September 2, 2023

Nigerian education and the missing science

Nigerian education and the missing science

Dr Ganiu Bamgbose

By Ganiu Bamgbose

As an undergraduate student, one of my earliest observations was the inclusion of science in the names of several departments and faculties. “What’s with this science?” “Are we all taking a bit of chemistry and physics?” These were my concerns, and I would always say to myself: “God forbid! Not after avoiding science class in secondary school.” But when you went this way, you would see the Department of Political Science; when you moved to the other way, you would see the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Meanwhile, the Faculty of Management Sciences was not so far away, and I couldn’t help being troubled about what science had to do with everything on my campus. At the second semester of my first year, I had to take a course titled “Introduction to Language”; here again, linguistics is considered as the scientific study of language. That was the final straw. “Maybe this university is not for me. I do not want anything with science for crying out loud,” I lamented. But, of course, I couldn’t return home for being threatened by the very presence of the word “science” and its adjectival derivative “scientific”.

Therefore, I needed to devise the means to survive with “science” which was surfacing like graffiti everywhere on campus. Since I must embrace this reality, I chose to understand the essence of its wide presence, and it dawned on me that science is the crux of learning whether you are in humanities or science itself. Unfortunately, on Nigerian campuses, science now seems present mainly in word and not in effect.

Among many dictionary definitions, Collins defines science as the study of the nature and behaviour of natural things, and the knowledge that we obtain about them. A more comprehensive definition is adduced in Cambridge; it says science is the careful study of the structure and behaviour of the physical world, especially by watching, measuring, and doing experiments, and the development of theories to describe the results of these activities.

Used more precisely with the definite article “the”, the science is said to be “the facts and opinions that are provided by scientists who have studied a particular subject or situation.” As such, an example sentence from the dictionary is: The government insisted that it would follow the science with regard to the wearing of face masks. In all dictionaries, this broad interest of science precedes its definition as a particular branch such as physics, chemistry, or biology. If this is the case, then there cannot be scholarship without science irrespective of the discipline. The question that, therefore, follows is: where is the science in Nigerian education?

We will be talking about science in academia when academics and academicians sufficiently affect “the physical world,” as the aforementioned definitions state. We will be talking about science when scholarship is wholly about the improvement of human lives and experiences.

Accordingly, there cannot be anything scientific about education and all that revolves around it if curricula are not tailored towards societal needs. What is the gown without the town? What is scholarship without observing societal needs and proffering actionable solutions to them? How many project students at undergraduate and master’s levels are still genuinely concerned about a social issue to address? Worryingly, lengthy essays, projects, dissertations and even theses have become rituals: get something to do and bag your title.

Hence, it does not matter so much if you have observed a gap in society not to mention filling it appropriately. By contrast, it was reported this morning that the United States’ Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration has officially added Yoruba language for a drivers’ permit test, vehicle registration and study materials. This is because of the significant population of Yoruba speakers in the state.

Sadly, in Nigeria where the language originated and where we have majority of its users, a positive attitude towards the language has even yet to be achieved with the alarming number of Yoruba people who do not speak the language, not to talk of presenting it for such a societal role as has been achieved in the US.

In his reaction to the news of the new role Yoruba now plays in Maryland, a renowned professor of linguistics, Francis Egbokhare, made this submission on a social media platform: “Let us focus undergraduate projects and MA theses on resolving the language issues in the locality of each institution. I suggest attention should be on developing terminologies; producing language teaching materials; documentation; translation of such items as safety requirements and code; developing lexicons that are usable; building systematic comparative word lists; collecting and digitising oral tradition stories, animation and cartoons in local languages; developing templates and frameworks for local language practitioners to fully engage in developing languages in an informed manner… among many other things.”

It is my opinion that until departments of linguistics in Nigeria begin to achieve the types of parameters listed by Professor Egbokhare, we cannot boast the presence of science in any such department. And this is the reality for all departments in our universities and other higher institutions of learning. Until concrete societal presence is incorporated into our academic engagements, we cannot lay claim to science in its infinitesimal form.

I should not conclude this piece without mentioning the several factors which might have incapacitated Nigerian academics and academicians, which include insufficient research grants, poor working environments for scholars and ridiculous remunerations for lecturers. While all of these constitute a systemic problem, we can only try to motivate ourselves to do our bits while hoping that the government will see the need to invest sufficiently in education. In the meantime, it is our collective effort to strategically restore science to Nigerian education.

Dr. Bamgbose writes from the Department of English, Lagos State University.