In the world today, about 60 million school-age girls and boys still do not attend school, of this population, half are in Africa with a vast majority in Nigeria. According to U.K’s Department for International Development (DFID), 8.5 million children do not go to school in Nigeria (this is the highest in any country of the world). It was estimated in 2015 that of Nigeria’s 180 million people, about 54 million are illiterates.
On the other hand, some children are not out of school but they cannot articulate their reasons for being in school. The major problem is that many of these students lack purpose and a sense of direction, some others face tremendous challenges in choosing the right career path because they lack adequate information to make such informed decisions.
However, we need to first understand that if students do not understand the reasons for education, it can be a quite daunting task to motivate them and make them understand what fits them and what does not. Unfortunately, our system of education has contributed inimically to the perception of students about education. In other words, many students do not understand their reasons for being in school. From my tour to different schools and a systematic survey over the last one year, I have been able to identify some of these factors:
1- The school system teaches competition:
While it is good that hardworking students should be rewarded for their diligence, the manner with which assessments are done give room for unhealthy competition among students. Albert Einstein once said “everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. ” Our modern day school system employs a single method that tests the ability of every student, neglecting the uniqueness of each individual.
Students are made to compete for grades, the system has taught them not to allow anyone get ahead of them. To compete or be trampled upon. To compare themselves with others and to set unreasonable standards.
Some students even become bitter rivals because of school grades. They are often told the only way to secure the future by scoring high grades in order to get profitable jobs.
I also used to be very competitive. I wanted to outperform everybody and score the highest grades in class. I remember one particular instance while in secondary school, someone scored above me in test and I vowed to beat the person in the next test. My method wasn’t by studying harder, I just felt my nerve was enough to do the fight. How naïve I was.
The Nigerian school system has taught students to compete unnecessarily even in areas where they have no strength, the quest to outshine their mates having beclouded their minds. Students ignore collaborative efforts to solve problems together, to build relationships and lifetime friendships because of unhealthy rivalry. One of my cousins once told me she hated one of her classmates because she believed the teachers favoured her over other members of the class. This is what competition does to students, it robs them of their true identity and thus they lose track of what is more important.
2- Wrong way of learning:
Albert Einstein said education is not the learning and repetition of facts but teaching the mind to think. In the quest to ‘pass’ at all cost and beat others, students devise various desperate methods such as cramming, skewing facts and reproducing them in exams just to ‘pass’ and forget thereafter. With these methods, students do not think for themselves, to learn to ask questions and to challenge conventions. They take whatever is thrown at them hook, line and sinker because they want to pass exams.
Students who do this may pass the exams truly but unfortunately, initiative is lost and there is lack of innovation and ingenuity. They are being restricted to a thinking pattern in a box with an obsession with grades. This kills creativity, intellectualism and individuality.
Again, they subject themselves to enormous mental pressure and frustration in the bid to pass exams and hence nothing new is learnt.
3- Standards and expectation from the society:
A friend once said that whenever his secondary school principal entered his class, he would ask “what do you want to become in the future?” and whenever any of the students was not articulate enough, such student would be booed. Some careers have been regarded as superior to others by teachers, parents and the society at large. If a student doesn’t aspire for such career(s), s/he may be deemed unambitious or lazy.
A boy wanted to become a photographer but the father insisted he must be an engineer, he bowed to the father’s wish because he couldn’t sponsor his education himself. Eventually, he studied engineering but failed woefully. I learnt of a story of a young man who wanted to become a musician but the father insisted he must be a medical doctor. He graduated from medical school eventually but presented the certificate to the father and said, “I have lived your life now, can you allow me live mine?” then the father realized his mistake.
While I was in the university, I met a secondary school teacher one day and she asked what I was studying, I told her Transport Management and she paused a bit before she disdainfully asked “what do you expect to achieve with that?”
Our system of education as influenced by the society creates a pattern where students make decisions out of the quest to satisfy societal expectations. Hence, the school churns out students who cannot think and decide for themselves, the system creates zombies whose lives have been conditioned by the dictates of the society.
4- Economic influence on perception:
Out of all the answers from the survey I carried out, one particularly struck me. In response to the question “why are you in school?”, a girl of 13 answered that she believes she is in school so that the suffering of her family can end. Her answer shows the endemic nature of poverty in the society.
This situation has made many students selfish and myopic in the definition of success; they tend to think that they are in school only to fulfil personal ambitions and become successful pursuing prestigious careers because of the economic benefit.
School is perceived as an escape from the vicious circle of poverty. We have been told that going to school meant securing a good job, a good salary and all the beautiful things of life.
While this is not totally untrue, it is however not the primary purpose of education and this is the reason many students go to school with a wrong perception of their need for education.
Education is not an end in itself but a means to an end. The word education is derived from the Latin word ‘educare’ which means to nurture or to bring up. The purpose of education is to transform individuals and equip them to be able to also transform the society by solving problems with a systematic approach. Education involves nurturing the mind to be capable of thinking in an unending process of learning. The understanding of this fact is missing in the way our educational system has been structured.
In order that the purpose of education is not defeated, it is important that the government works to reposition the economy and bridge the gap between the upper class and the lower class. Every citizen should be entitled to a decent lifestyle and standard of living.
Excessive competition should be discouraged. Finland is rated the best country in the world today in terms of education. In 2013 Pasi Sahlberg, the country’s Director General of the Centre for Mobility and Cooperation said at Harvard University that one of the secrets of their success in education is that they encourage collaboration instead of competition in the classrooms so that students can learn and solve problems together. It may interest you to know that some schools in Finland don’t write exams.
Lastly, parents and students should learn to understand the ability of each student. There should be a system that is designed to make everybody fit in. Pasi Sahlberg also pointed out that education in Finland is designed for the needs of each student. Students must be encouraged to understand their uniqueness and giftedness early in life.
This is therefore the reason Read and Think Initiative is committed to filling this gap by sensitizing, enlightening, re-orientating and motivating students in attempt to promote literacy and self-awareness. In our own way and with available resources, we aim to help students discover themselves early so as to become purposeful scholars, and thereby emerge as resourceful citizens who would contribute to the advancement of our society.
Written by Ajayi Julius Funminiyi. Ajayi is the brain behind Read and Think Initiative, a nonprofit Organisation aimed at promoting literacy and helping students find purpose in schooling and life generally by helping them align their academic choices with their latent and potential abilities for an auspicious future. He has a degree in Transport Management from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology where he is currently pursuing a post graduate degree in the same field. A seasoned speaker and trainer, he writes on Facebook as Ajayi Julius Funminiyi and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.