Education is an investment that pays off anytime and anywhere. The educational system in Nigeria is filled with successful and unsuccessful eras in the history of its reforms.
Educational changes were made at a time to enhance national development, students’ competence, and capability, among others.
The 6-3-3-4 system of education in Nigeria was introduced in 1998 to replace the 6-5-4 system. It was designed to bring about functionality in the system by producing graduates that can use their heads, hearts, and hands (the 3H of education).
According to the model, a child shall spend six years in primary school, three years in junior secondary school, and if he is academically sound, he moves to senior secondary, where he will spend another three years before proceeding to the university to spend four years.
From junior secondary school, those that are not academically sound would then be encouraged to go and learn a trade and/or better proceed to a technical school.
As good as it may sound, some Nigerians are concerned that this has not worked out as well as expected because of certain factors such as; non-availability of materials, lack of teacher preparation and funds, and lack of political will.
All the educational reforms contained noble ideas that could bring the necessary transformation to the educational system. The 6-5-4 and 6-3-3-4, which metamorphosed into the 9-3-4 education system, were all meant to address certain compelling demands.
Fajana Ayodele, a former director at the Lagos State Ministry of Education, endorsed the 9-3-4 system above all others.
“The 9-3-4 system encompasses the 6-3-3-4 system. Hence, a child is expected to spend nine years in primary and junior secondary school before deciding where the next pendulum of his academic journey goes. Besides, there is much more federal government involvement in the funding of this new approach than we had before,” he said.
In addition, Ayodele said, “In the new system, nobody is completely useless. After JSS3, a child has the provision to go for technical or vocational education if he is found academically below standard.
No child is allowed the privilege of repeating a class twice; instead, such a child is encouraged to go to a technical school where he or she will be taught technically.”
He argued that in the 6-3-3-4 system, there was the introduction of technical education within a secondary school, but the federal government could not cope with the requirements. Hence, according to the educationist, “It was a wasteful exercise. I believe that could have informed the reason for a change in the policy.”
Read also: Africa’s needs pragmatic approach to energy transition – AEC
The primary reason for this change was the new inclusion of basic, technical, and vocational aspects of the study that were added to the first nine years of school.
In theory, the 9-3-4 system is meant to give the students a solid foundation before they start studying for a career in the next three years. The 9-3-4 system was also meant to make the primary education level more streamlined, removing some subjects that only cluttered the curriculum.
However, the major challenge of the policy is manpower development. The teachers were not enough, and those who were available were inadequately equipped to meet the manpower requirements.
Shola Thomas, a senior lecturer at the University of Lagos, believes the 9-3-4 system is ideal as it covers early childhood education, which was left out by the 6-3-3-4 system.
The 9-3-4 system is meant to bring education to the people; little wonder it was planned to accommodate the nomads. Hence, it could be said to be a better policy. Nevertheless, she reiterated that the concept of the 6-3-3-4 system was meant to identify the ability and capability of each child.
“In this concept, a student was supposed to spend three years in junior secondary and three years in senior secondary school, respectively, thereby producing a student who would be ready to face the challenges of life after secondary education.
“If we had kept the initial concept of the 6-3-3-4 system, there would not have been any need for the introduction of the 9-3-4 system. Instead, we trampled upon it; we all refused to recognise the objectives it was meant to achieve,” she said.
On what led to the failure of the 6-3-3-4 system. The university don said, “The system failed basically because of a lack of financing. Either the finances were not enough or the finances were misappropriated; in the end, the students were the major losers.
“It is unimaginable to think of having much resources and time spent articulating policies without putting into consideration those who are to deliver the supposed objectives, and in this case the teachers.”
Imagine a laboratory without a science teacher and a technical workshop without a trained technical teacher; your guess is as good as mine. That is exactly what I mean!” Thomas said.
Contrarily, Dorcas Oso, proprietress at Multi-Concept International Schools, Lagos, believes the 6-5-4, 6-3-3-4, and 9-3-4 systems are all the same.
“The only difference is their curriculums. For me, the curriculum was better in the 6-3-3-4 system. It seems the government is more interested in making money than in the positive effects of the system.
What are 6-3-3-4 and 9-3-4? It is all about nomenclature. A simple change of names in a system will not solve any problems. If anything, it will only create more. It is just a question of old wine in a new bottle. In fact, the standard of our education is still falling every day!” she said.
One of the biggest criticisms that the government received was the gaping inconsistency in the implementation of the newly transformed curriculum. Add to that the insufficient funding, which is always a painful aspect of Nigerian education, and the result does not look too optimistic.
While there are a lot of primary schools that are doing just fine, there is no shortage of schools that are in very poor condition. A Nigerian child still cannot rely on the knowledge he received in school.
Educational establishments continue to lack essential components, such as books or professional teaching staff. It does not matter whether pupils study for three or twenty years if they do not have anything to study from.
Books are one of the most efficient ways to keep a child interested in a subject. Our pupils need to be taught practical knowledge and technological skills. They need to know how to take leadership roles both in life and on the job. This way, they can compete favourably in the global workplace.
Ayodele believes the way forward is to maintain a qualitative education system.
“How can a child be prepared for the junior WAEC if he doesn’t have an English teacher? The same goes for other subjects. Regrettably, we have students who don’t know the basics of the English language and/or struggle with the easiest arithmetic tasks. The old status quo of qualitative education needs to be maintained,” he said.
Thomas reasons that the way forward is to build a connection between the policymakers and the policy implementers. They seem to be miles apart in the policy articulation and the subsequent steps to effectively implementing it.
The main problem areas of the 6-3-3-4 system are the disconnects that existed between these two key players.
“There is a high level of inconsistency in the connecting process that exists between the two bodies,” she said.
In addition, she said, “The issue of a lack of human resources must be addressed. As a result of this, we have instances where teachers are meant to teach subjects outside their area of jurisdiction.
For instance, in the 6-3-3-4 system, we introduced trade subjects such as civic education, security education, technical education, etc. without having on the ground enough trained teachers to impart such knowledge.
What we have is a square peg in a round hole. We have teachers teaching subjects they were not trained to teach. An economics teacher teaching security, or a biology teacher with civic education—that is the square peg in a round hole syndrome,” she said.
Besides, she advocated for curriculum reform. This, according to Thomas, will help create the provision for training and equipping the teachers, who in turn will teach the students who are meant to benefit from this policy.
“One of the major shortfalls of the 6-3-3-4 system is its inability to make provisions in the curriculum for training the trainers and, in this case, the teachers,” she said.
To address the shortfalls above, experts called for professionalisation of the teaching profession.
Uche Ebenezer, a teacher, told BusinessDay that the teaching profession should not be bastardised by allowing charlatans into the system.
“Every profession has its own ethics; teachers should be well trained in their profession before being licensed to teach. It is high time we stopped using the teaching profession as a stepping stone; that is to say, people go into teaching simply because they could not find their desired job out there,” he said.