Education and our value priorities By Segun Gbadegesin

Education and our value priorities

Let us start this discourse with two assumptions.

First, whether as individuals or communities, including states, zones, and country we have multiple desires. Second, unfortunately, by token of our human conditions, the resources at our disposal are not adequate to satisfy all our desires or realise all our values. Given these two assumptions which can reasonably be described as the realities of human life, we have a human dilemma: how do we satisfy our desires or realise our values in the face of inadequate resources?

The resolution of the dilemma has been approached in various ways. One is to insist on satisfying all desires by appropriating resources from others individuals (stealing and corrupt enrichment) or communities (exploitation through colonialism or imperialism). Another is to work harder to accumulate more resources for the satisfaction of all the desires. Not a few individuals and communities have achieved their aspirations through honest hard-work.

A third approach is limiting desires so that they are realisable with available resources; in other words, cutting our coat according to our cloth. Finally, however, there is also the course of prioritising desires such that the highest on the scale of values are satisfied while the lowest wait until more resources are available. With this approach, one still works hard, but one does not risk overworking with its accompanying stress which then prevents the realisation of any one the desires.

Of the four approaches, only the first is flat out wrong because it is unfair to those victims of stealing, corruption, and exploitation. But, of course, there are those individuals or communities who are motivated, not by fairness, but by greed. I reject the Hobbesian idea that greedy accumulation and appropriation is natural in the state of nature. Even in that state, there is the morality of conscience that must continually warn any reasonable person that it is not right to take more than you need for your survival. After all, in the state of nature, all you really need is the fulfillment of the basic survival needs.

Now, the other three approaches are within various degrees of reasonableness. Attempting to satisfy all desires through hard work is reasonable but risky for the stress that it may cause. Limiting desires is reasonable if it is not motivated by laziness or aversion to hard work. Prioritising desires doesn’t give up on any of the desires; it only ranks them such that the most urgent and important are prioritised.

If it appears reasonable to prioritise desires, it is because it is; for individuals as well as for communities, including political communities. How does it work in reality?

For individuals, let us assume that the desires are for basic needs such as food, health, clothing, and housing. Surely, none of these can be set aside as unimportant. To survive, each is a priority in its own right. But each can be satisfied by a variety of means, from the very basic to the most luxurious. Prioritising here means distributing resources in such a way that the need for food is not frustrated by the need for housing or clothing, and that all contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for health.

More importantly, however, our sample individual will benefit from gaining adequate knowledge not just about the importance of these needs and desires, but also about how best to satisfy them. The acquisition of such fundamental knowledge is essential to the successful prioritisation of his desires, and to his survival and prospering. This is the meaning and significance of education in its most basic and simplest form.

There is no misery to it. Without education, all other values and desires amount to naught. A certain amount of it, that which is needed in the state of nature, is innate and instinctive. And so the caveman is able to determine that he has to hide in the cave to avoid the bitterness of the elements or that he has to hunt to avoid starving to death.

As human settlement and families emerge, education becomes a collective endeavor so that the ignorance of a member doesn’t jeopardize the survivor of the rest. The collective responsibility to educate the young requires the family to prioritize and reconcile its desires with available resources.

One way the task is accomplished traditionally is to assemble family members at a palaver session, where the issue is thrown out with the family head underscoring the priorities that must be attended to and the limitation of the resources available. Wastage is rebuked. Greed on the part of any member is condemned. The uncontrolled contribution of mouths to feed by some members doesn’t go unnoticed or unchallenged. There is a general agreement on what is identified as the most important of the desires and it is accorded the most urgent priority with resources allocated. Communal life is saved and it moves on.

A little over two years ago, I discussed the model of the state as family in a different context. In that context, I made reference to a justification of the former president’s action on ground that he was the father of the nation doing the best for his children. Though, I found the statement inadequate in the context, I also conceded that the idea of the state as the family was not original to the former president because it was a common idea in political philosophy. Even Chief Obafemi Awolowo once explored the analogy with his suggestion that the paterfamilias as the patriarch of his family negotiated with other patriarchs and that this was the origin of the state. This was a historical account of the origin of the state.

Let us assume that the historical account has some element of credibility. In the present crisis of value conflicts and desire frustrations, how might a political community resolve the conflict?

That there is value conflict is not in doubt. That there is desire frustration is not deniable. Between individual members of the political community, the conflict is obvious. While a few indulge in opulence, many wallow in abject poverty. ActionAid just reported that more than 10 million children are out of school in Nigeria and that 1 in 6 of out of school children worldwide are in Nigeria. But many Nigerian families also have no problem sending their children to expensive boarding schools overseas and inside the country. While many with life-threatening diseases resign themselves to fate, others can afford to travel overseas for periodic checkups and for cosmetic surgeries.

Between groups as ethnic nationalities, zones, states, and local governments, the conflict is demonstrable. The North has just for the umpteenth time complained of marginalization, claiming to have the highest number of people making below $2 a day and the lowest literacy rate in the country. On this score it rejects the 2014 National Conference and demands a special national conference for the development of the North. There is no more powerful demonstration of the value conflict that I just described. The nation itself is suffocating under the weight of its irresolvable conflicts.

To my mind, there is one value that is central to all others and if it is prioritised and the constraints against its effective realisation are confronted and nipped in the bud, the nation as a political community can move with speed. The value I have in mind is effective functional education of citizens. I have in previous contributions in the last few months analysed the issue extensively. But in light of recent policy announcements and decisions of various governments, it bears repeating.

Simply put, what is needed is a prioritisation of our state and national values so that education is on top of the hierarchy. It doesn’t mean that citizens will get a pass. It means that individuals and groups are assigned requisite responsibilities for the effective functional education of citizens. Everyone will be expected to pay their fair share and make necessary sacrifices, including limiting the number of children they sire. Is the political will there for action?