By Bisi Lawrence
Once again, the National Examinations Council has had cause to bemoan the woeful results of its Senior School Certificate Examination results. The deplorable returns have been going on for some years without any sign of a change for the better. It is really an aspect of the general awful development of deterioration in our educational system. The situation in our tertiary institutions is no less appalling.
Our universities pour out a deluge of graduates year by year, and we complain bitterly about the difficulty in finding employment for them, But, as a matter of fact, openings in the labour market continue to be advertised and filled from time to time in some specialized fields. However, it is apparent that there is a surfeit in most of the other fields, and so the unemployment index for the country keeps soaring.
There are several factors responsible for this deplorable state in our social development, as it could be imagined, but the loose structure of our educational system at the very beginning of tutorial instructions undoubtedly plays a major role.
Our primary education was built on a solid foundation that started with the impartation of basic knowledge of the immediate physical surroundings, leading to an awareness of larger units of the world in which we live. We learnt about all this in what we knew as “geography”.
We assimilated definitions which encapsulated the descriptions of various objects in nature. We knew the properties of an island, or lake, or mountain, or valley. These were the underpinning bricks on which we built the understanding for higher knowledge.
We also learnt about the past. The folk lore that was showered on our upbringing formed the basis for a grasp of our history which we absorbed as the basis for the introduction to the events of olden days from the beginning of creation.
And so the ladder of education was extended higher progressively until we learnt about knowledge itself and its application to various endeavours. But, to paraphrase Wordsworth, “it is not now as it hath been of yore …”
In several states of the Federation, the substance and value of education has been distorted. So many experts in the field of education have discarded the old forms and substituted newfangled ideas sown and harvested by their whims and caprices, seemingly to impress themselves and others that they were on to a new thing.
For instance, one would be hard put to find the subject of “geography” in the “schedule”, or curriculum of learning in primary institutions in Lagos state. There is still English or Mathematics, thank God, but the theme of basic subjects is diffused in vague headings like “quantitative” , “social studies”, “verbal” “creative art” etc.
In several cases, vital areas like the one pertaining to geography, which was mentioned earlier, are totally missing. They have been “transferred” to the secondary level. So, you ask a student in Primary Four, born and reared in Lagos, to tell you who King Kosoko was, and he doesn’t have a clue.
Or ask him what a lake, or a peninsula is, and he is without a clear knowledge of either. You wonder what is derived from “quantitative” and “creative art” at the age of seven years. You are left to imagine what benefits a child derives at that age from “social studies” which is supposed to be mostly about government.
And so, let us proceed to the secondary level where there is such a muddle. There are so many subjects like “home economics” in which male students are supposed to take part, though sometimes only by choice. There is a mix of academic preference that seems fairly conceived to confuse the young mind, and with that is a workload of backbreaking content.
And, in all this,counselling is generally denied to the unwary student who may simply have to grope through his studies without any definite idea of what he wants to make out of himself. It would be very clear, with a little bit of scrutiny that some “expert” geniuses have been allowed to have their way with our educational system.
Many people already realize this fact, but their answer to the problem has been personal. In general, they send their children abroad —some to Britain and the United States, others to African countries like Ghana and South Africa – in response to the mushroom of advertisement which have blossomed on the pages of our newspapers recently.
Others still, continue to patronize special schools here, whose curricula are largely fashioned after the old systems which still obtain abroad. The current procedures in this country are sure to send us down more and more, down the lane of poor results and hopeless graduates. We have to change it.
A good step which was initiated in Lagos State during the tenure of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was the return of the schools seized by the government, back their private owners. The decision was implemented on the honour of the former governor to the delight of the former school owners, and the emulation of other states.
But then it was however mysteriously discarded in some areas by those who were in charge, and not even fully to the knowledge of the government. This is still a stain in the otherwise immaculate fulfilment of the promises made for social progress by the former Ashiwaju administration.
There is not much wrong with our students apart from the faulty orientation that a bankrupt system has imposed on them. We need to change the system. There is little wrong with the quality of our teachers either. In fact, the trend is that they are now getting more professional, at least in qualification, than before.
Those who taught us in our time were mostly from training schools, especially at the secondary stages. There was only a modest standard of formal training demanded in teaching at the primary level, though the attitude towards dedication may need to be improved.
And yet, at that time, our institutions were at par, with their counterparts in other parts of the West African Sub-region in the standard of the graduates and professionals turned out. Not only that, we even excelled with products like the late Marshall Akinrele of King’s College fame, emerging in a certain year, as the best all-round student in the WAEC results.
He gave credence to that performance through his career as First Class engineering graduate at Cambridge. There were several others who won academic laurels at Harvard and Dublin, Glasgow and Kent, in the sciences and the arts. The deficiency must originate, then, from within our system.
We need to go back and revive the old forms and principles. We need to discard borrowed ideas that do not conform to the starting points from which we stepped into the pool of learning. We need to recall the method with which we aligned the knowledge of our native history and local surroundings to the awareness of our citizenship of the world.
We need a total review of our educational system, with regard to how it can prepare us as Nigerians for the world in which we have to live as equals with other human beings. We need not declare an emergency on education. The emergency already exists.
Today, the “old Grammarians” — that is the old boys of the CMS Grammar School, Lagos, will still be striving to recover from the sadness occasioned by the death of Major General H.E.O.Adefope, a former prefect and football captain of that institution in the ‘forties.
That was when I first knew him at the beginning of a relationship that was founded on great respect and affection. I was one of the several boys in the \preparatory classes, who had our elder brothers in the upper classes. Included in that group were Kunle Oyeshiku, Femi Asekun, Idowu Kaitel, Bishi, Dada, and Solanke. We enjoyed a special rapport with the peers of our elder siblings.
I can therefore claim, with great pride, that I knew “Uncle Henry” (that is what I always called him) very well through a period of association at different levels spanning decades. My pride is in the fact that he was always a credit to all of us who held him as a role model, right to the end.
I knew him as someone who was almost a martinet, when it came to discipline, as the chairmen of sports associations found out very quickly when he became the head of the National Sports Commission. He was then a colonel, but another of the same rank who was in charge of football rapidly got his marching orders when he ran contrary to Uncle Henry’s directives, barely weeks into his term.
Another sports official was swiftly put under “close arrest”, and the man who posed to be his advocate found himself on the way to detention, but for the timely intervention of Chief Tony Enahoro, who was the Minister in charge of Sports. ON EACH OCCASION, Uncle Henry never raised his voice nor did he alter the even tone of his demeanour. He merely laid down the law.
Those incidents were linked with the preparations for the Second All-Africa Games in which Nigeria won the Gold Medal in football, our first international award in that game. And it was not without the zealous leadership of Uncle Henry, who encouraged the NFA to work with the Brazilian coach whose initial efforts were not very exciting.
But, at the instance of Uncle Henry, a conference of coaches headed by the late Teslimi “Thunder” Balogun, appointed Dan Anyiam and Godwin Etemike to support the Brazilian, and that eventually created a team that ruled Africa for nearly five years.
Uncle Henry will be remembered by many as a Minister of Foreign Affairs, a post which he filled with a certain grace and aplomb all his own. Professionally, he went into the military as a medical practitioner of combatant status and subsequently became the head of the Armed Forces Medical Corps. He held that position along with that of the highest sports ranking in the land without a wrinkle.
And then he was appointed to the prestigious International Olympic Committee as a member. There he was to distinguish his service with a remarkable standard of honesty being cleared of any wrongdoing by investigations into allegations by which some other offices, notably from the Africa Region, were removed from office.
In this, he lived up to his avowed declaration as a Christian. In spite of his engagements in the military and sports administration, Uncle Henry still found time to serve his God, not just as a parishioner of the Anglican Communion, but also as a Warden in the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos. Like the knights of olden days, he richly deserved to be described as a gentleman of “muscular Christianity”.
His sense of humour was phenomenal and rib-cracking, especially when he turned it against himself. That is what I shall personally miss most of all.
It is usual, these days, for Nigeria to be missing on the list of countries whose nationals are invited to referee important international football matches. It is another aspect of the depreciating standards of our sports. We were normally considered among the best, a few decades ago, when a single man yet stood out as the star in that unforgettable galaxy.
His name was Sunny Badru, unarguably the greatest and best football referee Nigeria ever had. Sunny began and went through much of his career at a time when several Europeans, among whom were the founders of the game in Nigeria, were in charge of soccer administration. They established and maintained a very high standard of officiating.
There were three grades of referees through which each official had to pass before he was appointed a First Class referee. It was a daunting proposition. But several highly qualified enthusiasts, including Badru, went through the gamut and made sterling contributions to the development of the game.
He was indefatigable on t
he field of play. He was elegant in the approach to his decisions. He knew the rules backwards, and kept himself up to date with the changes, which were frequent in those days. His tall frame towered over the proceedings, but his strictness did not diminish his sense of regard for the players.
That, in fact, was a cardinal feature of his life — respect and consideration for others. He held it high as an ideal of his office — that and his modesty. This man was one of the very few Africans who ever won the FIFA Golden Whistle in their officiating careers, the highest accolade of international recognition as “the man at the centre”, but he maintained his humble posture throughout.