NewsReel 18/5/14 - Education Reform In Nigeria: The Case For Devolution And Decentralization of Authority In The System

[ Masterweb Reports: Chima Iheke, Ph.D reports ] –  There is no gainsaying that education illuminates the path to modernization and consequently to social and economic growth both for the educated individual and society at large.  
It has been noted from the Latin root of the word Education, ducere to lead. That education leads out (‘e) – out of our unformed, primitive selves, education civilizes us, prepares us for participation in society, in culture, in public service. Education opens the gates of the world. It provides the exit, the one way out.
That so fundamental an institution of growth and progress, arguably the greatest source of wealth creation and wellbeing mankind has ever devised, would be given short shrift by our leaders is befuddling at best if not downright appalling and really speaks of a gross abdication of responsibility.
Granted that it is too obvious and pedestrian to make the point that in education lies the repository of mankind’s intellectual property, probably more valuable than all the collective worth of the natural resources we hold, since without the know how to unlock the value inherent in these resources, the natural resources are of little or no value, still it is important to make a note of it in passing and remind ourselves and our leaders who seem not to realize the damage and violence being done to us as a society by this neglect.
As George J. Dixon, the proponent of the Foster Education Act in Great Britain of 1870 puts it, “there is no greater loss of wealth in a country than an uneducated people.” The time has come to salvage and reclaim our educational system from this thickening fog of neglect descending across the land that is casting a benighting crass patina of ignorance across the land.
The tentative progressive steps Nigeria has taken toward modernization to a greater degree can be traced to the fruits of an excellent education system, where school was actually being taught, bequeathed to us by the colonial administration.
Looking back to what used to be, a rot has set in and the fact that our education system is dysfunctional is not in dispute. To dwell on the shortcomings of the system will be an exercise in futility since there is no bright spot to gloat or write home about.
What happened to an education system that was the envy of the world? Nigeria high schools were known as incubators for students of coruscating and ferocious intelligence, who always took top honors in International examinations like the London GCE that ended in 1975. Students taught, enthused and refined through the alembic minds of dedicated teachers actuated by a love of pedantry.
Why has it fallen to such a state of decrepitude?
Those students are still in our midst, among our kids and all they need is an environment that will enable them to reach their full potential. As protean and intractable as this problem may seem, it can be solved if we can fashion a lasting solution rather than applying the same nostrum on a gangrene eating away at the core of the system. First we must identify the cause of the rot so that it can be excised from the core of the structure animating the system.
As noted earlier, the Nigeria education system was robust, producing world class scholars up until the government embarked on a bone headed Erastian policy of disposing communities and religious institutions of their schools. This policy led to the protracted Kulturkampf of the 1970’s between the civil government and religious authorities over control of education that has lasted to date with the consequent collapse in the standard of learning.
Taking over of schools by the government resulted in a plethora of problems that still bedevils the school system. The most insidious act on the system was the centralization of authority.
By centralizing the highest authority of decision making at the state school boards and Federal level, the principals and administrators of the schools were denuded of the requisite authority to effectively manage and administer their schools according to the dictates of the school charter. Before this policy, final authority was vested in the office of the principal who was accountable for the school and decisions were made locally to suit the peculiarities of the institution.
The principals ran their schools with discipline, a prerequisite to an effective learning process, a time was when a high school student would not be caught dead urinating in public, especially one in a school uniform, nor could the student leave the school premises without permission. Students were even more in thrall of their principals and teachers than they were of their parents and each complemented the other to instill discipline and guidance in the student.
One of the most pernicious effects of this centralization of authority was the complete breakdown of authority since the principals could not discipline or cashier a teacher who was not performing up to par and neither could he discipline the student who contravenes the norms of the school without running the risk of a drawn out protracted appeal process through the ministry of education.
A vacuum of leadership and responsibility was the end result of the policy since the government could not enforce from afar, leading to a complete breakdown of discipline and accountability – the bedrock of an effective learning process.
In her magnificent cogent book published in 2013, THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLD: AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY, Amanda Ripley makes just about the same point. She might as well have been writing about and contrasting the education system in Nigeria from her parallels. She pointed out that schools work best when they operate with clarity of mission. When teachers demand rigorous work, students often rise to the occasion. This is possible when administrators and teachers in every subject exhibit the authority of professionals held in high regard. The rot set in once the former system was dismantled with the attendant lack of accountability on the part of the teachers and administrators and indiscipline on the part of the students.
The government both at the State and Federal levels should rescind the current policy and work out a way in consultation with communities and religious organizations and hand the schools back to their original owners in a comprehensive way with adequate compensation to help them rebuild and put in place school districts and standards for the schools to meet.
There is really nothing radical about this proposal. We will simply be going back to what worked in the past and which most
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