Education is highly reputed to deliver prosperity. That appears to be the number one reason why most people acquire it. Whether it is received formally or otherwise, education broadens a person’s view and understanding of life, of the environment where he belongs to, history and principles that underlie many of the events that one encounters in life. When properly acquired, education equips us with the skills and knowledge that we can offer in exchange for wages and other income. Good education equally delivers the ability to recognise opportunities and take advantage of them for enhanced earnings. Opportunity identifying capability is one robust superstructure propping up and delivering innovation. In other words, a properly educated person is also supposedly imbued with innovation-making potency.

Unfortunately, the reality in our country appears very different from these normative expectations. The quality of outcomes from our own ‘educated’ people make it seem as if education is not necessarily the powerhouse for the delivery of prosperity. At one end of this unfortunate scenario, are graduates who are not able to either spell their names correctly or the names of the departments of the school they graduated from accurately. Then, a little better than that category is a sea of supposedly ‘unemployable.’ university graduates. On the other extreme is a country populated by a large number of supposedly educated men and women who cannot govern themselves very well. Ineffective self-governance by extension is manifest in the myriads of poor performances that we witness in all aspects of our socio-economic living as a people

Our country’s educational institutions have over the years perfected the rites of ‘certificating’ persons who have completed the number of years required to stay at such academic establishment for the qualification pursued. The performances in the industry and broader society, make it highly disputable if indeed character and learning were considered before our institutions issue certificates. That is why we have thousands of engineers who can rarely design any acceptable structure. That is why many Nigerians can rarely trust their lives in the hands of their doctors. That is why many with PhD in business Administration can hardly manage a one million naira business successfully. The cases are endless but desperately unfortunate. Times have so pitiably changed. I recall that as a secondary school student, most of my teachers were equally secondary school graduates who were yet to obtain higher educational training at that time. But they taught us well and helped us to pass our exams as well as perfect the art of writing good letters whether they are business, informal or formal. Regrettably, today’s university graduates can hardly be relied upon to write acceptable letters.

In every progressive society, the design of the main structure and curriculum of the educational system are regularly controlled to shake hands with the industry and society. In the Nigerian case, our educational system appears to loathe the industry and is not interested in learning from its needs and planned developments. Therefore in fashioning the curriculum for learning, the industry that should hire their output is not considered. Conversely, there is every evidence to show that most of our higher institutions have copiously learned and is still learning from our very corrupt and immoral society and infusing such knowledge into the academic system. That is why you have lecturers buying new cars by writing the PhD thesis of their students. That is why many lecturers put before female students the options of either sleeping with them or giving them bribes to pass exams. These lecturers scarcely bother themselves with the adequacy or otherwise of the curriculum that they use in teaching students.

My daughter told me a heartrending story of how her school; a missionary school owned by the Anglican Church copiously allowed massive examination malpractices on her JSS3 final exam. According to her, even the examination invigilator, as well as other teachers supporting the invigilator, turned their eyes away while volts of cheat sheets flew into the examination hall like rockets. Seemingly, the school had bribed the invigilator to help many of their students to achieve glowing results in paper certificates to enhance their chances of more intakes. So if a school owned by a church can perpetrate this kind of unacceptable criminality, where is the hope for a better educational system in Nigeria? As you may correctly guess, many parents like myself, thought that such a missionary school would be free of this insanity only to discover that it is not a safe zone either. This ugly experience made it clear to me why we have a preponderance of kids with brilliant paper certificates without a corresponding knowledge or the demonstration of the know-how that match those papers. It also explains why at a tertiary level, many students indulge in many other questionable activities outside of studies that brought them there in the first place. The reason is simple, without strong foundations at the primary and secondary level, it is ten times more challenging to make good sense of higher education. And so, many opt for cultism to fill the gap. In the same way, many young girls realise how their beauty and bodies rather than their brains would come to their rescue in the absence of the right foundation for tertiary education.

Again the sacrifice of merits on the altar of the quota system is another nail driven into the very heart of education and learning in this country. Meritocracy is a unique core value that drives strong performance in every area where it is recognised and put into practice. And without question, if there is a place it is most needed, it is in education. It is only a merit-driven intellectual competition that will throw up generations on generations of authentic innovators and inventors; managers and leaders as well as genuinely patriotic people. Unfortunately, our country has blindly rejected meritocracy in every ramification of our national life. In its place, we have erected the sad and retrogressive pillar of the quota system. The latter, when applied, decimates every good thing in its way and trail. For instance, when used in the hiring of academics the implication is that many of the best teachers and scholars drop and in their places are those who are not as qualified, but who must be hired to satisfy the demands of the quota rule. Academic vibrancy dies naturally as the competition for new ideas and innovations which are typically driven by the best are lost.

Similarly, when applied in selecting and in admitting students, lots of poorly qualified candidates ride on the back of the quota system to displace many of the rightly qualified ones. These lower quality candidates will eventually get admitted as graduates only to become the new set of teachers and scholars to propagate our educational system. How do we think that we can ever make progress in terms of our education with a system that is utterly against merits? How can we achieve national prosperity with dead education?

Parents are also highly implicated in all of this mess. It appears as if the difficulties in the country have put many parents in the ultra-desperate mode and the hurry to see their wards quickly graduates from school. These days it is not strange to see eight-year-olds graduating from primary school. Similarly, many children are graduating from secondary schools at the ages of thirteen. Where are we hurrying to? It is this excessive rushing that makes some parents insist that their wards must move to the next class even when they failed and do not qualify to proceed to the next. It is the same inordinate hurrying that persuades many parents into helping their children to cheat in examinations. It seems that parents have lost the classic sense of pride associated with sterling performances of their children when they are borne out of hard work and rigorous learning.

We are obviously in a miry clay unless we make the necessary corrections before it gets too late if indeed it is not too late already. It is, therefore, evident why our educational system cannot and have not been able to create a prosperous nation substantially.

The correction has to start from the top. Our leaders must recognise how important education is in orchestrating economic prosperity. This recognition must be seen and felt in its various programs and policies as well as in its funding of the sector. The tolerance levels, for malpractice at all levels of our educational system, must be zero. For instance, even with the ubiquity of malpractices across the country during WAEC, NECO and JAMB examination, you rarely hear of any prosecuted culprit. Our justice system, the police, the law courts should play direct intervention roles in saving this severely threatened system. The government itself need not be reminded that academic excellence, the fruits of education such as prosperity envisaged thereof could only be realised with merit-based teacher placements and selection as well as in student admissions. The quota system only leads our educational system to the guillotine.

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Professor Ike-Muonso is the Africa Regional Coordinator of Baywood Foundation as well as the Chief Transformation Officer of GTI Capital Group