On Saturday 10, 2017, the African Independent Television (AIT) and some other stations aired the finals of the 2017 Cowbell Mathematics Competition for secondary school students. The contest, annually sponsored by Promasidor, makers of Cowbell milk, has grown to become the zenith of all aspirations for ambitious secondary students, especially in the sciences. This year’s edition was a delight just watching the 12 finalists in the two categories. They dazzled with their brilliance. There was a segment that challenged timing and all students proved their mettle. The prizes at stake were not cheap nor were they ephemeral things either. One million naira plus a fully sponsored educational trip abroad for the winner, 400,000 for his mathematics teacher and five sets of desktop computers plus printer and several textbooks for the school of the winner is not a bad deal for a serious-minded college student. They were all aimed at improving and challenging the eventual winners to better previous efforts.
My discussions with my co-watcher after the programme centered around the often bandied around concept about the falling standards of education in Nigeria. Were there to be a research conducted, and l suspect someone may have done something in one of our research centers or educational institutions, on the standard of education currently in Nigeria, l have a gut feeling that the conclusion will tend towards the unverified assertion that the standard of education has fallen in Nigeria. But were these contestants from the moon? The question is, what is standard? “A level of quality or attainment; a rule or set of rules or requirements which are widely agreed upon or imposed by government”. That is how a dictionary defines it. The debate on the standard of education in Nigeria was widened last week with the protests in Kaduna by the Nigeria Union of Teachers, members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
The Kaduna State government had decided, that to halt the falling trend in academic results in its public schools, the teachers must be examined. The teachers had to be the problem. Not the students, parents and certainly not government itself. Therefore, the government mustered the political will and unleashed examiners on examiners of the students. The findings turned out jarring. ‘The teachers were inept’. We have been regaled with the details and in fact photos of answer scripts that even a Kg 3 pupil would not dare to own up to being the author of. We have had so much debate on the 22,000 incompetent Kaduna teachers and the 25,000 others (qualified?) waiting in the wings to take up their space that will soon be voided by gubernatorial ‘love letters.’ Since the drama started, and that is what it really is, l have not stopped wondering what our petit governor hopes to achieve by all the hoopla. Sanitize the system? I doubt it. I am old enough to know what transpired when the professor of pediatrics, Olikoye Ransome Kuti, held sway at the Federal Ministry of Health as minister. He did not just make impressions, he made impacts. Impacts that are seemingly eternal and whose effects can still be seen in our primary healthcare structures; preventive rather that curative. And that was without much noise.
The height of the garrulousness is the presidential backing given to the charade by my president, Muhammadu Buhari. That Nasir el-Rufai is one of his boys is known but he should not have given his, what should always be dignified, voice to support an errand boy, no matter how much he is in love with him. El-Rufai’s vituperations show the antics of a man who lacks discipline for well thought out actions and words. He is the governor. He should do the right thing without noise. I dare the governor to answer these questions: Who employed those teachers and on what qualifications? How much has the state government actually spent on training teachers since el-Rufai got into office? What percentage of the teachers actually failed and how many of his family members or those of his inner cabinet members who failed will make the sack list? Is there a clause in their employment letter that permits government to lay off teachers who fail such exams without going through the regular process of exiting a civil servant? What profit has accrued to the government in terms of finance or goodwill by the publicity given to what should ordinarily be a bureaucratic procedure by school inspectors in the Inspectorate Division of the Kaduna State Ministry of Education – if we still have one?
These are the five questions, like the five stones with which David killed Goliath, that my president should have asked his boy. And it is lazy to simply retort that the problems were caused by the PDP. We don waka that one pass. We have wisened up. We know that ALL politicians are one and same. They only turn the colour they feel we will like to see to us when they need us. The nomenclature is irrelevant. And that was what got some of us worried when some charlatans said the certificate of the then presidential aspirant was irrelevant. They said even his NEPA bill would suffice. NEPA bill for the president of the country that sired the likes of Maitama Sule, Adeoye Lambo and Chike Obi? Anyone who is not educated and certificated will never appreciate the winner of the Cowbell mathematics competition. He/she will never be enthralled with intelligent postulations and will not bother to proffer sincere solutions to challenges. It is not about throwing money at education in a manner that its impact cannot be evaluated; it is about conscientious and intelligent thinking to make progress. Government owes its citizens the duty of care. How many technical and vocational schools do we still have to take care of Nigerians who are not academically inclined but can work with their hands? What efforts has the government made to help these incompetent ‘teachers’ so they do not get frustrated and add to the population of the criminals in the society? Or does being incompetent absolve the government of the duty of care it owes these citizens as Nigerians? The government needs to muster the needed will to chide its self.
Dr Lewis is on the staff of Nigerian Tribune