Hajiya Asma’u Yahya is an educationist and Director, Kano-based Excel College, an Islam-modelled institution. Here, she speaks to ADAM ALQALI on the state of education in Nigeria and identifies former President’s Olusegun Obasanjo’s Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme of the 1970s; population explosion as some of the factors that contributed to the collapse of education in Nigeria. She also decries the making of Arabic as an optional, not compulsory language in the new Basic Examination Certificate Examination (BECE).
What is your assessment of the education system in Nigeria today?
Well, having been part of the system for a number of years, I would say we are still experimenting, if one look at how policies are being created and reversed. The education sector in Nigeria is one of the most toiled with sectors in the country. All the same, I believe with time we would be able to put things in order.
How optimistic are you about the revival of the education system in Nigeria?
I think we should first of all try to identify where the problem lies. Our forefathers went to school in the 1920s and were able to speak flawless English and could write well; they were very much presentable and could interact and communicate effectively with anybody from anywhere in the world, even though they didn’t have any degrees. So, what happed today that even university graduates cannot present themselves in a like manner? I think population explosion without policies aimed at accommodating it could be one of such problems. In those days, the teacher-student ratio in a class was ok, as such teachers could know and relate with all their students. It is today virtually impossible for teachers to know even the names of all the students in their classes because such classes are now made up of 70 or even in some cases 100 students. So, our population increase has never been going hand-in-hand with increase in existing infrastructural facilities as well as human resources in the education sector. When Obasanjo came in as military Head of State back in the 1970s, he introduced the UPE scheme which I believe was the point from which the standard of education began to fall in Nigeria. We can still go back to those good days in Nigeria, but only if we are willing and bold enough to confront the challenges facing the education sector in the country.
Are you saying the UPE programme introduced by Obasanjo in the 1970s is responsible for the collapse of the education sector in Nigeria?
The program brought about the mass production of teachers through crashed programme, as such not very effective programs, which led to the production of half-baked teachers. So, they didn’t have the best training. Teachers need to undergo rigorous trainings to be able to teach well. So, that was the beginning of the decay which was further heightened by the collapse of the educational infrastructure due to population explosion. So, as we were growing in number, our human capital as well as infrastructure in the form of the number of colleges of education, faculties of education in universities should have also grown, but unfortunately they didn’t.
As one who has been in the lower level of the education sector in Nigeria since the last 30 years, what advice do you have for the federal government on how to revive it?
I think we first of all need to look at the curricula; experts need to sit down and review it. For example, the JSS 3 students were taken an examination called the Junior Secondary Certificate Examination, (JSCE), which is now called Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). Last year, many changes were introduced; some subjects were made mandatory, some optional, and new ones were introduced. Subjects like cultural and creative arts were made compulsory for students of BECE.
Also, according to the new BECE curriculum, Arabic has been made optional whereas French has been made compulsory. The reason they gave for doing so was that all our neighbours are francophone countries. But the fact is English, Arabic and French are all international languages? Why Arabic should be treated that way, even when many tertiary institutions in Nigeria offer courses in Arabic.
So, it should have been also made compulsory, because if you are even talking of the numbers of the speakers of the languages in the world, there are more people that speak Arabic in the world than those who speak French. Sometimes one tends to wonder what our priorities are. We don’t give policies the opportunity to make impacts, policies are always reversed and the education sector more than any other suffers more from these reversals. Furthermore, subjects’ combinations have been changed at the senior secondary school level.
For example, few years ago, even English literature was offered by only art students, when in my generation even science students do offer literature. The problem need to be experimented, assessed and re-assed and we should be looking at how well our students can compete internationally and also be self-dependent and functional. Another issue the government should always try to avoid is creating policies which they cannot implement. For example, there now 35 entrepreneurial subjects including GSM repairs, vulcanizing, tie and die making, out of which schools should select which their students will offer. The question is how many colleges of education are training teachers in all these entrepreneurial skills?
You are also the Director of Kano-based Excel College; a sort of Islam-modelled educational institution. How different is your module to that of other schools?
We, like other schools prepare our students to sit for the WAEC and NECO examinations, only that we do it with a major difference as we offer courses that has much to do with morality in the area of behaviour; interactions with one another in order to have a child that is conscious of the obligations of their creator. We train our students to have good inter-personal relations with people of their faith as well as those of other faiths. We also teach them how to appropriately recite and memorize the holy Koran.
How different will you say your graduates are from the graduates of conventional schools?
We always try to inculcate into the minds of our graduates all the qualities I mentioned and we try to make sure they have good self-esteem; they are able to present themselves well in any places, and are well-equipped with all it takes to compete with any other graduates of other schools from across the world.
Some are of the opinion that the flourishing of private schools in Nigeria is one of the factors responsible for educational decay in the country. What is your take on this?
I think if private schools would exist in the 60s, when the standard of education was ok, I don’t think there existence today should be a cause for alarm. You see! It is the failure of the public schools that brought about the flourishing of private ones. Initially, private schools were being owned by voluntary and missionary organizations only.
The situation in the education sector today is similar to what obtains in the health sector where if you go to a public hospital at 6 am, you will not see the doctor until 12 noon, whereas if you go to a private hospital, you will spend less than an hour to see an equally efficient medical doctor. So, many people don’t have the time to waste and I think a child is the most precious possession anybody could boast of; as such parents cannot afford to compromise the education of their children, knowing that education is the only thing that can guarantee their future.
So, I think they shouldn’t be blamed. I want to believe the private schools are even helping to create more space in the public ones as well as decongesting them. It is surprising that many of the graduates of these public schools cannot, after finishing primary school, write their names. I think we should be seen as partners in progress and not adversaries. So as I said, the flourishing of private schools is something that is directly proportional to the quality of education obtainable in public schools.
What is your call on parents as regards girl-child enrolment in schools?
I went to school in the 1960s and today my parents are not in any way regretting why they send me to school, because they have seen the impact of education in my life. But, when going to school doesn’t make any difference to the life of a girl-child as a result of decay, parents will not be encouraged to send their wards to school. We are now facing this issue of girl-child education squarely through a network of Islamic organizations that are seriously campaigning for not only enrolment of the girl-child but also making sure they are retained; they didn’t drop out.
We are also working towards bringing about what we call ‘second-chance’ schools, which will take care of those girls that are married-off while they are still in school, so that they will also be able to finish their education. Finally, my call on parents is that they shouldn’t be discouraged, rather should see the education of the girl-child as a crucial factor for societal change.
Filed Under: Education