One day, one trouble

By Adekunle Adekoya

FOR some days now, an official letter of the Lagos State Government to owners and heads of private schools has been trending in the social media. The letter, purportedly from the Office of Education Quality Assurance of the state’s Ministry of Education, dated August 3, was titled “Re: Introduction of History in Lagos State Schools”, and signed by a director. While I find that a welcome development, one needed to recap how this debacle, because that is what it is, started in the first place.

The subject was removed from the teaching curriculum by the Federal Government in 2007. Before this, however, History was not a core subject but instead buried amongst social studies lessons. Between 2007 and 2019 History had been largely absent from schools as a stand-alone subject.

One of the fatuous, bileous reasons given for the removal of History was supposedly because students avoided the subject, while graduates of History didn’t have job prospects and teachers were scarce. But History wasn’t the only subject that students avoided; indeed, students avoided many subjects they didn’t feel comfortable with.

If Mathematics wasn’t a compulsory subject, would there be students in any Maths class at any level? Other subjects avoided by students included those with quantitative content like Physics and Chemistry. Geography is also one subject students avoided.

In any case, the removal of history generated quite an uproar but it took more than a decade for it to be corrected.

But did the Federal Government serve a positive national purpose with the removal of history from the curriculum? I think not. In fact, a lot of damage was actually done with the ill-thought out action. By not teaching history, what was done was to disconnect a whole generation of students from their roots.

It is now commonplace for a university graduate to draw a blank when asked questions about events of historical import. We now have a generation of citizens who don’t know who Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Obafemi Awolowo were, and what they contributed to the growth and development of Nigeria. They see them daily on the national currency notes they spend, but their association with them is zip.

Is that a desirable situation? Much of the moral issues the nation is battling with is rooted in our educational system that is not functioning for national development. The values, ethos, mores and attitudes that should be inculcated in our youths and transferred from generation to generation through the educational system are being lost when we decline to teach subjects like History.

We also declined to teach our languages, which I think is just as dangerous as not teaching history. The way I see the situation, many of the languages spoken south of the Niger and Benue are headed towards extinction in about half a century thence. Apart from not teaching our languages as subjects, we also do not speak them to our children.

It is seen as an indicator of being “upwardly mobile” when we speak to our children in English. The situation is being worsened by less-educated neighbours copying their educated compatriots by speaking to their children in English. They speak very terrible English and worsen the situation.

That is very far from what should be the case. Those who studied abroad in countries like Germany and Russia would testify that passing the language school in those countries is a sine qua non because the curriculum of your course of study is available only in their languages. Those who have travelled to South East Asia would have seen newspapers printed in characters similar to those seen on the packaging of mosquito coils. That’s because they kept their languages alive. We must keep ours alive!

Again, the issue raised and still raises a lot of questions about the type of federalism we are operating. If education is on the concurrent list, what is the purpose of a Nigeria Education Research and Development Council, NERDC? If Zamfara doesn’t want her students to learn Chemistry, NERDC should not be used to make other states drop Chemistry, as seems to have been done with History. Indeed, a central body determining the curriculum for each subject and requiring federating states to adopt them lock, stock and barrel is antithetical to real federalism.

When in 2017, the NERDC announced that History would be reintroduced, a new curriculum had been designed for the subject which was approved by the National Council on Education, also that year. I think that was wrong. Just as I do not think the NERDC should tell the states which subjects to teach, I also do not think it should design the curriculum of the subjects. Unless there is agreement that our type of federalism is working.

Remember that officially, History was back since 2019. We are just seeing action about it in 2022. That’s three years down time. What does that say about governance? If it took three years for History to move from NERDC to the state Ministry of Education, and thence to private schools, you can also understand why your roads stay bad for a long time.

You can also see why it will take years to get a transformer so that power supply in your area can improve. The mandarins just sit in their air-conditioned offices, legs on the desk, and push whichever files their hands can reach. There is no sense of urgency to government work, which is nobody’s work. That must change, we must change if we are to begin playing catch-up with the rest of the world, or we get left behind!

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