The Paradox of ‘Retardative’ Impact of Education on Nigerian Students, Democracy and Development, By Abdullateef Ishowo

Text of the speech I delivered yesterday at the Faculty of Education, University of Ilorin, where a former Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi was honored.

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”


Whenever we come across the word education, what naturally comes to the minds of most Nigerians is the classroom or the teacher. Probably because we limit the meaning and education activities to classrooms informs why we have not been able to think beyond the classroom. This again probably explains why we are where we are, as a people and as a nation. Our system of education is under-developing us.

What then is education?

Wikipedia describes education as the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, morals, beliefs and habits. Educational methods include teaching, training, storytelling, discussion and directed research. Education frequently takes place under guidance of educators; however, learners can also educate themselves.1

Similarly, Babatunde Fafunwa defines education as, “freedom from ignorance, of ideas, of history and events of any sentiment of one’s surrounding.”2

I chose to use these definitions, among several others, because of their suitability for what I intend to discuss here. If education is to acquire knowledge, skills, values, morals, beliefs and habits, then the process and places of acquiring all these should not be limited to classroom. For instance, I grew up to learn the process and the rudiments of the production of aso-ofi, I went to Ile Ede Madraza to learn recitation of the Qur’an, my mother told me folklores, taught me morals and how to comport myself in the public. My father told me what happened during the Nigerian civil war and the roles of each political actor, he equally showed me how to live a contented life. The question is, if I had been taught all these from childhood, what then was I doing at Pakata Primary school, Barakat Community Secondary School Ilorin, GDSS Kurumi-mashi NDA Kaduna, Ansarul Islam Secondary School Ilorin and University of Ilorin?

Education brings about an inherent and permanent change in a person’s thinking and capacity to do things. Many people have a superficial concept of education; equating it with doing a particular course or obtaining a particular qualification. Qualifications and courses however do not always equate with effective education. People can undertake courses without any significant permanent change in their lives. People can achieve qualifications without changing. Reading a book and understanding what you read, does not mean that you have been educated (or permanently changed), if you do not integrate what you read into your attitudes and memory. Similarly, attending a course and hearing a lecture does not mean you have changed or been educated.

Real education is very different to just having access to (or being exposed to) information about something. Real education embeds things into one’s brain, and anyone who understands learning will understand that this comes from repeated exposure and use of information or skills. Sadly, in today’s world, people want to fast track everything: but learning is something that cannot usually be fast tracked. Shorter courses simply mean that less is learnt.3

Let me now quickly delve into democracy as one of the major themes of this discourse. The general conception of democracy means a form of government in which citizens in a state have political investments of political participation and trust4. It essentially has to do with the ability of the people to control decision-making5; which explains why Osaghae6 asserts that the central thing about democracy is to ensure that power actually belongs to the people. Democracy emphasises freedom of the individuals in various aspects of political life, equality among citizens, justice in the relations between the people and the government, and the participation of the people in choosing those in government.7

Development on the other hand connotes “a multi-dimensional process involving major changes in social structures, political attitudes and national institutions, as well as the acceleration of economic growth, the reduction of inequality and the eradication of absolute poverty”.8 However, development literature has come to emphasize sustainability of development. Sustainable development connotes development that endures/lasts; one that will not roll back or recede even in the face of threatening reversal waves.9

Is there a nexus among education, democracy and development?

There is of course a striking connection among the three. For instance, democracy appears to germinate more in an educationally advanced environment than an educationally backward society. In a democracy, education is given primacy for it is pre-requisite for the survival and success of the former. Similarly, education fosters a democratic temper in the minds of people. Democratic values like liberty, equality, fraternity justice, dignity of individual, co-operation, sharing of responsibility etc are developed by democratic education.

Similarly, development is mostly facilitated by (but not limited to) democracy and good education. In advanced democracies, education plays major role in fostering development and its sustainability. The three, like a Siemens twins, are inseparable tripods that keep a society going. This explains why research efforts of such universities as Harvard, Yale, etc have a touch on American democracy and development.

Impacts of education policies on Nigerian democracy and development.

In education, as in other fields of human endeavour, every official action of an organisation must have a backing or a basis. It is this purpose that a policy serves. A policy defines the area in which decisions are to be made, but it does not make the decision. It usually provides a general guide that facilitates decision-making. Educational policies provide the direction for educational activities. The formulation of an educational policy sets the stage for implementation, which, according to Ukeje,9 is perhaps the most important aspect of planning. Planning is usually an action that succeeds policy formulation but precedes implementation. Unfortunately, educational policies and goal attainment have been irreconcilable due to implementation constraints.

This explains why virtually all education policies in Nigeria since independence have failed to facilitate development to the country. For instance, the 6-3-3-4 education policy recommended to the country by the late Professor Babatunde Fafunwa failed to serve the purpose for which it was recommended. After formulating a good policy, implementation is key. Put differently, no matter how fantastic a policy is, poor implementation will kill it.
The 6-3-3-4 system of education in Nigeria was introduced in 1983 to replace the 6-5-4 system. It was designed to bring about functionality in the system by producing graduates that can make use of their head, hearts and hands (the 3H in education). According to the model, a child shall spend 6 years in primary school, 3 years in junior secondary school and if he is sound academically, he moves to senior secondary school where he/she will spend another 3 years before proceeding to the University to spend 4 years.
The idea behind this system copied from such Asia countries as China, Japan, Korea, etc is that by the time a child finishes junior secondary school, he/she would have learnt a skill that would sustain him in life. Hence, it is not compulsory for an academically poor child to proceed to senior secondary school and university; he/she has no business there. Unfortunately, poor implementation has over the years killed the fantastic policy. Where are our technical schools today? That is why we produce nothing. We import what we have and export what we need. What a paradox!

The Importance of Education to Nigerian Democracy and Development

Education is fundamental to development and growth. The human mind makes possible all development achievements, from health advances and agricultural innovations to efficient public administration and private sector growth. For countries to reap these benefits fully, they need to unleash the potential of the human mind, and there is no better tool for doing so than education.

About two decades ago, government officials and development partners met to affirm the importance of education on development and broadly on improving people’s lives and together declared education for all as a goal. While enrolments have risen in promising fashion around the world, learning levels have remained disappointingly left behind in Nigeria. This is because growth, development and poverty reduction depend on the knowledge and skills that people acquire, not the number of years they sit in a classroom. We need to transform from education for all to learning for all.

Unfortunately, Nigerians are yet to make a distinction between knowledge of poverty and poverty of knowledge. While the former is recognized by a very insignificant number of Nigerians, the latter is possessed by many. This scenario is not unconnected with the fact that what we celebrate in this part of the world is paper certificate rather than knowledge. Put differently, Nigerians are well certificated without adequate knowledge to justify the numerous certificates they possess.

In this 21st Century when all countries of the world have recognized and started exploring the advantage of education to attain sustainable development; our education sector has over the years suffered generic afflictions of neglect and nagging crisis. The standard of education in Nigeria has continued to deteriorate day-in-day-out. From primary schools to tertiary institutions, the standard has completely fallen.
In Nigeria today, our schools are over enrolled, teachers and funding are hopelessly inadequate. Yet a large number of people who should be in schools are not there because there are no places for them or facilities simply cannot accommodate them. That about 60 million Nigerians are not educated justifies the call for more learning to more people. Nigerian system of education is too theoretical; to the extent that our Universities are turning out graduates in thousands year-in-year-out with little or no skills to justify their acquired knowledge. If we truly desire to attain development in all aspects of life in the nearest future, there is the need to start making learning in Nigeria more practical to the learners like such countries as Japan, China, Malaysia, Singapore, etc. These were some of the countries that shared the inglorious appellation of underdeveloped nations with Nigeria some decades ago. Learning should be made more practical and result oriented, not only at the primary and secondary levels but also at tertiary levels. Of what use is an education that does not make a man productive?

To borrow from Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogu’s visional thoughts, it is so pathetic that all our schools from the bottom to the top are still teaching theoretical arts and sciences. In Nigeria, it would be very difficult for a primary school child to tell the difference between yam leaf and vegetable. More than ninety percent of secondary school students of geography cannot explain the seasons, and the agricultural significance and expectations in a year. The polytechnics students and their counterparts in the universities of technologies have not seen a mould before, talk less of making one. They use pen and papers on daily basis, yet they do not know how they are made. A graduate of mechanical engineering cannot service a car, his electrical counterpart cannot repair his own transistor radio set. This is the very reason we are all consumers of foreign products, including ordinary tooth-pick. After 61 years of independence, we still find it very difficult to refine our own crude oil.

However, if we must bridge the gap between our literacy and skills gap as a people, our primary school pupils must start being taught how to recognize various herbs of the forest and various seeds that are planted in Nigeria. So that our students will start appreciating and pick interest in agriculture and thereby de-emphasizing heavy dependence on oil as the case is in Nigeria today. It will also enable the students of medicine to understand how a particular disease can be healed traditionally and compare the process with that of orthodox way of healing.

Secondary school students should be taught how to produce microscopes, copper wire, chemical reagents, rulers and so on. This will enable our students at the secondary level to start preparing themselves towards producing for the nation; rather than thinking of how to suck the nation dry. Nigeria as an underdeveloped nation can only change its status and join such producing nations as China, Japan, Korea, etc by its popular theoretical method of teaching to practical. In other words, civic education should be encouraged.

Polytechnic students should be orientated and trained up to the level of building their lecture theatres, sports stadia, furniture, pens, and of course, machine guns. If our students at the polytechnic level are equipped to this level, the existing disparity and inferiority complex between our polytechnics and universities would not have existed.

At the university level, students of engineering and technologies should be made to produce our planes, rockets, missiles, remote sensors, computers and other products of high technology. In this way, the nation’s power would have been constant and stable. There would have been no need for our electricity supply to continue to be interrupted every hour or for dwellers of our state capitals to drink untreated well water. Our salt factories would have ceased to breakdown, our oil refineries would not have packed up, calling for foreigners to resuscitate them. Government would not have invited foreigners to take over our farms and run them for us. So we would have ceased to spend all the earnings of our country on arms, armoured vehicles, planes, warheads and other defensive weapons from abroad, while the masses are much more impoverished. Through all these, new ideas on inventions would be encouraged and immediately transformed into practical terms followed by government financially backed mass production for local and foreign consumption. By so doing, our intellectuals would be well motivated and the country’s currency would be made stronger.

The level of digital literacy is also alarmingly low among Nigerian students. We do not bother to acquire e-skill beyond casual consumer level. The low level of skill acquisition in information and communication technology in the country’s educational system and its resultant negative impact on job creation should be a source of worry to the government.

The need to develop Nigeria’s technical brain power in information technology (IT) that would bridge the knowledge-gap between the existing Universities, Polytechnics and the global IT is mounting as the knowledge society continues to create a tremendous need for educated, competent and creative professionals. Furthermore, development of e-skill in the Nigerian workforce will lead to accelerated economic growth. E-business will empower the vast majority of unemployed and small businesses. To address the low level of e-business awareness, there is therefore a need to encourage the massive development and growth of education and training in e-business and information technology.

One of the solutions to this is to change our curriculum and fashion-out a new one that will promote more practical than theory. Sadly, we have not been able to do this because there exists a communication gulf between the universities professors who propound theories and the policy makers who should turn the theories around to grow the nation. With this attitude towards education, no democracy will bring about development.


Be that as it is, let me conclude this speech by asking this provocative question, is Nigerian education system retarding the progress of Nigerian students, democracy and national development? Or it is our democratic and governance style that has retarded the education institution and national development? Whichever, we have now found ourselves in a paradoxical scenario of educational institutions that refuse to educate, professors that refuse to profess, lecturers that refuse to lecture and students that refuse to study. Consequently, we now ply escaping routes to success in which rulers now rig elections to force themselves on us, lecturers now plagiarise papers to get promotions as students cheat in the examination halls to land themselves on BBNaija or Yahoo Yahoo.

Thanks for your rapt attention

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