• Monday, June 17, 2024
businessday logo


Engaging the Nigerian youth: The danger of a single perspective


There I was, on a wintery day, somewhere in West London, sat in front of this slightly built, caucasian gentleman with a bald head, his glasses sitting right on the bridge of his nose and almost glued to his face. Steve was my Sociology teacher at the independent A’Levels college I was studying at. The conversation we were having was as nippy as the weather outside, it was me trying to understand why he had scored me a ‘D-grade’ on my first ever essay in his class. The partly expressionless look on his face and a feigned attempt to smile exuded typical British sarcasm. He was obviously thinking I had lost my marbles, or I was just an ignoramus that just arrived from Nigeria.

I had written the essay confident of nothing less than a ‘B-grade’ in the worst case – I was a well above average student from my secondary school in Nigeria and my O’Level grades were a testament to that. So, you see, scoring a ‘D-grade’on a sociology paper that had in it everything he had taught, was quite perplexing for me. The assignment must’ve been around evaluating a topic we had been taught, and in my Nigerian fashion, I proceeded to regurgitate everything he had taught, perhaps, even verbatim in parts. To my mind, this approach would earn me the high marks I desired, because it would demonstrate my ability to recall to memory all I had learned. Besides, this was how, by and large, we were taught to answer questions where I was coming from.

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Steve decided to lecture me. He explained that his expectation was for me to demonstrate understanding, and to do that, my thinking and my perspective was very important. The expression on my face summed it all up – on the one hand I was shocked and on the other hand, I felt like I had been released from a mind prison, like really, I’m allowed to have a view and it’s valued? Not what the teacher says it is?

This thankfully would mark the beginning of my freedom from the “prison of the mind” – an actual organisational metaphor for imposed beliefs and teachings in an organised system. Anyway, lest I digress, this experience highlighted to me, one of the flaws of the education systems in Nigeria.

Education is beyond the rigid curriculum in a school setting, there is a myriad of factors that influence the experience in its entirety to produce a well-rounded individual, and socio-cultural norms is one of them. The prescriptive approach the teachers adopt, which arguably is culturally influenced, does not encourage expressing your opinion. The thinking is, you are young and so it’s assumed you don’t’ know, so you get told – what to do and how to do it. You are not experienced enough to have an opinion or point of view; your job is to follow instructions to the letter and be disciplined in your ability to memorise information.

It turns out, this experience was not peculiar to just myself, my friend Temi shared that she only got freed from the ‘prison of the mind’ when she started working, as all her studying years, up to her first-degree were in Nigeria. The realisation that she could share her views and they were valid was something of an epiphany for her. Such a brilliant and vibrant mind stifled for years because of a Single Perspective. In truth, this was probably the case for many young people like myself and Temi growing up.

It was the UN International Youth Day a couple of days ago and the theme for this year was, ‘Youth Engagement for Global Action’. The objective of which was to highlight ways in which engaging young people at the local, national and global levels is enriching national and multilateral institutions and processes, as well as draw lessons on how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics can be significantly enhanced. (www.un.org).

Engaging the youth effectively in our country needs to start with our approach to education and the way children are taught. There’s a need to move from the Prescriptive approach to an Adaptive approach which encourages participation and dialogue. Without these mind-shifts and educational system re-engineering as it were, the youths will remain poorly engaged. This, however, is potentially catastrophic, in a country with a significant youth population existing in a progressive world – it will limit the youth dividend we are poised to enjoy if harnessed properly.

I’m thankful to Steve for bailing me out of my mind prison, which was vastly shaped by the single perspective I had growing up. My friend Temi however, thinks the single perspective I even refer to is non-existent, the world has evolved so much, and that perspective is null and void. It is this reason that Teacher Training is one of the critical components required to reform Nigeria’s Education sector, a training that must ensure a shift in mind-sets and approach to teaching if we are to enjoy the dividends of our youthful population optimally.

On this note, my message today, to the Nigerian youth, is in the words of the renowned late reggae singer, Bob Marley –“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our mind”. More now than ever, technology has made the world borderless, so much so, you do not need to travel to experience diverse ways of thinking to develop your minds. If your country won’t do it for you, then do it for yourself and the future of your country.

IG: @with_nasa

LinkedIn: Chinasa Ken-Ugwuh