The things you become are not always those things you imagined you would be. Usually, it brings regret that you are what you had not given thought to. For the occasional characterization of me as an educator of exception, it is a happy unexpected. But it also places a unique burden on me to seek a redemptive intervention that will liberate education in Nigeria and cause it to drive a robust vision of a land of free and happy people producing their way up to the world’s highest standards of living from a base as low as the poverty capital of the world at the time of this audacious claim of a new future heritage.
I come to a construction of an education strategy for the great surge forward for Nigeria mindful of the great paradox of both my own track in getting education and my view of educators, as well as my becoming recognized as an educator of note. For a person who as a teenager was so fascinated with flying and only wanted to go to flying school to be a pilot ending up post youth corps Ph.d at 26 and being associated with the founding and running of schools at primary, secondary, and Tertiary levels is surely a dramatic switch of fortunes. Lessons from such a run should do a thing or two for a return on experience (ROE) that can impact policy for good.
Surely that turn of the tide has allowed deep insights into the challenge of reforming education in Nigeria.
Through the years in helping found primary schools in elite urban areas in Lagos (Madonna International in Ikoyi, Lagos and St Monica’s school for the opportunity challenged in Ibusa, Delta state); Secondary Schools as Vice Chairman of the Development Board of Lagoon secondary school and as startup faculty at the Lagos Business School and Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of both a state Government and Private University in Edo State and the Governing Board on Development of Shanahan University Onitsha all of these experiences point me in one direction. Education works best when it is purpose driven.
When Deng Xiao Ping took the reigns of leadership in poor backward China at the time I was a Youth Corper and China’s output person was half that of Nigeria few would have imagined the difference in performance and quality of life we see today.
The key to the bold new future envisioned by Deng was knowledge and the path to it was education strategy. In several speeches in 1978 capped by the speech at the Communist Party Congress in December of that year he extolled the place of people of intellect and knowledge in the new way forward for China. Today we can see the result in one generation.
At the other end of the pacific examples can be found. Why is California one of the largest economies in the world and a few of its entrepreneurs possess more capital than the entire continent of Africa? Largely the effect of a University called Stanford. Education matters. But you would not believe it if you look at how governments in Nigeria have treated education these last 20 years.
Much has been made of the conversation between Apple’s Steve Jobs and then US President Barrack Obama about why the iPhone was built in China. Faced with a deadline that was looking like a mission impossible in the US, Apple turned to China and found that in a small area there was an abundance of software engineers of world class at a small fraction of the cost of equally qualified Americans whose supply were not available enough.
Economists and Historians may be close on consensus in the current dominant paradigm about institutions and institutional failure being the reason China went to sleep for several centuries but there is no discounting the place of education in the Deng Xiaoping Vision that enabled China leapfrog to the frontlines of greatness in just one generation.
The British Historian Niall Ferguson may be triumphalist in how institutions failed China in the Ming dynasty but he has to admit how quickly they found through education some of the killer Apps of Western power.
We cannot, therefore, consider the revival of Nigeria without a bold vision for education strategy which is recently in taters, utter neglect and manned by people who should be doing other things.
Nobody considering running for President who cannot show audacity in this area is even worthy of being allowed to buy the form to register.
The Pillars of Reform
To reform education, we have to begin with a common acceptance that education must be purpose driven and that the principle of subsidiarity, decentralization to the levels of authority closest to the people is key.
It is important we also align learning to factor endowments of geographies. So if a person is domiciled in a cocoa-producing region education curriculum from primary school should equip that person to add value in the Cocoa value chain from cradle times. Emphasis on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) in our education has been observed in the breach, as has the call for more attention to vocational education and a TIVET focus. Then there is the issue of teacher quality.
What can we, learn from Finland and the Scandinavian countries?
I have had the privilege of being Chairman of the Nigerian Breweries sponsored Maltina National Teacher of the year panel of judges for eight years now. Its essence is to celebrate good teachers and inspire the rise of good teachers.
We must develop a national framework for implementing a Teacher Development scheme and I have been working on it for years.
I also think there is a place in policy for how to manage low cost private schools in slum areas. Those are the places many of our urban young are getting started. Government officials still treat them with poor understanding. I have visited these schools with the British Educator James Tooley, now Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham in the UK. At his prodding new vistas were opened to me and I am pleased to be National patron of AFED, their association.
I have also spoken over the years about priorities. The obsession in public conversation with tertiary education because of its glamour misses the point that primary education and secondary education are more important in that order, first because if you get it wrong at that level only garbage will enter the tertiary level and the outcome will be garbage. But more importantly if the learning at these best formation years for the brain if life skills are transmitted can carry to a successful life without tertiary formal education it is worthwhile investment.
Then there is the matter of preferred pedagogy. As those who have followed me know I was long influenced by the writings of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire who authored the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. My adapted vision of his thesis which I call the Pedagogy of the Determined is fundamentally developmental and high growth supporting.
With my friends, we will offer Nigeria education driven for purpose to support an audacious developmental agenda based on a dual education track like the German ausbildung but anchored on the value chain-propping Latent Comparative Advantage anchor of high growth to improve the quality of life of citizens.
I come to this as a simple teacher with audacious vision for Nigeria that is filled with compassion for people who have suffered for too long from bad leadership. I come in trust that Nigeria will rise up again and that this rise will be fueled by good teachers and a strategy made good by experience.
*Patrick Okedinachi Utomi, Political Economist and Professor at the Lagos Business School is Pro-Chancellor of Benson Idahosa University