Wanted: Radical approach to fixing education system

July 10, 2019

The challenges of the education system, the focus of a two-day summit in Lagos had stakeholders from home and abroad discussing how the country could devise a new system that would serve it well. KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE was there.

With over 10 million children out of school in Nigeria, poor level of teaching and learning in schools, inadequate number of qualified teachers, poor infrastructure, inefficient governance structure, and the attendant effects on the economy, stakeholders who gathered at the NEDIS Education Innovation Summit 2019 last week, debated radical solutions to the country’s education debacle.

The crucial role of the teacher in the education space, the place of the child at the centre of learning as well as ideas of a system that makes the two parties work smoothly came into focus during the summit which featured 50 speakers, two keynote addresses, and nine plenary sessions at The Zone, Gbagada Lagos last Thursday and Friday.

In addressing the theme: “Strengthening Education Systems; Delivering Effective Teaching and Learning,” senior government functionaries in the education sector, academics, teachers, regulators, researchers, innovators and others shared thoughts on various ways to make education work for the country.

Dr Oby Ezekwesili led the call for a radical change of the current education system, arguing that what presently operates in the country could not deliver the kind of talent Nigeria needed to get to her next level.

The former Education Minister under Olusegun Obasanjo administration said Nigeria’s education must evolve like it has happened in other parts of the world.

She said all members of the society had roles to play in making the education system run properly.

She said in an interview: “Attention has shifted to what the learner must learn in order that they can be the agency through which societal progress happens.  When you look at what has happened with the educational system in many societies including Britain which basically handed a certain kind of education system to us, you will realise that they have learnt historically that you must constantly change the purpose for which you are giving education to people.

“So we as a society have to upgrade the way we think of education. Education has to be something that makes us think quality and relevance. If we are thinking quality, relevance, it then means the structure and system of providing education must undergo a complete overhaul because today, it is absolutely not in sync with the kind of learning that children of this generation and those that will follow them require to be a part of a competitive world.”

To lift Nigerians out of poverty through education, Dr Ezekwesili said the education system must be able to deliver the kind of skills that can yield income.

“When you look at education as the means through which people are lifted out of poverty, it then takes a completely urgent mandate as a society because we know that data shows we are now the world capital of poverty with some 93 million of our citizens in poverty. Education being the pathway to gaining competencies and skills and the cognition to be able to have agency for what you as an individual can produce as your income, when it eludes too many people, it leaves them stuck in poverty.

“So the easiest pathway to conquering pernicious poverty is to make sure that we upgrade what education represents and provide the opportunity for people to access that level or component of education that gives them the capacity to be able to produce what can be exchanged to realise the income that lifts them out of poverty. So there’s the social progress of society, the economic progress of the individual that adds to the economic progress of the entire Nigeria,” she said.

NEDIS Convener, Dr Modupe Awofesu-Olateju, said Nigerians were doing a lot in terms of innovations in the education sector.  She spoke of the need to collaborate on such innovations to achieve scale that could reach more teachers and learners and improve the teaching and learning process.

“For us to build lasting innovating practices that are reaching many world children, it is important that we think deeply about how to systematically scale innovations that work,” she said.

Meeting learners’ needs

Keynote speaker, Mr Tom Rudmik, speaking on: “Education needs transformation, how do we See and Create the 2030 Future of Education that Nigeria Needs?, said the current learners must be able to see the future Nigeria and begin now to create that future.

He said Nigeria does not just need an improvement of its present system of education but a transformation to produce people who are future ready – ‘imaginal leaders’ who have a vision of a new future and can create it.

Rudmik, who has written a book, Becoming Imaginal, to explain his model of empowering learners to create the future they imagine, and runs a school, Master’s Academy and College in Canada, where the model is in operation, said when students are empowered and allowed to own their dreams without fear, along with developing skills relevant for the future, they would blossom.

To transform education in Nigeria by 2030, Rudmik advocated curriculum review.  He said schools must transform into places where profound learning takes place.  He said such system would integrate elements of personalization, digital connection, ubiquitous learning and creativity, and others.

He noted profound learning helps students retain 90 per cent of what they learn without the need to cram.

A professor from Oxford University, David Johnson, said it is important to evolve a system that allows students to be creative.  He said numeracy and literacy indices were inadequate to tell how much Nigerian learners knew or were learning.  He gave examples of children who may not know their maths yet know how to take measurements in the tailors’ shop or cut up meat into portions for sale in the butchers’ with appreciable level of accuracy.  He said while adopting new technologies in the classrooms may be attractive, they would not work without the fundamental knowledge children should learn.  He called for a system that recognises the various ways children learn and provides opportunity for them to be creative.

“Children learn in different modes.  Different modes of assessment should be considered.  Understanding learners’ flexibility is important. What is important is to enable schools to provide opportunities for problem solving, creativity, deductive reasoning ,” he said.

Founder, Unveiling Africa, Dr Chizoba Imoka, said Nigeria’s education system was failing learners because they were being educated without learning requisite skills they needed to function.  She said research for her doctoral thesis showed that Nigeria’s education system was inequitable and unjust – entrenching ethnic, religious rivalries right from school.

She also called for a restructuring of the education system to reflect local content and culture such that Nigerian children would have of their indigenous knowledge, history and culture to share in the world.  She lamented she was a victim of such broken education which did not help her to function uniquely when she went for further studies in Canada.

“When I got to Canada, I spoke fluent English but I could not talk about my culture, history, festivals.  I could not speak the Igbo language.  I could not share anything unique about Nigeria. What does education do for the Nigerian child?  Our problem cannot be quickly fixed. We are a country of at least 250 ethnic groups. We are a complex people; we need at least 250 perspectives to solve the problem we have,” she said.


Strengthening teachers’ capacity to deliver

As much as learners are important, Principal Consultant Leading Learning, Mrs Folasade Adefisayo, said teacher competencies must be addressed. She said the situation in Nigeria was so dire that both teachers and learners must be helped together.

“It is a chicken and egg situation.  Who comes first, the chicken or the egg? We cannot afford to ignore teacher development. Who are the people teaching our teachers? Our professors, many of them are far removed from teaching practice; they teach theories. What we need is that the college of education should be more vocational; more practical,” she said.

With the teaching profession not well remunerated in Nigeria, Mrs Adefisayo said the best of brains are not attracted to teach in schools. She said there was need for the government to wake up to its responsibility of teacher training and rewarding so the teaching profession is better respected.

“We cannot get away with teacher training; leadership and governance.  We focus too much on infrastructure.  The best teacher in the National Common Entrance Examination one year was one boy from Yola who was taught by a fantastic teacher under a tree,” she said.

Programmes Manager, Oando Foundation, Tonia Uduimoh, said teachers can be equipped to deliver.  She said the Foundation’s efforts training teachers in its over 80 adopted schools across the country was yielding results.

“Many teachers don’t know how to think because they have not been taught. If you equip the teacher, you will get direct impact of the training provided,” she said.

Ms Uduimoh added that Nigerian government needed to learn from Indonesia, which has similar demographics, yet invests heavily in education.

“There is a limit to what the private sector can do without government leading.  I traveled to Indonesia with other government officials on a tour of their education system. We have similar demographics with Indonesia.  It is a largely Muslim country with over 200 million population.  But they do not struggle with large number of out-of-school children like we do; there is quality control; and teacher development is prioritised.  The more you develop yourself, the more you are paid. Teachers in the rural areas earn twice as much as those in urban centres.  The country budgets 20 per cent of its GDP for education. Money is assigned for the education of every child; the government pays the salaries of private school teachers,” she said.

On her part, Principal/CEO Olumawu School and Polyphony Group, Abuja, Mrs Felicia Jackson, put the responsibility for teacher development on the laps of the teachers themselves.  She said if teachers viewed themselves as life-long learners, they would constantly update their knowledge.

In her school, Mrs Jackson said teachers are challenged to learn new things and share among themselves on regular basis.  As school head, Mrs Jackson said she keeps learning new things and organising in-house training for her teachers.

“My duty and responsibility is to teach my teachers. When I see my teachers need to learn something, I go to learn the new skills and train them.  I do not believe I have to get an external consultant to train teachers; we do it together.  I tell my teachers you have to be the trained expert in the room.  We are the hospital for education,” she said.

Teach for Nigeria Fellow, Henry Anumudu, said teachers can do a lot for themselves.  He also said teachers should learn to blow their own trumpets to improve the image of the teaching profession so it can attract passionate people.  He said he started a blog to do this and had got responses from readers who now want to be teachers.

“The teaching profession suffers from real bad PR.  It is not attractive at all. A big solution is for teachers to tell their stories  of impact, joy, stories of happenings in the classroom. Until we are able to influence popular culture, this denigration will continue,” he said.

Executive Secretary of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), Prof Josiah Ajiboye, said with the agency now licensing teachers, there would be sanity in the teaching profession.  He said by December, non-qualified teachers would be flushed out of the profession.  Until then, he said teachers within the system should register with the agency, write the qualifying examination and get their licences, which would recognise them as qualified teachers in Nigeria and beyond.  Though Nigeria had the lion share of teacher deficit in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ajiboye said purging the system of quacks was a first step in the right direction before addressing the problem of teacher quantity.

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