School system in Nigeria: Education without character?

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My contemporaries within the age group of “goodbye 50, welcome 60”, who started schooling in the late 1960s/early 1970s have seen a lot of transformation in our school system, albeit, a horrible one, a kind of transformation from good to bad. A mixture of Nigerians, Europeans, Indians, and even Ghanaians was managing most secondary schools in the 1970s. Yes, things were so rosy, educational standards very high, examination cheating was unknown culture and all hands were on deck maintaining discipline and value system. Then, merit had no comparison with any other consideration; it was the first point of contemplation when processing schools admission or jobs placement before other things. Then, sons and daughters of paupers and kings were being treated equally as students in dining halls, classrooms and libraries, and sports arenas of public schools with the principal or headmaster reigning as emperor.

Discipline was the watchword instilling both fear and respect in every student. Mere mentioning the name of discipline master or prefect could send jitters to the spine of students especially the guilty ones. I remember the principal of my secondary school of blessed memory. He had varieties of punishments in his pocket for erring students. The least among the punishments was squatting on toes for hours while the most severe punishment was hanging of legs with beating depending on the gravity and frequency of the offense. The school, a relatively large one with a student population approaching a thousand, was under the absolute control of the principal. Discipline was his second name and his words were law to both students and staff including expatriates. The regimentation of the school environment can best be appreciated during siesta, 2:00 to 3:30 pm daily from Monday to Thursday every week. During the siesta, the school used to be made silent without even the cries of the surrounding birds, as we were all forced to have an afternoon nap. We were all behaving and conducting ourselves according to the dictate governing stay in boarding school. Thus, misbehaving and indiscipline were completely unacceptable, and those who indulge in such activities were sanctioned, no matter the social ranking of the person involved. Then, one could see that learning was going on side by side with character moulding.

At the time this high level of discipline was being observed, parents at the home front were not sparing the rod to erring sons and daughters. Kids were not being over-pampered but being subjected to hard work, dedication, and dignity in labour. Then, character moulding was the guiding principle of raising children both at home and school.

In the late 1980s, the ban on “corporal punishment” in schools was introduced. Many of us received the news with mixed feelings; can we successfully raise children while sparing the rod? Can we mould the character of our children with a shower of love, affection, and good wishes? Few students, indeed, became hardened when frequently subjected to corporal punishment but the majority deter themselves from committing an offense for fear of being punished. Thus, inadequate discipline started to impact negatively on society. For example, two decades ago, a study was conducted by Bamaiyi (1998), which revealed that of 770 drug-related crimes suspects arrested between January and April 1998, 240 who got involved in drug trafficking and peddling were youths of 25 years downwards.

Today, as we are facing education with little or no character moulding, things have gone awry. The school system is squarely faced with gun and knife crimes, bullying, dangerous level of stress, drug abuse, depression, armed robbery, and kidnapping, among others. A culture of hard work, honesty, integrity, dedication, fairness, accountability, and justice has been jettisoned in our school system. A study conducted by Asiyai and Oghuvbu (2020) in nine tertiary institutions of learning of Southern Nigeria made horrendous revelations. The prevalent crimes identified in these institutions were certificate forgery, examination malpractice, stealing, assault, sexual harassment, bullying, and arbitrary upgrade of scores, suicide, drug use and abuse, plagiarism, and embezzlement of funds. The levels of these crimes were found to be far beyond acceptable limits thereby portraying the country’s future to be doomed if nothing is done to curtail the obnoxious trend. What do we need to do urgently to address the problems?
To effectively address the serious challenges, we need to consider the very system of education at different levels; primary to tertiary. Educational certificates are supposed to be awarded for character and learning but this is a mere theory as we grade students based on their academic performance with little or no consideration of their character. Academic intelligence makes a child successful, but compassion will make them useful. If values are taught alongside academics, the youths will be much happier, more successful, and will develop into great leaders that will change the future of the world. The word education is derived from the Latin word, which means to lead out or to bring out from within. Education is actually about bringing out the unique individual potential of every child.

Teaching them how to approach the hurdles, shortcomings, and setbacks of life while empowering them to be the vehicle of love and hope for the world. To buttress the values and character, let me quote the famous American community-builder, activist, and author, Radnanath Swami, who said “If you lose your wealth, you lose nothing, if you lose your health you lose something but if you lose character, you lose everything. Imagine, an education system where children are taught that the only time, we should look down on someone is if we can help them up.

Imagine, a system where children are taught to judge beauty by what is within the people’s hearts not by their physical appearance. Imagine, a system where the character is given much importance as competence, where children are taught that helping a billion people is even more valuable than being a billionaire, where children are taught how to increase the standard of living of people, where children are taught how to measure their success by how fulfilled they are and not how many letters they have after their names. Imagine, if as well as learning to navigate the world, they learn how to navigate their minds”. This is not a mere imagination, it is possible to value kindness over competence, character over success, and integrity above money. In this way, we can integrate character moulding in our school system in which our youths will grow and become better leaders of tomorrow in a secure and prosperous country, Nigeria.