Thursday, June 19, 2008

The World Book Day

On April the 23rd 2008, I had the privilege of participating in a round table discussion on education at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in an event organized by the Pulitzar Reading Club of Nigeria. Professor Grace Alele Williams was also a Special Guest at that event and performed the Investiture of Professor Joy Ogwu as patron of the club. Professor Ogwu however couldn’t make it but was ably represented.

The deputy governor of Lagos State also sent her representative. Notwithstanding, the event was low keyed as many of the invitees didn’t show up. Apart from the NTA, the press was not present either to cover the event. The whole thing brought to the fore the stark reality of Nigeria today in so far as education is concerned. It is a sad pointer to the low value we ascribe to education in this country. As I reminiscence on the events of that day, I kept asking myself, what is the purpose of education and where have we missed it as a nation?

Education I believe has a two-fold function of culture and utility in the life of man and society. Education must make a man to be more effective to pursue the legitimate goals of his life with adroitness. Similarly, education must enable a man to think scientifically and logically in order to discern the truth from the lie, the facts from the fiction and the real from the unreal and to liberate him from the morass of propaganda and the legions of half-truths.

To think decisively and for oneself is quite difficult indeed, thus education must equip a man with the ability to think resolutely and incisively as well as think intensively, critically and efficiently. There are people with the mistaken belief that education should help them to oppress the disadvantaged, and to supply them with great ends rather than means to an end. I agree with Martin Luther King Jr that: Education which stops at efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but with no morals…We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only the power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.

Perhaps it is more appropriate to even first of all define what education is: The word education is coined from the word educate which in turn is derived from the Latin word ‘educo’ meaning to educe, to draw out, to develop from within. In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill argued that: An educated man is not necessarily, one who has an abundance of general or specialized knowledge. An educated man is one who has so developed the faculties of his mind that he may acquire anything he wants, or its equivalent, without violating the rights of others. In the preceding paragraphs he had said that knowledge is not power but potential power and it becomes power only when, and if, it is organized into definite plans of action, and directed to a definite end.

He then said it is this missing link in all systems of education known to civilization today that may be found in the failure of educational institutions to teach their students how to organize and use knowledge after they acquire it. There is no disputing the fact that our educational system is lying moribund today due mainly to inept governance over the years and partly to a society that has come to place more value on paper qualifications than on quality training. Since 1985, government has repeatedly cut down budgetary allocation to education and has even stopped subsidizing it.

The 191 countries including Nigeria that ratified the UN Convention on the rights of the Child are under legal obligation to provide free and compulsory primary education to all. In the same vein, the 1997 Addis Ababa Convention sponsored by ECA, UNICEF and the World Bank stipulates that primary education and basic health services should either be free or heavily subsidized, but again and again, Nigeria has defaulted on this promissory note. Our States and Federal Institutions of Higher Learning have become mere consulting rooms. Government especially from the last Administration has increasingly embarked on commercialization of education with granting of licenses to corporate individuals and organizations including the churches.

The emerged private universities had done nothing but worsen the System with tuition fees between N400, 000 and N600, 000 that over 80percent of Nigerians cannot afford. The church whose traditional purpose from God is to imbue men with the bread of hope, faith and love has been more culpable in these respects. About 90percent of Nigerians received less than N400, 000 per annum and each family has at least three children. How can they afford to send even one of their wards to these schools with such salaries? Such is our society today.

History tells us that nations neither developed nor integrate into global markets without first equipping their citizenry with the requisite skills provided by education. Moreover, education is a fundamental human right; if not the most human of all human rights because it is reading and writing that set human beings apart from all other creatures. Without it, the people will be held down, intellectually starved and mentally retarded. Natural resources will not develop us; only human capital development will. These account for why Africa, though home to 40 percent of the world natural resources remains the poorest continent. I submit that the Millennium Development (Education) Goals or the Vision 2020 will be a mirage if we don’t re-define our values as a nation and change our perspective on education.