Educated illiterates: The paradox of education in Nigeria

Sometime late last year, on my way to a wedding in company of some of my younger friends, I purchased a newspaper. Since I was driving, I had given the newspaper to the young man sitting in front of the car with me. “Read this aloud for me,” I had told him.

Alas, what I had imagined would be a pleasurable reading became a laboured effort by my young friend. He warred with every single word. All of them seemed new to him. By my own calculation it took him at least ten seconds to mumble through any word. I rose beyond my shock and frankly told my friend how badly he read and how shameful it was that he read that way. He was an undergraduate but I was so sure that some nursery school pupils would floor him in reading competition. It remains a wonder how he completed his primary education and even credited his WAEC papers, passed his JAMB and got admitted into a university. How does he pass his examinations even as an undergraduate?

In my state of confusion, I had asked my friend how often he read novels. He replied that he didn’t like reading novels and that he had not read any since he left secondary school some seven years ago. I was confused all the more by his response because I had assumed that reading novels could help his reading and comprehension ability but I soon realised that his inability to read was not due to his aversion to literature but that his aversion to literature was due to his inability to read.

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With this experience, I was not shocked when the World Bank report made public on Tuesday the 6th of March, 2018, showed that only about 20% of our nation’s primary school leavers could read. Painful as the report is, it is a reflection of the rot in Nigeria’s educational system. It could even be worse.

The implication of this is that our educational system is now churning out illiterate school leavers who are of no value to themselves and to society. It is not just right to place the entire blame on the students for the pitiable condition they find themselves. Some of the wrought in our educational system revolves around the teacher, the parent and the school proprietor. Since it is a general agreement that private schools are better I will focus on them in portraying how the three mentioned agents perpetuate the decay in our national education system.

Today’s teacher is different. He is in no way like the teachers we encountered in our classrooms in the 1980s. He lacks any personal motivation and he discharges his responsibilities with grudges. He thinks that his material poverty is peculiar to him and therefore punishes his students for it. He has reimagined and redefined his role to entail mere coordination of assignments and home works. Actual teaching and solving of the home works of the pupils are now left for the parents.

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Understandably, busy parents and illiterates ones will not be able to meet up with this regime. The implication is that the pupils flounder. The

unconcerned teacher pushes them from one class to another caring less about their actual attainment while they were in their classrooms.

The teacher’s carelessness is abetted by parents. l have seen parents who came to fight a teacher for having the effrontery to fail their wards at the end of a term. I have equally witnessed parents bribing teachers to award high marks to their children at the end of the termly examination irrespective of their actual performance in the course of the term. There are also countless instances of parents procuring ‘expo’ malpractices for their children to enable them pass examinations they were ill prepared to pass. Some have even paid other students, peers to their wards, to write examinations for their children.

The school proprietors are driven more by the quest for easy money than the desire to render service. In this inordinate pursuit they engage in all sorts of underhand dealings. First they employ unqualified personnel as teachers and pay them peanuts knowing that a well-trained teacher may not be able to accept the poor salary they are paying. And because money matters so much to them, proprietors assume wrongly that parents would withdraw their kids from their schools if they fail a term, therefore, they leave the teachers with the instruction that no student should fail at the end of a term. I have witnessed the worst of all these. Indeed, my niece had once scored As in two subjects she neither had exercise books nor textbooks, and therefore did not sit for the examinations.

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I had imagined the anguish of the Minister for Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, as he sat through that tortured report that made a mess of development in a sector he superintends. A quick and thoughtless approach would be to question the curriculum and content of primary education. As someone who should know, not very much is wrong with our content and curriculum. To change this bad situation, our efforts as a nation must focus on the character of the teacher, the parent and the school proprietor.

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