Job Osazuwa

A seasoned educationist, Pius Augustine Ike Obanya, a professor emeritus with the Institute of Education, University of Ibadan (UI), Oyo State, has said that the country’s education system would continue to disintegrate, until the country has the right teachers.

Obanya claimed that, since Nigeria does not want to have teachers, the country would never have the right teachers.

He said it was sad that many teachers today were forced into teaching because they could not get better jobs based on what they studied in the university. The don said checks at any faculty of education across the universities or colleges of education would reveal that more than 90 per cent of the students chose other courses as their first choices.

“You can see that Nigeria is teaching without teachers. We have schools that do not convey any meaningful education. I am talking of both private and government schools. What we have is that when one does not have anything to do, then he or she goes into teaching,” he said.

The scholar, who is referred to as the grand sage of education in Africa by many, with 287 publications to his name, said a lot of things were responsible for the copious problems in the sector. He lamented how the Nigerian society looks down on teachers; gone are the days when teachers were revered and highly respected not because of the wealth they had but for the lives they transformed.

The don, a former chairman of the board of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), observed that: “Something is wrong with the country. It is what you value that you transmit to your children. If you don’t value teachers, tell me, who will transform your children? If all we value is how much money somebody gets or earns, then we cannot get it right. People came from Ghana to interview me here; they were surprised that I don’t have any national award (from Nigeria) because they saw that I have a national award from Senegal.

“But if I was to be a popular politician, they would have been begging me (to take) awards. If you can play tricks and build a religious worship centre, you will be recommended for an award even when nobody wants to know where or how you got the money. I have been told in the village that this my house is not befitting and that I should blow it off. Many people have been here and were shocked because they don’t expect me to live in a bungalow. So, if that is what the society wants, that is what it will get. It is sad.

“There was a time when teachers were among the most educated and respected. But all that has changed today. We have brought in people who wouldn’t have loved to be in the teaching profession. We also put them in situations that don’t even enable them to teach.”

Obanya, former regional director for education at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), believes that Nigeria, like every other country, can solve most of the problems in the outside the sector after catering to the education sector. He emphasised that the quality of education or the lack of it does not happen in isolation.

Said he: “We must understand the fact that education starts from the womb because the embryo is already in an environment where it begins to learn. The classroom is not where the education is, it is just one sub-avenue of learning. A child in a classroom comes from a home and he or she spends more time at home.

“The first thing that a society that improves the quality of life of the very poor is already laying the foundation for sound education. The mother’s level of enlightenment and the amount of nutritional foods in the home determine how the child grows. When you raise people’s standard of living, they become more ambitious.

“When you have good roads, clean water, and electricity and so on, you are directly and indirectly helping education. When there is food and nutrition and the children eat well, to concentrate in school becomes easier. Those who don’t have enough might have to send their children into hawking after school, while their counterparts from fortunate homes will be at home attending to their homework. Then at the age of 16, such an unfortunate girl might get married. It is a vicious circle. I have five newspapers today to read but if my status were different would I have been able to afford them?

“I have done this before, when I was invited by the World Bank in 2001, in the University of Sussex in Britain, to work for one week with educational officers going to Africa. All we were doing was discussing how to solve education sector problems outside the education sector.  At the end, a lot was revealed on how education affects so many things and vice versa.

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Obanya, who is the brain behind the Universal Basic Education (UBE), continued: “At a point, when I was the coordinator of UBE, everybody coming to me was to ask how they would make money; including the high and the low. The same thing happened when I was the chairman of WAEC, between 2012 and 2015. The chairman did not have an office, and I was not even paid. But the moment people heard, they believed I could just fix them in WAEC. I made enemies but I did not regret it. You are not paid for attending meetings at WAEC; but Nigeria wastes money on so many things. When you hold government positions, you will have stories to write.

“By the time you are in public office, people come from your paternal and maternal homes to corrupt you. People want you to give them contracts that you don’t have power over.

“When I went to UBE, I rejected a personal driver and personal adviser because those are things we waste money on in Nigeria. I was the assistant director at UNESCO; I dared not travel business class because I would be sacked. The money was not meant for me but for the poor.”

When asked if or why the quality of education was declining in Nigeria, he said: “If you are an educationist, there are ways of monitoring educational achievements. So, you can say, over time, what is being done or not. Here, you can’t compare similar situations or comparable situations. If UI admitted only 100 people in 1960 throughout Nigeria, these would be the crème of the crème. Whether you taught them or not, they would pass the so-called examinations.

“We are misinterpreting the purpose of education. You hear people asking what do you do with History, why not study Mechanical Engineering? Such people are talking rubbish. You don’t do anything with History or Mechanical Engineering, but you do something with the education you get.

“If you were to be educated in a country where education is taken seriously, first of all, everybody is educable. We do not teach in our universities, we lecture. In teaching, you help people to develop themselves but in lecturing, you talk and go.”

Obanya, who clocked 80 on May 29, told the reporter at his residence in Ibadan that it does not matter whether the individual is lame, handicapped, stubborn, troublesome or brilliant, insisting that education is meant to transform him or her.

He said a society should move towards having a system where schools are educating, teachers are teaching and learners will be learning seamlessly, therefore, nobody would fail. He also noted that an examination failure shows that the school is failing not the students.

Proffering solutions to the setbacks, the professor, who is a well-sought-after keynote speaker on education worldwide, recommended re-focusing on values and rearmament. He said emphasis must be laid on hard work, humility and perseverance in every sphere of life.

“And if you are looking for the meaning of education, those are the things it inculcates. But Nigeria is the other side of it. What we have here is, the end justifies the means. If two of you were struggling in Lagos, and your colleague gets to the village in six weeks and builds a house, he becomes the model. Unless he goes to prison, even if he goes to prison, people would still say ‘they’ put him in trouble, they won’t say he put himself in trouble.

“You and I, in our small ways, should do the right thing and listen to what people are saying, and then we will build a critical mass of people who think differently. We are the government. A good government does not make policies; policies are developed along with the people’s will. Government must sit together with the need-bearers and come up with the appropriate policies,” he said.

Speaking on corruption, Obanya said it was too complex and more than what many people have always thought it to be. He said one only needs to be in a position in Nigeria to realise that Nigerians are naked and not just corrupt.

His words: “We are all corrupt, as long as we don’t know what we expect of government. Corruption means turning rules upside down. We park our cars wherever we like; we litter everywhere with all sorts of rubbish. It is a terrible situation.”