Teaching shouldn’t be a profession of last resort, it should be competitive – Okoro, 85, former federal director of education
Mr. Dennis Okoro, 85, worked for 33 years at the Federal Ministry of Education. In this interview, the former director of education support services tells GRACE EDEMA about the state of education before independence and now
You have held positions in the Federal Ministry of Education, please tell me.
I have held managerial positions. I was Director of the Federal Inspectorate Services and Federal Education Support Services before retiring in 1996 and since then I have been a consultant both locally and internationally on education issues. I am a member of the Academy of Education and currently director of the MTN Foundation. I have been married for 56 years and I am lucky to have 4 children. The youngest is 47 years old.
With a very rich career, I want you to tell us about the state of education before independence, after independence and now. What went wrong?
Back then, both when I was in school and finished my education, Nigeria took education very seriously. Remember, we didn’t create states. We had four regions; East, West, Mid-West and North. The government and the missionaries established primary and secondary schools. Government and missionary schools were in competition and the standards were very high. The teachers had quality. There was no such thing as the quota system and kids were eager to go to school because education gave the poor and the rich a means of mobility and college students knew that as soon as they would have completed college, business and government would come to campus to interview them for a variety of jobs whether in the railroad, navy, labor ministry, or civil service. very little. People were focused on excellence and performance. That was education, and there were school inspectors and supervisors. Any school that could not meet the standards to present students for the Cambridge Studies Certificate Exam or the West African Secondary School Certificate Exam would not be allowed to take the exam. So there was order.
But from 1966 to date, Nigeria has become different with the military takeover. They turned the federal system upside down, making everything concentrated in the center. So the center decides what happens, even the work that is supposed to go to the states, the federal government takes over. They meddled in education to the point where the states lost control over education and depended on the federal government for everything and what happened? Schools have been created everywhere. Students were admitted to institutions on a quota, no idea of ââmerit. We are building universities everywhere. Most of them are like glorified high schools. The unemployment that you see in Nigeria today is not due to the lack of jobs all the time. This is because those who are certified, skilled in various disciplines have no skills and companies want people who can make and apply their knowledge. We focus more on exams and qualifications. Those who are not even qualified to teach in universities teach today, posing as professors. Even parents bribe people to take college exams for their children. They bribe people to take their children’s common entrance exam. They bribe teachers to grade their children at the end of the day, they are certified and educated but they are completely illiterate.
Around what time was the Nigerian education system good?
From 1965 backwards. Nigeria’s level of education was better or even equal to anywhere in the world. Today people go to school but they don’t know why they are going to school. How can a kid who got two percent get admitted to a federal government college and a kid who got 150 or 250 not get admitted? And you say that you are exploiting a quality that does not translate into fairness.
With all these education problems in the country starting in 1966, what advice do you have for the government?
My advice to the government today is that the education system we run today is outdated. It is a century-old educational system based on a factory where children are crammed together, taught by a single teacher, they learn by memorization and recognition. We are in the 21st century, the century of knowledge. My advice to the government is: redefine, redesign and reinvent the education system. Create a vision of what a child born today can do when they go through the system and be relevant in 2030-2040. If you have no skills in this 21st century, if you have an analytical mind, a critical mind, an ability to apply knowledge, your education system would be useless. So we need to transform the whole education system by holding a national expert conversation, all education stakeholders, where they would sit, reinvent a vision of our children’s teaching and learning, not just going to school and putting more children in school. School does not mean education. Those are two different things. Education must be turned into a 21st century method. You need to align the education system with the career prospects of the child. Education and future work must be aligned not only to go to school to be literate, but to go to school to apply the knowledge to problem solving on your own.
Recently, when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (ret.) Visited the United Kingdom, where an education summit was held, he promised that the next education budget would be increased. 50% of the current budget. What is your opinion on this?
My thought is not to applaud him. You can’t clap for him. Do you know the current percentage that is devoted to education? So I tell you I increase it by 50%, you applaud. I didn’t praise them for that because what they spend on education doesn’t reach 16%. Even if you put 50%, how much is it? The question they should ask themselves is: 50% from what base? This is where you put your thinking hat on. I’m not impressed about it because I know the previous percentage.
Even if it does, what do you think the budget should be spent on?
Until we know the vision for education for the future, I cannot give you anything that the budget should be spent on. Is it the training of teachers or the construction of schools? Construction does not make school. You train teachers, what about learners? How do you support learners? It’s more arithmetic, I give you money, you get books, build more schools, train teachers. The quality is global; it starts with the child in school who must be healthy and able to absorb whatever is learned.
Tuesday was World Teachers’ Day. On October 5, the government approved a new salary scale for teachers. Won’t these measures improveâ¦ the situation of Nigerian teachers?
On the positive side, there are a good number of good teachers who are committed and dedicated to what they do. Because our industries are closing and our graduates can’t find jobs, they take education as a springboard, that doesn’t help matters. So no matter how much you pay a person, if the person doesn’t have job satisfaction in what they do, they are not productive. Read about Finland and see how they recruit their teachers, people find it hard to teach there. But here, those who do not know what else to do go into teaching. When you ask them, why are you doing this? They would say they are just managing the teaching, is that an attitude? Go to Germany, the teachers are rewarded more than anyone. The Nigerian education system is so complex. We should sit down and develop a vision of what education is and what a learner profile is and decide how to support this learner who includes everything in the school system. Focus on the child as the center of learning.
Your word for Nigerian teachers
My word for Nigerian teachers is that they should not be relying on the qualification they have today. As the world of learning changes, they should see opportunities, they should improve their skills and not their qualification. Improve their skills to teach a child to learn, improve their skills to make a child in his classroom a learning center whether he is 30 or 40 years old, his education must be personalized. You need the skills to do it, not just to graduate. They need to improve their skills and appreciate their work. ,,
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