Recently, I have been trying to figure out the difference between what people call public schools and playgrounds. The focus here is not on our higher institutions which are becoming citadel of academic stagnation; though I will tangentially talk about them. My concern is our so-called public primary and secondary schools. Children in Nigeria, especially those from poor background whose parents cannot afford to send them to private schools, spend twelve years (after their first six years) in both primary and secondary schools to learn nothing. The exceptions are very few.
This does not imply something tangible is being taught in our private schools. We can still count on some good ones anyway. I know some will argue that “some of our private schools are ugly”. I agree. “Not a few are bad.” That is correct. “And many are even worse.” That is not in dispute. But then, our public schools are worst. The “worstness” is even more depressing in reference to the north.
After a wasted-twelve-year excursion to both primary and secondary playgrounds which we call “schools,” we end up with students who could not independently write Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) themselves. I asked an undergraduate class of about sixty (60) students few years ago if there was anyone who wrote his West African Senior School Certificate Examination (also known as WAEC) all alone, no single one among them could proudly say “yes I did.” It is either they were sincere enough to acknowledge the glaring rot in the system or they thought who will believe them even if they answered in the affirmative. It is this bad!
Many will argue that students nowadays are not serious with their studies and not willing to learn. While this seems true, I am not always convinced. A trader can be said not to be serious with their business if they had all what it takes (capital, available markets, infrastructure etc.) to be committed to their business. Likewise, students could only be justifiably accused of laziness and unseriousness when there are competent teachers with effective teaching materials in suitable facilities and in conducive environment to teach. All these, in most cases, are apparently absent in our public schools which had gulped billions of naira over the years. Given this reality, I don’t see a sound logic in heaping blames on these innocent students. They are cast into a mould of unseriousness; not that they are intrinsically not diligent.
It is as if the system acknowledges its shortcomings, it does not also punish students’ laziness, students’ truancy, and students’ failure. In fact, it compensates failure. This explains why all you need (I mean the basics) to gain admission into our universities is to register for JAMB, seat to write—or pretend to write—the exam and fail it. In other words, score 120 or 140 out of 400 which is equivalent to F9, then you are good to go. That is all! Also for WAEC, though you need to pass some core subjects, you do not need to study at all. Can you even study when you do not have what it takes to study? You need to be meaningfully taught before you could study. But don’t worry, the system will compensate you with some credits in some subjects. This, as a cover-up for its inadequacies.
These students will end up in our higher institutions where they continue to pretend to be learning. Rather than learning, they, in reality, believe—rightly or wrongly—in the depth of their pockets, the influence of their parents, and the power of their bodies (if they are females) to defraud the system. They believe their lecturers are badly impoverished with insatiate appetite. No thanks to government’s deliberate policy of impoverishment which continues to pulverize Nigerian teachers at all levels and reduce them to association of knowledgeable people panting to survive.
There is one thing I always find very amusing. Lecturers in higher institutions are always on strike to press home some of their demands. They were never on strike to lament the quality of students admitted into these higher institutions of learning. They want well equipped laboratories, modern teaching equipment, mighty lecture halls and theatres etc., yet, they seem to be less concerned about the ability of students to learn. Though the students are not to blame, but higher institutions should not be for every Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Daily Trust wrote a report on Bauchi state in its Thursday edition. It reported that “public primary education is on the verge of collapse in Bauchi State due to a dearth of qualified teachers, dilapidated infrastructure and poor remuneration of the existing staff…the state government has not recruited teachers into public schools, following an embargo on employment, despite the deaths of many teachers for more than 12 years across the state.”
As if the above picture is not grotesque enough, Daily Trust further gathered that “there is not a single teacher in about 12 LGAs.” This is terrible! In some cases, it gathered, “hundreds of other primary schools have only one teacher taking an entire school.” This is alarming! If these schools are not playgrounds, what are they? This is not peculiar to Bauchi State, the ugly situation is similar in other states of the Federation or even worse.
My appeal to parents with modest means: do not waste the time of your children. They can learn handicrafts, acquire other useful skills, engage in trade, or be active in farm; pending the time government will start paying teachers and lecturers N250, 000 and N1, 000, 000 per month respectively. I am not joking. This is what teachers and lecturers deserve according to a lawmaker. I agree with him. But many opine that the lawmaker was speaking, when he spoke, in the future impossible tense. I also agree with them.
My advice to governments at all levels: treat our kids in public schools the way you will like to treat your biological children.