This week, education is very much in the air. First, with the celebration of World Teachers’ Day on Wednesday and second, with the ongoing and over seven-month strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities. Regrettably, World Teachers’ Day has been converted into ceremonies characterised by marches and official rhetoric, promising to upgrade the welfare of teachers but which rarely happens. The ASUU strike, on its own part, has generated far more heat than light, omitting to discuss crucial and fundamental issues while majoring in adversarial tactics and optics in what looks like Federal Government versus ASUU brouhaha.
Unfortunately, however, no influential issue related to the quality of education has hit the airwaves. Government is determined, it appears, to put an end once and for all to all this “nonsense” about ASUU strikes. However that is viewed—and posterity may be the best judge—the nation has a right to refuse the ungainly straitjacket and unproductive confrontation into which important matters concerning our education are being encrusted.
One of these issues—which in my view, explains a lot about the eroding quality of education—is the failure to place a premium on the values and virtues of self-tutoring. Not long ago, I ran into a balding ageing man, probably in his early fifties, who had taken degrees across four or five disciplines, including Master’s Degrees in Law, Sociology, Political Science, among others. Despite the glut of degrees he bragged about, he did not appear to be replete with insights. Politely, however, I kept nodding my head and congratulating him on being so studious and ambitious. As he announced, notwithstanding, that he was set to take yet another degree, this time in Philosophy, I became sufficiently miffed to intrusively ask the question, “Is the quality of a person’s mind equivalent to the number of degrees he has received?” Visibly annoyed, he engaged me in an argument which I managed to sidestep seeing he was on the verge of exploding.
The moral of this encounter is that, increasingly and sadly, Nigerians are busy substituting certificates for real education which straddles formal and informal learning and prioritises lifelong education well beyond the classrooms. Indeed, given that the classroom worldwide has become more and more virtual, the auspices of informal education powered by the internet have become globalised. There is a plethora of online courses, myriads of educational applications, websites that provide open-access material; educational blogs created in the context of decentralised learning formats that engage the instructor and the student. In other words, the merit of self-tutoring has reached new heights with Information and Communication Technology and the information superhighway.
Interestingly, Nigerian education began with a good chunk of healthy self-tutoring through such vehicles as Exam Success, which are graduated and packaged educational materials sent to individual students who had registered for the Cambridge Advanced Level exams and did not have the opportunity to enter a classroom. In an earlier write-up, I referred to the example of Aare Afe Babalola whose formal education did not go beyond primary school but who through home study took his Bachelor of Laws degree and became one of the country’s legal luminaries. Roughly in the same generation, we had people like the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo who wrote far more books in Political Science than most professors of Political Science, again, through diligent application of individualised and personal informal education. Consider in this respect that he brought his wealth of learning to bear upon statecraft, transforming the Western Region over which he was Premier into an economic and knowledge hub because he had a programme of action and clear ideas about direction.
Sadly, however, and despite the knowledge explosion of the internet, self-tutoring and knowledge application outside the classroom have been very limited, if not near zero. What our university students and graduates do not know in their disciplines and which they could have remedially acquired through personal study amounts to a lot. But what experts call diploma disease has long overtaken the genuine search for knowledge narrowing the opportunities for qualitative education.
To be sure, there is a lot that is good about formal education and I have spent a considerable amount of my life working in formal educational settings and imparting knowledge at virtually all levels of tertiary education. So, I do not despise formal learning but wish to state, taking a cue from illustrious English writer, G. K. Chesterton, quoted in the opening paragraph, that there is much about formal education that makes it inadequate, incomplete and overtly formalised.
Look around the globe and encounter a plethora of first-rate minds who understood early that formal education will only take them so far and they have to fill up the gaps on their own. Renowned literary theorist, currently Distinguished Professor at the University of Lancaster, Terry Eagleton, was quoted to have scoffed on one occasion at much of his formal education at the University of Cambridge as a waste of time. I believe this means that he learnt more on his own while studying at Cambridge than he did from his lecturers. Consider too the case of influential Portuguese writer, José Saramago, who dropped out of school at the age of 12 because of poverty but drilled himself by visiting public libraries and became the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. You may be familiar with Herman Melville, a distinguished American writer who had little formal education because of adversity, yet emerged to be a much-quoted and much-read fiction writer.
We can go on and on but the important point to make is about the current tragedy whereby students who graduated in Political Science in some of our universities may never have heard of nationalists such as Anthony Enahoro, Mokwugo Okoye, Herbert Macaulay and many others. The story was told that a questionnaire administered to some university students in Ogun State posed the question: Who will you consider more worthy, Obafemi Awolowo or Obafemi Martins? Close to 90% voted for Obafemi Martins, the star footballer rather than the former leader of the Yoruba nation and political philosopher, Obafemi Awolowo.
The question then may be asked, how can we bridge the information gap? We must, as a rule, bring back our decrepit public libraries which are slowly fading into oblivion, not just because of the internet but because we have cruelly neglected them. The hostile attitude of government to the ongoing ASUU strike did not begin today but with the failure to complete the National Library (still warehoused in a rented apartment) since 2006. So, other nations boast of their national libraries, even their provincial libraries but Nigeria has not seen it fit to complete its own. You cannot ask students to read or self-tutor if there are no libraries to which they can go.
Besides this, we must change the structure of education from predominantly exam-oriented and conduce students to taking or even buying degrees.
Finally, there is a link between self-tutoring and originality in that those who have taken time to educate themselves are more prone to original thinking and insight than those addicted to classroom notes or recommended textbooks.
This content was originally published here.