At face value, education is “hyped” as being very important. Civil society organisations and other groups routinely buttress the value of education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where millions are related to poverty. Even the usually detached government has decreed compulsory basic education. Despite all the uproar about education, some persons still see it as valueless. For them, formal education is an albatross best avoided if one has the means.
Recently, I sat in a shop watching one of my students cum tailor working on a fix-needing trouser of mine. As he demonstrated his expertise in the world of clothes, I thought about his grades, or rather, his “lack” of grades. Whereas he had considerable skill in tailoring, in the classroom, his academic skill was demonstrated in the submission of blank sheets, and sheets that contain unbelievable answers. I decided to have a discussion.
Out of the classroom, in his own turf, the discussion was quite forthright. I wasn’t the class teacher questioning a student. I was a customer engaging in “time burning” pastime with an artisan. As we spoke, he related that his father is a tailor. He, as a son, was following his father’s footsteps. It was clear that in his ranking list, tailoring stays above formal education. However, I had to let him know that without formal education, the best he can ever be is a local champion in tailoring.
This student is just one of many students I have encountered in my time in Nigeria’s north. Let me at this point be clear that this is not confined to the north. In almost a year, I have come across several students who don’t see any real value in education. Many of them go through the motions of schooling without actually ever being “in” school. For them, formal education is just an uninteresting item on a checklist drawn up by a section of the society. While I still hold them responsible for some of their actions and inactions, I have come to understand that much of the blame lies elsewhere.
I believe that the environment, culture and community, or whatever word that can represent the trio, is worthiest of blame. When one grows in a place where education is not valued, the despise is sure to rub off. In the course of my service year, I have seen that education has no lustre in these parts. I would have been inclined to think that it may be because the obvious formal jobs in this place are teaching and civil service roles. Maybe it is because there are very few industries here to drive interest in education. However, this thought holds no ground since some other parts of Nigeria happily embraced education even when there were no industries there.
Coming to culture, I can boldly say that this is one of the greatest impediments to the realization of education’s full import in the north. We may denigrate Boko Haram and all it stands for. However, the sad thing is that the murderous group is not an anomaly. A considerable number of persons, due to religious doctrines, see formal education as a western sore. These ones go out of their way to dissuade others from embracing formal education. It is also people in this group who see no value in educating female children. When they have not even accepted the education of boys, only an impossible miracle can make them gravitate towards the education of girls.
Let me now talk about the role of parents in this education debacle. Though I concede that the earlier mentioned trio influence the parents’ behaviour, I blame parents for their children’s lackadaisical attitude to education. When the environment preaches negligence, it is the parents’ duty to show their children the right path, knowing that children look up to their parents. Sadly, many parents reiterate the misguided notion that education is valueless, thereby compounding their children’s nonchalance.
Although we can say that several factors that are out of these students’ control have triggered their disregard for education, their own negligence contributes in no small way. They have a decision to make, to rise above the challenges of their environment. When I repeatedly talk to my students about education, they likely see me as an unpaid blabber. Howbeit, as I said to my tailor-student, “you may be good at tailoring, but without formal education, you’ll only be a local tailor”.
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