We asked an education expert, ‘Is school a scam?’ and 5 other questions
Every year since 2019, the world marks January 24 as the International Day of Education.
Every year since 2019, the world marks January 24 as the International Day of Education to celebrate the role it plays in sustainable development.
But the application of education is different from country to country, and this can significantly affect each country’s socioeconomic fortunes.
Education development expert, Jeremiah Oseni, is no stranger to the peculiar issues of education in Nigeria. He founded the Dbegotin Educational Foundation in 2017 as a measure to address the high number of out-of-school children in the country.
The non-profit organisation has grown to focus on improving the quality of education at the basic level across Nigeria, with operations already established in Imo, Kano, Kogi and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
What has Oseni’s experience taught him about the state of education in Nigeria? We asked him.
Let’s just start from the basics. Is school a scam?
I always advise people not to fall for the slogan that education is a scam. Not being educated has a lot of limitations. Education is not an automatic key to being rich or on its own an empowerment for wealth. What education does is to enlighten you enough to think creatively for yourself, think outside the box and shape your own world in a very dynamic way.
Education is so powerful and I think our politicians understand that, and that’s why they’re trying to limit the number of people who get quality education because if we’re all educated, we’re going to ask a lot of questions and be informed to challenge them. Lives would improve if many Nigerians got quality education.
So what are your main concerns about the quality of education currently provided in Nigerian schools?
The quality of education today, especially at the basic level, does not guarantee anything by the time you’re out of school. I was at an FCT school last year and heard a teacher teaching primary three children three-letter words in 2023 and that wasn’t even what killed me. It was when she asked the children to make a sentence with ‘put’ and they said, “Mummy, please put for me.” I died. What is the relevance of such knowledge to these children in this day and age when even other developing countries are looking at robotics and artificial intelligence? Those countries have already prioritised their education investment so that learners are receiving quality education. In Nigeria today, a lot of us graduate from the university not knowing our right from our left.
And the situation is worse for those out of the school system. The one key government policy regarding millions of out-of-school children appears to be school feeding to attract enrollment. What do you think about that strategy?
We have government interventions that lack creativity. People go to schools and eat, but are there mechanisms in place to check if they’re retained? Children are very smart and can go to school simply to eat and leave, and return the next day. How does that translate to teaching and learning in the classroom? I’m not saying school feeding is a sham — it solves a tiny percentage of the problem — but the education problem is way more than that.
We have no priority, and the budget for education is still very low, even with this new government. The professional development of teachers is still not prioritised. Primary school teachers in the FCT have been on strike for a while, and nobody is acting on it. These are the issues.
I guess we should talk about teachers as they’re a strong pillar of the education system. What are the challenges you think they face and how can the system support them better?
There’s this crazy, selfish slogan, “Teacher’s reward is in heaven.” That is a deception from the pit of hell. Teachers are human beings who pay house rent, transport fare, and pay their own children’s school fees, so how can you leave their reward in heaven? That’s a big scam. They’re not being prioritised. The government meets with ASUU all the time and promises to do this and that and sign agreements, but never implements anything.
At the basic level, the welfare is also poor. Teachers don’t go for training most of the time; even when they do, it’s to fulfil all righteousness as they’re taught basic things that don’t really contribute to the effectiveness of their work. I strongly recommend that teachers’ training and welfare should be prioritised. Their salaries should be increased. We’re currently seeing a wave of doctors going abroad, and very soon it will be teachers.
The dysfunction of the Nigerian education system has given life to this narrative that Nigerian graduates are unemployable. Do you think the system is preparing students well for the demands of the 21st-century workforce?
The National Universities Commission (NUC) has designed a new curriculum to address some of these demands. It all goes back to education financing. The private institutions bill their students how they like, but government-owned institutions can’t do that, so they have little or nothing to implement efficiently. These institutions need things like enhanced laboratories, science equipment and so on.
The university is not where you’re teaching rote learning, it’s where you’re supposed to be hands-on and sharing knowledge and wealth of experiences, putting heads together to develop things. But when you don’t even have enough facilities and equipment, it becomes an extension of your secondary school where you just read and cram to pass exams — there’s nothing to show for it.
With all that said, what does the future of education in Nigeria look like to you?
On one hand, the future of education for me is bright only if the government prioritises investment and there’s political will to come up with policies that will enhance education and prioritise teachers’ development. We need education financing in the sense of infrastructure because the current funding of education is nothing to write home about.
The Universal Basic Education Act also needs to be amended to make education free and compulsory from the basic level to SS3, instead of JS3. This will encourage enrollment and retention.
If the professional development of teachers is prioritised, that will also help the education system. Informal education should also be prioritised and improved upon. Let’s bring back our technical colleges to have more skilled people.
On the other hand, things will get worse if the government continues to turn deaf ears to the things I’ve listed. The scariest thing is the population is increasing, but the number of schools is not increasing, the number of teachers handling each class is not increasing, and the number of jobs available is not increasing. We have the resources, we’re just not channelling them to the right places.