As new school year begins

We are in September , the second part of the
double maxima that characterize our rainy
season. And with the greenery, wetness and
mess, it is also the month of school fees and
financial frugality ; of books, new bags,
uniforms, and the beginning of a new school

As teachers and students enter into another
school year, we are once again thrown into a
monotonous rat -race of schooling and
academics that we call education. We shall
begin to witness the giddiness on the roads, as
school buses, erratic parents on school runs
and frenetic commuting school -goers cause
hellish traffic with city workers. The town
would be awash with an early morning
montage of half -awaken toddlers and pupils ,
dragging over -sized bags and lunch boxes, to
attend a nondescript regimen of structured
learning that would last eight hours. For some,
this daily exercise , with periodic breaks , would
last for between 14 and 20 years, at the end of
which a certification is issued. This is school ,
this is education in the Nigerian context.

But is it ? Has anyone taken time to reflect on
the value of this education to individual
cultivation and refinement ? Or even on
national development and social progress ? Do
the time, resources, energy and human capital
dissipated on this venture worth its while? In a
fit of self-flagellation, I have asked, why is it
that, with so much busyness in ‘education ’,
proliferation of subjects and information
overload, we are still where we are today. I
have tinkered with so many reasons until I
stumbled on the model of education that made
the Scandinavian countries the world ’s numero
uno in terms of quality education. The
Scandinavian countries , comprising Denmark,
Finland, Norway and Sweden, supposedly have
the best conditions of service for teachers in
the world. To get a glimpse of how their model
of education functions, consider how Finland
runs its educational affairs .

In the last 40 years Finland is said to have
perfected the act of quality education delivery .
Its school system is ranked internationally as
overall number one, with only two per cent
high school drop – out , and its students speak
four different languages.

Finnish teachers are reputed as the best and
brightest, for they are selected from the top
ten per cent of the students . Like doctors and
engineers they are the best paid , even though
they teach four hours a day. Compare this with
Nigeria, where education departments of our
universities are dumping grounds for
desperate and frustrated applicants of the
university matriculation examinations. Because
many of these students are ill- prepared for ,
and hardly ever motivated by, the imposed
course of study, they become a liability on the
society as teachers . The other day, an elite
school that wanted to shore up its educational
profile, selected some self- motivated topnotch
graduates as teachers after rigorous tests and
screening, only to turn them down when
administrators discovered they could not pay
their salaries. The school later settled for
below average candidates who were ready to
take peanuts .

Children in Finland do not go to school until
the age of seven. In school there is no grading
system , and students only take one
examination when they turn 16. For proper
interaction, each classroom is said to consist of
16 to 20 students , sometimes with three
teachers. Primary school students have only
four hours a day in a class, and whilst in class
they enjoy 15 minute break after every class
and 75 minutes of recess. What is more? They
rarely have any homework. Besides, 43 per
cent of secondary school students go to
vocational schools to learn skills . This school
system that has been described is said to be100
per cent state- funded.

In contrast , our administrators tell us that for
our school system to be efficient , schools must
be privatised . We have more private primary
and secondary schools than state – funded
schools, and almost an equal ratio of tertiary
institutions between private persons and the
state. Yet , the celebrated high -flyers of today’s
school complex are no match for the products
of yesteryears ’ conservative system . Today , our
children are thrown into schools and flogged to
learn writing even before they could barely
walk. They sit for nearly the whole school
period only rushing to get a bite of their sour
lunches. For them , break time is often a time
to forcefully rest their heads in class because
there is no playground, let alone facilities for

Even in some mission schools supposedly
combining work and play, you hear disoriented
administrators barking : “ Students , go and read
ya books .” Home works and projects compete
with classwork for relevance. The same
teacher who teaches in the school joins a
coalition of other teachers to establish an after
school programme called school lesson . Apart
from this, ambitious teachers still organise
another lesson called ‘take home’ different
from the usual school home work. With this
learning overload, one would think Nigerian
Newtons and Einsteins are being made. But you
are wrong.

Because Nigerian students are inundated with
examinations throughout their school life , the
fun and gain of learning are lost. They are lost
because the inner-lying potentials that should
facilitate skills acquisition are undermined and
undeveloped, owing to undue emphasis on
passing exams . Our children spend more time
in school than others , have more subjects than
many others , and get more home works. Yet ,
no inventions have been recorded, practising
technicians are still school drop -outs, values
are in a free fall and corruption has pitched its
tent with us. If we are yet to understand our
problems, let alone solve them , what then are
our children learning ? 

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