Nobody can controvert the stark fact that there is a nexus between a country’s level of economic and technological development and the quality of education obtainable in its schools.
Education is the cornerstone of national development because it is the educated and knowledgeable citizens of a country that will harness and mobilize natural resources, skilled human capital, and money to ignite their country’s economic and technological advancement. In the first world countries, which have achieved economic prosperity and technological advancement, they have universities that are bastions of technological and scientific knowledge. And people who possess scientific and technological knowledge can push back the frontiers of knowledge in their fields of specializations, which can manifest in their invention of machines and manufacturing of tools.
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Education can become the true equalizer of opportunities between the poor and the rich in Nigeria if our public primary and post-primary schools are raised to be at par with the best primary and post-primary schools in Nigeria
More so, the schools in the first world countries are centres for artistic and humanistic research. Since the citizens of those countries are educated and acutely aware of their civic responsibilities, they can contribute significantly to the economic, political, scientific, and technological development of their respective countries.
During the Nigeria-Biafra fratricidal war, which lasted between 1967 and 1970, the Biafran engineers, who were of the Igbo stock, produced war weapons. The Biafran soldiers used the locally-produced Ogbunigwe tanks and buckets to prosecute the war, which caused the war to last longer than people imagined and anticipated. And they used their vast knowledge to build an airstrip for the landing and take-off of aeroplanes used in bringing relief materials to starving Biafran children.
Those Biafran engineers whose ingenuity manifested during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war were university lecturers at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The extra-ordinary engineering feats they recorded are irrefutable proof that the existence of good universities in a country are filip and forces for the technological and economic advancement of a country.
At that time, which was the first republic, the quality of education obtainable from our schools, ranging from the kindergarten level to the tertiary stage was qualitative. University lecturers who were not found wanting in character and learning taught students, then. And those students were passionate about acquiring knowledge. They did not beguile the time for the elapsing of their periods of academic programmes in order for them to receive their certificates.
Sadly, over the years, things have changed for the worse regarding our educational system. The dysfunctionality of our educational system is partly caused by the military regimes, which ruled Nigeria between 1966 and 1978; and between 1983 and 1998. Our successive military rulers, who entrenched corruption in Nigeria, had an anti-intellectual posture and disposition.
In the mid-1980s, Dr. Patrick Wilmot, a lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Kaduna, was deported to his home country by the Ibrahim Babangida led military junta. And there were university lecturers who fled the country for fear of being killed during the military era. The anti-intellectual climate that pervaded Nigeria at that time stifled the growth of intellectualism among Nigerians, then.
Before the 1990s, when examination malpractice during such examinations as SSCE and NECO were common occurrence, we had witnessed the massive and nationwide WASCE leakage in 1977. The great novelist and university administrator, Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, captured that sordid assault on our educational system in his great work titled Expo “77. It limned the rot in our educational system, which caused its dysfunctionality.
Then, in the 1990s, examination special centres started mushrooming in Nigeria with the devastating effects their existence had on our educational system. In an examination special centre, surrogate candidates would sit such examinations as NECO, SSCE, and NABTEB for candidates for fees. The compromised examination officials and invigilators and school principals would close their eyes to the perpetration of examination fraud in their schools.
And in the universities, corrupt and randy lecturers award high grades to students in exchange for either money or sex. And the cultists on campuses would brow-beat lecturers into awarding them high grades in courses they take. So it can be seen that the SSCE, NECO, and degree certificates, which millions of Nigerians flaunt are not reflections of their possession of knowledge.
To make matters worse, the governments at different governmental strata have continued to show cavalier attitude to matters affecting education in Nigeria. The downing of tools by university lecturers to press home their demand for improvement in their welfare has become a recurring decimal in Nigeria. Add this to the fact that most primary schools and post-primary schools’ buildings are not better than pigsties; their roofs blown off and their walls decrepit.
Against this background of rot in our educational system, Gov. Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State said that education is the equalizer of opportunities between the poor and the rich in Nigeria during his declaration of free education for public primary school pupils and junior secondary school students in public schools. Is his assertion that education is the equalizer of opportunities between the poor and the rich in Nigeria, right?
Education was truly the equalizer of opportunities between the poor and the rich in Nigeria in the 1960s and early 1970s when corruption was not endemic in Nigeria, when teachers were highly knowledgeable and dedicated to their duties; and when brilliant students from poor homes were offered scholarships to attend universities.
At that time, great Nigerian personages like the late Professor Dora Akunyili and other beneficiaries of the Obafemi Awolowo free education policy in the western region leveraged on the free and qualitative education they acquired to reach the zenith of their careers. And they contributed greatly and significantly to the development of Nigeria.
Education can become the true equalizer of opportunities between the poor and the rich in Nigeria if our public primary and post-primary schools are raised to be at par with the best primary and post-primary schools in Nigeria; if corruption, the cankerworm eating up Nigeria, is rooted out of our body politic; and if egalitarianism is woven into the fabric of our democratic culture and practice.