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The Collapse of Nigerian Schools

By: Oluwole Osagie-Jacobs

Published October 5, 2010

A diligent and faithful appraisal of the Nigerian school system would reveal that we have a tragedy in our hands. The standard of education in Nigeria is undergoing a free fall and nobody seemed to be worried. It is like Darwin’s evolution theory in the reverse. Instead of each successive generation of poor products to improve adaptively over preceding generations what we have is a progressive regression.  A lot of money has been wasted on workshops and seminars without addressing the root cause of the problem. I say with conviction that if our educational system is not cured of its infirmities, in the next ten years our development process will ground to a halt.

We stood by and watch our schools collapse before our eyes. The sound school system bequeathed to us at independence by the British has been deprived of its soul through bad leadership, corruption, frequent change of policy and poor planning. What is most disturbing is the indifference of our leaders to this decay in our school system. They are not bothered and those deprived remain silent as if they are under a spell.

Few months ago, the biography of a governor in one of the middle belt states was launched. This governor, who is still under 50 years, is just three years in governance.  The governors’ forum donated N72 million with each of the thirty six governors sending in N2 million. Few weeks after the launch, the N.T.A showed some primary schools in Nassarawa state where pupils were sitting on the floor. This calls to question the wisdom of the N2 million donated by the Nassarawa State governor.

The British school system was a straight course to progress, but we have on our own introduced a labyrinth. In the last three decades, education planning had been a knee-jerk enterprise bereft of a feedback mechanism and control. The lack of a systemic approach in the management of the different levels of education has deprived the system of the desired linkage that could produce a synergy.  The system is now without a memory. It is like the Markov chain in mathematics where the future development of each event is independent of all historical events. Each Minister of Education wants to be identified and glorified with a new policy even if there is nothing wrong with the existing policy. At independence, it was 6-5-2-3, which means six years in the primary school, five years in the secondary school, two years in higher school and three years in the University. In the mid 1980s, the two years in higher school was abolished on the flimsy reason that students no longer do well in the Higher School Certificate examinations. Ghana retained its higher school and so did the United Kingdom. We all know that it is now almost impossible to gain entry into the top ten British Universities including Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics and the Imperial College without the Advanced Level certificate. The higher school has been brought back through special schools in Lagos for the children of our policy makers and the rich who are hell bent in sending their children to foreign Universities. The current 6-3-3-4 system is being run with eyes closed to its aims and objectives. The three years in the Junior Secondary School is for the identification through an assessment of the aptitude and skills of students while the three years in Senior Secondary School is to consolidate on them. How can you do a useful assessment on students in schools that are ill-equipped, poorly funded and without trained teachers? I hear the 6-3-3-4 system is on the verge of being changed. This is incredible.

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It is very unfortunate and saddening that at this time good education is only available to the children of the rich in the society. This was not so before. In the school certificate examination written in 1968, Master David Adeoye and Miss Margaret Ologun produced the best results in Mathematics and Health Science respectively in Nigeria.  They were students of my school, Akoko Anglican Grammar School, Arigidi-Akoko in Ondo State. They were children of farmers with a meager income. Then, Arigidi, where we schooled was a little village unknown to many. With their brilliant performance, these students cared less whether schools like Kings College, Lagos, Government College, Umuahia and Barewa College, Zaria were in existence. Also,In the year 1958, my maternal uncle gained admission to Kings College, Lagos from the remote village of Ogori in Kogi State. At that time, there was no tarred road leading to Ogori from anywhere. Most times people had to trek a fifteen kilometer dusty route to Okene to board a vehicle to the outside world.

They achieved these outstanding feats partly because they had a sound primary school education. At that time, all primary schools in Nigeria including those in remote areas were good. They were created equal and staffed with teachers from quality teacher training colleges. This quality primary school education is only available now to children of the rich most of whose parents contributed in killing the system. Isn’t it ludicrous that some parents now pay up to N1 million per annum as fees for their children in primary school? 

It is certain that no child from a poor home can ordinarily pass the entrance examination to a first class secondary school like the Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja. It is not because they are not intelligent but for the reason that they wouldn’t have been privileged to attend a good primary school.

The level to which the standard of education has sunk in Nigeria is alarming. In a recent interview I conducted for twenty one secondary school graduates, I discovered to my amazement that only five of them could divide the number thirty two by four. This question betrayed their poor knowledge of the multiplication table as the figures 3 and 2 are not easily divided by 4. Only one of he candidates could correctly write, One million, twelve thousand and six, in figures. Out of the essays, just two could match that of a good primary six pupil in the year 1970.

The interview of University graduates was more revealing.  A graduate of Chemistry could not discuss the Periodic Table. She could not state two gas laws. She confounded me more by declaring that there are only thirty elements on the periodic table. In spite of the fact that knowledge of only the first thirty  elements was required  of  secondary school students, our chemistry teacher told us in 1972  that  the latest and  the one hundred and fifth element, Dubnium, was discovered in 1970. I do not believe that I have a higher Intelligent Quotient than this lady. Her problem is that she has been de-schooled. The candidate with a degree in Mathematics would definitely collapse if confronted with some questions from the old book, “Arithmetic by C.V Durrell”. I am very convinced that more than sixty percent of final year University students in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology would fail the old G.C.E Advanced Level Papers on these subjects. In the past, only very sound first degree holders are allowed to teach Advanced Level science classes. Then, to pass the Advanced Level Examination, you just have to be “born again”.

In Nigeria, a University degree is now two for penny. Most of the ladies selling GSM recharge cards in my street in Benin-City are on a part time degree program.  In one of the Universities about one hundred kilometers radius from my house in Calabar, about 5,000 students are on a part time degree program run through a Consultancy. Through this arrangement, the University and the lecturers make cheap money. I had to advise an office assistant in our factory to resign her appointment when I discovered she was a part two Marine Geology undergraduate. What she does is to retire to the hostel at the close of work and copy the notes of any of her course mates. I wonder how she has been passing her examinations in a practically based course like Marine Geology.

Whenever you come across a young Nigerian university graduate who tells you he or she is a graduate of Bio-Technology, Computer Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Computer Science and Nuclear Physics, congratulate him or her, smile and move ahead. The young graduate is a clown.

The government should hasten to save our schools. Salvation should start from the primary school level. Schools should be comprehensively equipped and staffed. Technical schools should be improved and their image enhanced. They should not be seen as a dumping ground for pupils who failed to gain admission to secondary schools.  It is unreasonable to give approval to schools without a field for sports. That is not comprehensive education. Teacher education and standard monitoring should be given adequate attention. The teachers should be well paid and motivated in order to attract the best hands.


Mr. Oluwole Osagie-Jacobs – An Economist and a Chartered Accountant.
Celestial Church of Christ
3, Otokang Street

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