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Quit Schooling, Start Learning
Academic brilliance doesn't guarantee one's life choices
As a young girl in Queen’s College – oh ‘QC’ of blessed memory – she wanted to be a doctor. She studied hard and attained five As and three Cs in her senior school leaving certificate examination (SSCE). Nonetheless, despite her ‘supposedly’ excellent SSCE grades, she failed her university matriculation exams, ‘JAMB’ not once but twice, not because she wasn’t brilliant enough, but because her marks kept falling below students who had either cheated by gaining access to the JAMB questions beforehand, or who had paid mercenaries to write their exams for them or who ‘settled’ exam invigilators.
Eventually, she scored high enough on the third try, but did not get a place in medical school, but instead, qualified for a degree in marine biology. Marine biology? Who studies marine biology? What will I do with such a degree? As devastated as she was, writing JAMB for the fourth time was not an option.
University offerings should reflect labour market needs
So, she went on to study a degree she had no knowledge of, and no interest or passion for. Yet, she worked very hard and after four years, she graduated with an upper-second class degree. She was filled with so much enthusiasm and energy, and then came her third reality check. There were no jobs for marine biologists. Even more disconcerting was that she had no idea where to apply for a job as a marine biologist. She had no idea how to commercialise her marine biology knowledge.
In any case, ever wondered why in the first place, Nigerian universities offer courses with almost no market possibilities for graduates? Or why universities do not prep students in anticipation of their journey into the labour market?
Teaching practices at schools are too archaic to deliver change
Well, that said, she realised she had just spent four years at the university, in fact, ten years – no, sixteen years if you count her primary and secondary education, reciting, studying, ‘gberu gbeso’, regurgitating information unto examination scripts. It dawned on her that her ‘excellent’ grades were not a certification of any form of applied knowledge or critical thinking of any kind, but merely a test of her cramming abilities and ‘right-answerism’ proficiency (the ability to provide the correct answers from a catalogue of stored knowledge).
In fact, the ‘lecture and drill’ approach used at schools made students so passive and saw them disengage in classrooms until ‘exam time’, when students spend sleepless nights frantically studying, and burning both ends of the candle. The end result is that students graduate without being able to apply their knowledge, skills and ideas in the labour market. This happens because schools did not allow for thinking, discussing, contributing, applying, critiquing or creating where knowledge and learners are concerned.
Why graduate if you don't have employable skills
Consequently, graduates attend schools without absorbing employable, entrepreneurial or critical skills. This is in part responsible for not only the nearly six million underemployed and unemployed urban youths in Nigeria today, but also the socially and morally fractured nation we have become. In some cases, graduates take up jobs in fields that contrast their educational background and in my case, this science-oriented marine biologist graduate secured employment in a bank. In fact, she was admitted with a cohort of 30 other graduates, and 90 per cent of them had medical, science, engineering and law backgrounds.
It made no sense that all these people went to university to study to be doctors, scientists, engineers and lawyers, only to end up working in a bank, ‘chasing’ after bank deposits. However, it did not take long for their training co-ordinator to explain why there were hardly any banking and finance graduates in the bank training class. “Whether you studied banking and finance or not, there is nothing you [learned at] university that will be useful in your work with the bank. Everything you learn in the next three months is all you need to prepare you for the job ahead, and the rest, you will learn on the job”. Those were his words.
Nigerian certificate - a means or an end?
In summary, the upper second-class division certificate was not a test of knowledge or skill, but an indication of students’ doggedness and perseverance regarding the extreme rigours of the Nigerian education system. The university certificate gets you on a shortlist for an employer’s assessment test, the SSCE certificate secures the opportunity to receive a university placement, and the primary school common entrance examination ensures entry to secondary school, which enables the SSCE certificate that facilitates the university certificate, which aids the retention of employment.
Each certificate is clearly a screening tool that is used to sort through vast numbers of prospective applicants who are looking to progress from one level to the next. The quest for certificates over learning, for examination results over knowledge, and for ends over means, is why the level of academic fraud, unethical practices and education corruption at every level, from primary to higher education, is rampant in NIgeria. Everyone wants a certificate because it ensures entry to whatever level comes next. Like certificates, outcomes and ends are what drive people to attend schools, not necessarily a passion for knowledge or the opportunity to learn something new. Students simply go through the motions without actually learning anything tangible or acquiring any useful skills.
...and so, the Nigerian economy suffers...
Today, complaints abound that most Nigerian graduates cannot structure comprehensible sentences, think critically, solve problems or engage in sensible democratic debates, and as such, are prone to violence, conflict, bigotry and anger. Today, Nigeria is saddled with an unemployed and underemployed youth population of 26 million, among which roughly six million are considered over-educated but under-skilled graduates, or over-educated but under-utilised graduates. Today, Nigeria’s education system suffers, because the under-employed and unemployed graduates cannot contribute their share of taxes so that government can provide quality education to another set of children.
Today, the Nigerian economy is suffering because the government cannot earn a return on the investment it made in these six million graduates and more, most of whom at some point may have enjoyed a form of government intervention by way of free tuition, low tuition or other incentives. Nigerian education has not only failed to deliver its primary objective of being a ‘private good’ that enables individual students to earn decent wages, but has also failed as a ‘public good’ that enables students to support their families, communities and the society at large.
It is not too late to charge forward
I absolutely agree with Dele Momodu in his recent piece ‘What Exactly Are We Restructuring’ where he calls on the president to declare a state of emergency in the education sector. A change in tactics is required for schools to begin impacting knowledge that engenders real learning. Schools need to shift away from being examination-administering houses for certificate issuance, and instead aspire to being assessment-driven environments that support progress, development and learning. The traditional lecture-driven, boring, cane-oriented type of education must give way to interactive, thought-provoking, deeply-engaging, creative-building, interest-stimulating, and skill-building-oriented education.
If these changes are not implemented, the Nigerian education system will remain detached from the economy, to the detriment of the nation and of Africa as a whole. However, if the correct methods and strategies are used in Nigerian schools, institutions, and colleges, our bright Nigerian minds will be able to develop into creative, critical and powerful forces that connect ideas learned in the classrooms with the national and global issues and markets.
Lagos,a fine example, it is but one state
Lagos for example, has already begun to set the pace for change through the implementation of READY SET WORK #RSW2017, a strategy that aims to equip final year graduates with employability and entrepreneurial skills. No gainsaying that Lagos still needs to address other issues at all education levels, but what is your state doing to make sure students are actually learning and learning valuable skills to earn a good living, engage in democratic participation and contribute to national development