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Hunting Foxes: a Reflection on Education in Nigeria

By Solace Chukwu on Wed, 04/06/2014 - 20:00

Huddled, my hips clamped in the vice-like grip of the passengers flanking me, I flounced and jounced in tandem with the bus. We had not been acquainted for very long, but my word, what chemistry we shared in this funky dance! The bus led, of course, and like a blushing debutante I followed, occasionally swept off my feet and unduly warm in secret places. The bus conductor motioned at me for my fare, and I paid with a grimy bill (I give as good as I get, you better believe it). As I awaited my change, my eyes roamed and fell on the passenger on my left. He had his phone out, and I watched in horror as, after a brief period of contemplation, he opened the calculator application and computed this arithmetic operation:

2400

÷

100

= 24

- after which he nodded to himself and put the phone away. It is a good thing he never looked at my face. He got off the bus at the Main Gate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He is an undergraduate, you see. The figures for this year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination are shocking: it is estimated that a whopping 79% of entrants failed to make a grade equal to or above 180 (the cut-off mark). Many factors have been blamed, from the deteriorating reading culture among youths today to the plethora of social media platforms. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with social media. The phenomenon was created to fulfil a need which will never cease to be pertinent: the need for human interaction and networking without the strictures of distance and time. If you say it is a distraction, think: has there ever been a period in history where children and young adults lacked a means by which to divert themselves? When I was younger, it was television that was the great evil, yet it is from the ‘Devil’s Box’ that I learnt a great portion of what I know today. The point is that anything at all can be a distraction if there are no restrictions. Even reading without an appropriate timeframe can distract from other pertinent concerns (personal hygiene, for example). Simple solutions for me, thank you very much. A certain book of wisdom posited that it is little foxes that spoil the vine. Let us take the individual who shared my bus ride. You do not learn the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in the University. These are concerns for the primary school. That is where the trouble lies. If you are reading this, and you have a kid younger than 10, do me a favour: ask him to recite the multiplication tables from 2 through to 12. You know, like we used to do back in the day? See how that goes. When I went to primary school, our notebooks came with the multiplication tables, as well as values for all kinds of conversions for scientific and arithmetic parameters, printed on their back covers. These days, a good number of them come with drawings or biographies of footballers! Our class teachers were slave-drivers, fierce in their pedantry and unforgiving in their determination to punish any and everyone who failed to learn the tables by rote. Every morning, we would stand up, sweaty and trembling, and recite the tables one after the other. Woe betide the unfortunate kid whose love for cartoons had kept him from committing the ‘9 times’ table to memory. His fate usually involved a long, stretchy cane whistling through the air... I shall say no more. Is this still emphasized? English Language. Now that is another one that never gets old. We have all seen numerous instances of this; you could write a book on grammar fails from a typical day’s experiences. English is a complex language, granted, but when you hear a grown man reply your attempt to set him right with a truculent “no be my papa language”, then you begin to understand why so many fail English Language examinations. News for you, pal: if your language does not have a designated translator (not an ad hoc one) on the floor of the United Nations, then it has no true relevance bar the need to preserve cultural heritage. When Yoruba is spoken on the floor of the UN, then we can talk. When you consider that everyone has to write at least one either Mathematics or English Language paper for UTME, you see the reason for the mire of failure we have slowly sunk into. The problem is the standard of education has slowly declined through the years through neglect, complacency and carelessness. The quality of teachers has taken a sharp downturn, and the continued use of ineffective pedagogical methods reminds one of the hackneyed definition of madness: repeatedly doing the same thing but expecting different results. Only by addressing this problem can we attain academic excellence once more. In the meantime, if your kid is less than ten years old and owns a calculator already, best swipe that thing and shove his/her face into a multiplication table, buddy. The little nipper will thank you later. You’re welcome. Or we could just learn to hunt those foxes. Fascinating sport. Image: Thinking Man, 2010 by Uche Okpa-Iroha. Via Dynamic Africa

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