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The education summit we need

2013 has been a year of mixed fortunes for Nigerian education.

I recall with much grief the series of school shootings that took place in Borno and Yobe states; tens of young Nigerians cruelly cut down in their hostels and classrooms.

2013 was also the year the ‘A World At School’ campaign gained prominence. The campaign seeks to draw attention to the fact that Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the entire world. (More than ten million Nigerian children who should be in school are not getting an education).

To the government’s credit an ambitious Almajiri education scheme has been put in place. This year the Federal government built and handed over tens of Almajiri Model Schools to state governments. As part of this Scheme there’s a commendable focus on girl-child education.

This was also the year of the five-month ASUU strike. Just when we thought we had put lengthy University strikes behind us, this happened; putting the lives of our youth on hold seemingly indefinitely. Even though the strike ended up extracting, from the government, an unprecedented commitment to funding our public Universities, one wishes those gains didn’t have to come at so high a price, for our youth.

Amidst all the turmoil in our education – much cause, no doubt, for sober reflection – I’d like to make a proposal.

In making this proposal it should be taken for granted that I’m also offering my full commitment to supporting the realisation of what I’m proposing.

I’d like to make a call for a Nigerian education summit, to bring all concerned parties to the discussion table, to craft a new vision for bringing education to Nigeria’s teeming youth population.

The question that immediately arises is this: why another summit? To what end?

My answer would be: how about a different kind of education summit.

How about a summit that places, at the forefront of proceedings, the most important stakeholders in education – the students themselves.

I say this because I’m aware that education summits are not a novel idea in Nigeria. A Google search will throw up a number of summits, at state, regional and national levels, in recent years.

What all these summits have in common is that they focus on bringing together governments, teachers unions, and other adult stakeholders.

But the students, who are the ones for whom education systems should exist, are kept outside the door, or on the margins. Our summits become gatherings of policy makers speaking to other policy makers and implementers.

Perhaps, in the spirit of a new year, we can allow ourselves to try a new idea: an education summit in which the policy makers and education experts actually come to listen to the students, the stakeholders who most intensely feel the pinch of the system’s failings and shortcomings.

I’m very much convinced that there can be no significant improvement in the state of education in Nigeria without the active input of students.

In August my office put out a call for submissions for an essay contest on Education Solutions for Nigeria. We got more than 600 entries from Nigerian students within and outside the country. Hundreds of young Nigerians boldly making their voices heard about the education system they’re daily forced to contend with.

The short excerpt below, from one of the winning entries (by Emeka Ezekwesiri, Law, University of Ibadan), highlights the importance of empowering students, within and outside the classroom.

In my secondary school, Federal Government College Ohafia, in 2006 the then newly appointed vice principal academic introduced a policy, where secretly appointed students in each class kept an attendance sheet for teachers, where they recorded teachers attendance based on five criteria; came on time and taught, came early but left early, came late but taught, came late and left early, absent. These students were unknown to the class and teachers but the policy was publicly announced in order for teachers to be aware. These students were concealed to prevent victimization. The teachers were effectively disciplined after verification of the reported conduct.  Through this monitoring scheme, teachers became very serious to the amazement of students, who were forced to also become serious.

Clearly, we need to re-design Nigeria’s education systems in a way that puts some power in the hands of students, allows them to feel like equal and valued parties in the matrix of learning and knowledge dissemination.

And what better way to start this than by giving these students a prominent place in a gathering that aims to chart a new future for Nigerian education.

It is my dream that someday in the near future, when the Federal Government and Teachers’ Unions like ASUU are coming together to discuss critical education issues, the wisdom and insight of our students will be eagerly sought and welcomed in the conversation.  That we will no longer carry on as though our students are marginal partners in education.

It is my belief that we can’t call them the future of our country, and yet persist in trying to keep them out of the most important conversations required to prepare them to become that future.

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