Mr Dennis Okoro, 85, worked for 33 years in the Federal Ministry of Education. In this interview, the former Director of the Education Support Services tells GRACE EDEMA about the state of education before independence and now.
You held some positions while in the Federal Ministry of Education, kindly tell me about them.
I held positions of directorship. I was a Director of Federal Inspectorate Services and the Federal Education Support Services before I retired in 1996 and since then I have been consulting both locally and internationally on educational matters. I’m a fellow of the Academy of Education and currently, Director of MTN Foundation. I have been married for 56 years and blessed with 4 children. The youngest is 47 years old.
With a very rich career, I want you to tell us the state of education before independence, after independence and now. What has gone wrong?
At that time, both when I was in school and finished my education, Nigeria took education very seriously. Remember that we had not created states. We had four regions; East, West, Mid-West and the North. Government and missionaries established both primary and secondary schools. Both government and missionaries schools were competing and the standards were very high. Teachers had quality. There was nothing like quota system and children were eager to go to school because education granted both the poor and rich a means of mobility and students in colleges knew that as soon as they finished from the university, companies and government would come to the campus to interview them for various jobs either in the Railways, Marine, Ministry of Work or the civil service.. In fact, two or three weeks after you had joined any establishment, a car would be provided for you at a hire purchase and you would pay very little. People were focused on excellence and performance. That was what education was like and there were inspectors and supervisors of schools. Any school that could not meet the standards to present students for Cambridge School Certificate examination or West African Secondary School Certificate Examination would not be allowed to take the exam. So, there was order.
But from 1966 till date, Nigeria became different with the military takeover. They disrupted the federal system thereby making everything concentrated at the centre. So, the centre decides what happens even the job that is supposed to go to the states, the Federal Government takes over. They meddled in education to the extent that the states lost control of education and depended on the Federal Government for everything and what happened? Schools were established everywhere. Students were admitted into institutions on quota, no idea of merit. We’re building universities all over the place. Most of them are just like glorified secondary schools. The unemployment you see today in Nigeria is not due to lack of jobs all the time. It is because those who are certified, qualified in various disciplines have no skills and companies want people who can do and apply their knowledge. We’re more so focused on examinations and qualifications. Those who are not qualified to even teach in the universities are teaching today, parading themselves as professors.. Even parents bribe people to sit for university degree exams for their children. They bribe people to sit for the common entrance examination for their children. They bribe teachers to grade their children at the end of the day, they are certified and educated but they are complete illiterates.
Around what time was Nigeria’s educational system good?
From 1965 backward. Nigeria’s standard of education was better or even equal to anywhere in the world. Today, people go to school but they don’t know why they go to school. How can a child who scored two per cent be admitted into a Federal Government College and a child who scored 150 or 250 cannot be admitted? And you say you’re running a quality that doesn’t translate to equity.
With all of these educational problems in the country which started in 1966, what advice do you have for the government?
My advice to government today is that the educational system we’re running today is obsolete. It is a century factory-based education system where children are crowded, taught by one teacher, they learn by memorisation and recognition. We are in the 21st century, the knowledge century. My advice to government is: redefine, redesign and re-imagine the education system. Create a vision for what a child that is born today can do when he passes through the system and be relevant in 2030-2040. If you don’t have a skill in this 21st century, have an analytical mind, critical thinking, ability to apply knowledge, your education system would be useless. So we need to transform the whole system of education by having a national conversation of experts, all stakeholders in education where they would sit, re-imagine a vision for our children’s teaching and learning, not just going to school and putting more children in school. Schooling doesn’t mean education. They are two different things. Education has to be transformed into a 21st century method. You must align education system to the career prospect of the child. Education and future work should be aligned not just going to school to be literate, but going to school to apply the knowledge in solving problems for yourself.
Recently, when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) went to the United Kingdom, where an education summit was held, he promised that the next education budget would be increased by 50% of the present budget. What is your thought on that?
(Source: The Punch)
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