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Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense, By Alex Otti

By News Express on 17/03/2017

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 •Dr. Alex Otti.
•Dr. Alex Otti.

“The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead.” — Aristotle (384-322BC).

“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with college education.” — Mark Twain (1835-1910)

We open the second phase of our discourse of education with two great quotes from two great minds. Aristotle and Mark Twain need no introduction. Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, who together with Plato and Socrates laid the foundation for what is today referred to as Western Philosophy. His contributions cut across logic, metaphysics, mathematics, physics, biology, botany, ethics, agriculture, medicine and politics. He was a student of Plato, who was in turn, a student of Socrates. He is often referred to as the father of logic. One of his theories that I like so much is called syllogism. Simply put, syllogism refers to a sound reasoning that says that “if A is equal to B and B is equal to C, then A is equal to C”. To Aristotle, to the extent that the premises of an argument are true, then the conclusions are guaranteed to be true.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens who is popularly known by his pen name, Mark Twain, was an American writer, humourist, publisher and lecturer. He was well known for creating two unforgettable characters in literature namely, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He made a fortune from his writings and lectures. He was later to lose everything in his investments which turned out very badly, mostly owing to innovative disruptions of that period. One interesting thing about Twain, beyond his well acknowledged humour was his integrity. Having filed for bankruptcy in April 1894 and having transferred his copyrights to his wife to prevent creditors from laying their hands on them, he worked extra hard with his friend, Henry Rogers of Standard Oil, and ensured that all his creditors were paid every dime they were owed, one year after. Mark Twain insisted on paying, even though he was under no legal obligation to do so. I consider his action a great feat given that the current President of his country, Donald Trump, and/or his companies had filed for bankruptcy between 4 and 6 times, depending on how one counts resulting in unmitigated loses to banks, creditors, bondholders and stockholders. Twain’s humorous talent is demonstrated in his quote about cauliflower being cabbage with college education.

There is no controversy over the fact that we have consistently paid less and less attention to education in the recent times in this country. To corroborate this, all one needs to do is to assess the quality of products of our institutions of learning over time. In the immediate post-colonial era, someone with a First School Leaving Certificate, also known as “San Six”: a bastardised pronunciation of Standard Six certificate, could speak very well, write very well, knowing where to punctuate, add comas and full stops. That is hardly the case with holders of School Certificates and equivalents today, not to talk of First School Leaving Certificates. A lot of them can hardly make correct statements without grammatical and mechanical blunders. Some can’t even write their names. What do we expect when their teachers are as bad, teaching them nonsense? The Governor Oshiomole/Graduate Teacher episode presents a funny but interesting scenario. In a verification exercise in Edo State, a few years ago, Governor Adams Oshiomole had asked a “graduate” teacher to read what was written on her age declaration certificate. What followed was a complete disaster. The teacher who was supposed to teach students, simply could not read. She had to be assisted by the governor to read virtually every word on that paper. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just watch “Nigerian Graduate Teacher Can’t Read Own Certificate in Edo State” on YouTube.

In teaching, just like most things in life, what you sow is what you reap. You cannot have a teacher who can’t read and expect his or her products to be able to read. The rigour that goes into the selection process and the minimum standards set for teachers have a lot to do with the quality of teachers we have. In the past, teaching was a very respectable and noble profession, attracting the best hands and brains. I am not too sure that the situation is the same today. In so many places in Nigeria, teaching has been left for those who could not find jobs elsewhere. A major reason for this is the competitiveness of both compensation and motivation. If we do not get these right, we may as well forget attracting the right quality of personnel to this otherwise important profession. After all, it is said that if you pay peanuts, you attract monkeys. It is also for survival reasons that a lot of terrible things happen between teachers and students especially at the tertiary level. These days, you hear about “sorting” by the higher education students. This shameful word, for those who have not encountered it, refers to buying of grades from teachers in cash and kind. You may be as scandalised as I was a few years ago when a university student explained it to me. Students actually pay teachers for grades and depending on how much the student is willing to pay, he could score A, B, or C. Female students whose teachers are male could sort in kind. Here, the teacher sleeps with students in exchange for grades. That is the level of decay that has become the hallmark of our educational system. Those who went to school decades ago would agree that these kind of actions were abominable at that time.

Some teachers have also devised another way of merchandising the students in order to make illegitimate money off them and their sponsors. They sell handouts and pamphlets and shamelessly make the students understand that the purchase of these materials at extortionist rates determine whether the students would pass or fail their subjects. You refuse to buy at your own peril. The quality of the materials put together for this purpose, most times is so poor and substandard. This is the reason why we have a lot of unemployable and poor quality graduates roaming the streets.

Just like Eneke the bird said in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, “since men have learnt to shoot without missing, it has learnt to fly without perching”. Following from that lead, since many educational institutions have opted to churn out ‘certificated illiterates’, a lot of organisations have devised ways to ensure they select only the best from the lot to ensure a “contamination-free” environment. They, therefore, organise stiff recruitment exercises and set up ‘finishing schools’ for retraining of the few manageable graduates prior to engaging them. Some oil companies have had to set up schools that their prospective recruits have to pass through before they are finally hired. In my previous life as CEO of a financial institution, I had to get personally involved in the recruitment of fresh graduates. I would make out time within an otherwise crowded schedule to have a final one on one interview with those who the stiff selection, training and retraining process had thrown up. It was such an expensive exercise, but I insisted and still insist it is very much worth it, given my belief that no organisation can be better than the quality of its people.

Beyond the issue of the faculty, there is the fundamental issue of the number of spaces available for our students. In my last intervention, I demonstrated that we have failed to plan for the education of our populace going by the number of spaces available at primary and secondary school levels. The situation becomes even worse at the tertiary level. According to recent figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics, out of the 11, 703, 709 applications received by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, between the years 2010 to 2016, only 2, 674,485 students were admitted. This means that on the average, less than 23% of our young people who indicated interest in studying at the tertiary level were given the opportunity to do so. This, you will agree is very sad. You will also agree that if not for the entry of the private universities, the situation would have been worse. Out of the 152 universities in the country as at the end of 2016, 40 are Federal, 44 are owned by states while 68 are private universities.

While there is no argument about the help that the private universities have offered in admitting a lot of the students, some of them have been said to be dealing with problems of funding, faculty and curricular. Some have located around existing institutions to benefit from the existing faculty from other universities. Some of these resource persons have now been so stretched and this is one of the main reasons why quality has continued to drop. Some of them that were set up as business have painfully begun to find out that owning a university is not a business that yields money in the short run. Unfortunately, they are realising too late. It is therefore important that regulators are empowered to ensure minimum standards are met and continue to be met by the universities, be they government or privately owned. We know that is not happening at the moment and the presence of mind to enforce that is painfully non-existent.

It is for the foregoing reasons and more that Nigerian universities have remained in the lower rungs of the rating of the universities in the World and Africa. In the latest edition of Times Higher Education Ranking, 2016, no Nigerian University made it to the top 981 universities in the world, quite unlike in 2015 when we featured at No. 600. That explains how fast the rest of the world is moving and or how fast Nigeria is moving in the wrong direction. In this same report for Africa, University of Ibadan that placed 11th in 2015 had dropped to the 14th position. Out of the best 15 universities in Africa, South African Universities took the first 6 positions, except the 4th position that went to Makerere University, Uganda. University of Ghana came 7th, while the University of Nairobi came 8th. Three Egyptian universities tookthe 9th to the 11th position while 2 Moroccan universities placed 12th and 15th. In another report, the 2017 African University Ranking, which largely agreed with the Times ranking, only 4 Nigerian universities made it to the top 50 in Africa. These are Universities of Ibadan and Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University and Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.

From the above report card, it is clear that we need to have a serious conversation about education in our dear country, particularly if we agree with the words of Nelson Mandela that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

•This piece originally appeared in Dr. Alex Otti’s column OUTSIDE THE BOX in THISDAY. Dr. Alex Otti can be reached via

Source News Express

Posted 17/03/2017 2:16:12 PM


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