its evaluative potency. Any averagely rascally young person can dumbly yet successfully go through all stages of schooling in Nigeria. If not, how else do we explain the case of undergraduates of computer science who cannot tell the function of Ctrl V? What should we say of undergraduates of English who cannot construct simple and grammatical sentences? Now, are you a Nigerian? Do you think any Nigerian learning hairdressing can go through apprenticeship for one year without being able to, at least, make “washing and setting”? I am sure you know it’s a NO! The boss would have contacted the parents for a spiritual intervention. But school children can be in Commercial department at SS2 and be unable to define partnership after four years in secondary school. Maybe we should ask, what then is the problem with schools and schooling in Nigeria?”
I have seen a postgraduate student who does not know what an hypothesis is and I can bet that, that student is in the majority if we test other post graduate students. This may seem like an unpopular assertion, but we all know the truth, even if we won’t admit it. These days, people who cannot contribute any meaningful thing to the society with their first degrees are rushing to second degrees and others.
Just as peer pressure has led many young people to go to higher institutions when they would have fared better as artisans and the likes, there is now a growing peer pressure not to stop at first degree but to proceed to post graduate levels, as if to increase the individual’s years of poverty.
Look around you, it’s as if schooling is breeding poverty as the number of poor graduates keeps increasing; after all, you are trained to “look for jobs”; then it seems like: if you want to close your mind and growth, just go to school.
Look around you, while you spent four or five years in higher institutions, one year youth service and two years of looking for jobs (while you waste away in a private primary or secondary school where you are underemployed), your friend whom has gone to learn a craft or trade since you finished secondary school has passed the stage of setting up and has settled down. Then age and responsibilities keep telling on you; then the same society that pressurised you to keep schooling will come asking you to do something with your life. They will advise you to learn a craft or follow a trade line if you can’t get a decent job, then you will start doing what you should have done ten or more years ago. That’s where you actually belong, but you missed the road initially!
Many graduates today find themselves in this situation and many of them are now going back to learn tailoring and the likes, the smarter ones are using holidays and the usual strike periods to do this. But my question is: if you will fare better as a tailor for instance, why stressing yourself acquiring certificates that you may never need. In fact, if you cannot speak good English after your basic education or secondary school, higher chances are that you may not be able to speak any better English even if you attend a university in Nigeria; at best, you might develop some level of confidence at speaking your poor English. So, why waste your energy?
As Bamgbose puts it, “Going to school is one of the several things a child can do in life. Schooling is one of the many routes to being useful in life; there are other ways. Quite unfortunately, school is one of the things children in Nigeria do without their consent. How dare you tell your Nigerian parents that you don’t want to go to school! You just must! Realistically however, compulsory schooling ends in JSS 3. This is why it is called BASIC 9. This basic education equips young ones with basic literacy and numeracy skills. Young people, after this compulsory schooling, should be helped to determine what they want to do in life based on their passion and ability.
“Those who can use their “head” (cognitive domain) should proceed to the senior secondary school. Those who can use their “hand” (psychomotor domain) should proceed to technical and vocational schools or to learn a trade or to do whatever their creativity can give birth to.
“School, which is called formal education, is just one of the forms of education which should be compulsory up to the end of its basic stage which is JSS 3 or Basic 9 in Nigeria. Afterwards, attention should be given to the potentials of young people in their career path.”
Make no mistake, I love education too and I admit that schools are very important to the society, but the point is for us to change our orientation. Let’s educate young people and their parents that being successful or useful is not tied to going to school at all, but rather, schools is one of the many paths to success or usefulness, it is a CHOICE! It should be a choice! School, after basic education, should be strictly for those who have business with it.
Dear young people, if you bow to societal pressure and you choose an education path that conflicts with who you are, you will suffer it alone. Find your passion, find where you belong, find your own path. Retrace your steps, drop out of school if you have to, stop learning that craft if you have to. Do it for yourself and the advancement of the society. “What will people say?” is one question that has killed many dreams and impoverished many great minds. Stop looking at people and start looking at you. Anything you do is good enough as long as it’s legal and decent.
-Ridwan Adigun Sulaimon, a youth and leadership tutor, human rights campaigner, writer and social researcher, writes from Lagos.
Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @SulaimonRidwan