“Education is the most potent weapon to fight ignorance and poverty as well as a veritable tool for self development and advancement of society”. Education serves as a means through which the knowledge, learning and skills of a society or group of people is passed from generation to generation.
History tells us that every generation prior to the evolution of writing system passed on its stock of values, traditions, methods and skills to the next generations orally. Oral traditions were central in all societies when there was no writing.
The “oriki”, “ijala” and the quatrains of the ifa couples or odu ifa in Yoruba land are classical examples of a rich oral tradition and mode of worship.
In this part of the world, for instance, education started from the parents through moon light tales where morals were taught and passed from one generation to another. The elders also educated the younger ones by telling them the events of the past which were passed on from children to children.
Starting in about 3,500BC, various writing systems developed in ancient civilizations around the world which included Egypt known for its hieroglyphs, the Phoenicians writing system, the Greek, the Etruscan and Latin alphabets, the Cyrillic, Aramaic and the Hebrew scripts and the Arabic.
Education in the city states of ancient Greek was mostly private except in Sparta. Formal education as we now know found its form around 4th Century in Roman Empire but during the dark ages and medieval era, it was the Roman Catholic Church that preserved education from total destruction. In fact, most of the earliest universities such as University of Paris (1160), University of Bologna (1088) were founded on religious principles with emphasis on character and morals. It was not until 18th Century that most of West, Central and part of Eastern Europe began to provide elementary education in reading, writing and arithmetic because politicians believed that education was needed for orderly prescribed behavior.
In the 20th Century, most secondary education was only open to those who could afford it. At the end of World War I, major nations had to give further attention to secondary education.
One golden thread that runs through the system of education in all ages is that it is programmed to produce the complete man who will embrace all the values of self reliance, honesty, diligence, enterprise, self esteem, ability to face the reality of the world to become what the Yorubas call Omoluabi without necessarily clutching his university certificate to look for jobs.
Modern or western education was first introduced into Nigeria in the 19th Century mainly by the missionaries who established elementary schools and later secondary schools. They were of high quality with emphasis on character, hygiene, moral, honesty, integrity and enterprise and self reliance.
With the curriculum of teaching morals and character in addition to the ‘three Rs’, these schools were able to produce total men who could stand on their own in their various callings, dictating the pace of things and shaping destinies in tandem with Hert Spencer’s postulation that education tantamounts to complete living.
One recalls the philosophy of Aristotle in this regard: “education is the creation of a sound mind in a sound body”. Education is meant to develop man’s faculty, especially his mind so that he may be able to enjoy the contemplation of supreme truth, goodness and beauty of which perfect happiness essentially consists”.
Quality education is meant to involve a blend of three elements of the Head, the Heart and the Hand (the three H’s) and any society that fails to achieve this blend will end up producing half-baked graduates. Having regard to my humble beginning I am convinced that education is the most potent weapon to fight ignorance and poverty as well as a veritable tool for self development and advancement of society.
Traditionally university degrees are awarded after graduating students must have fulfilled two paramount parameters/conditions: learning and character, with character coming before learning. If a student makes a First Class in learning but scores low in character, the university would not award such a student its First Class because the university would not want to send a bad ambassador out to the world.
But today, how many of our public universities can boldly say they award their certificates to students who have been adjudged worthy in learning and character? In most of our public universities, most students live off campus. Most of the students only attend classes, if at all, and leave immediately for their houses in the town. There is little or no interaction between the teachers and the students. Students only go through the university but the University does not go through them. How on earth can the teacher assess the character of such students?
But on a general note, what do we have in Nigeria today? Nigeria now produces several thousands of graduates annually, most of who are bereft of good character. Perhaps this accounts for the reason why Nigeria is where it is today, providing university education without character.
Our educational system has lost colour and character and that is why the private universities where boarding is compulsory and where the founders insist on character moulding have come in to fill the void as they are able to turn their students into total men and women who will fit into any position in life, no matter their course of study, be it Medicine, Engineering, Archeology or the languages and change Nigeria.
Our curriculum is also grossly deficient. It is geared towards passing the prescribed written examination mostly by cramming the contents of the handouts. Students are trained to believe that their university certificates are meant only to secure jobs. No sooner they received the certificates, than they invade offices for white collar jobs which are not available bringing about frustration and desperation.
It can be argued that the rot in the society and the attendant high spate of armed robbery, drug peddling, kidnapping, terrorism (in different shapes, forms and intensity), corruption as well as insecurity, in the face of the multitude of its educated elite, is the direct result of our education system which has deemphasized character and entrepreneurship.
It is only a country with an unpardonably high dosage of education without character that could produce societal reprobates like religious extremists, internet scammers, accounting professionals who cook books, pharmaceutical firms that revel in fake and counterfeit drugs, legal practitioners that cut corners, Judges that sell judgments to the highest bidders to become what the late Hon. Justice Kayode Eso tagged ‘billionaire judges’ and doctors who forget surgical blades in the bowels of their patients, Journalists and musicians who praise-sing the worst in the society and deify them as heroes and models as well as teachers who spend more time outside the classrooms pursuing unholy pastimes, leaving their students unattended to.
Nigerian leaders and followers, and particularly the visitors and proprietors of universities, Pro-Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, Members of Council, students should always remember the mercurial words of Joseph Addison, an English Essayist, who once said that: “Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no enemy can alienate, no deposition can enslave. At home, (it is) a friend, abroad, an introduction, in solitude, a place and in society, an ornament. It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives, at once, grace and government, to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage”.
If we are not to become mere splendid slaves and reasoning savages, we must appreciate the place and the import of education, garnished with learning and character, as a tool to developing a person into a total man. Besides, we must always remember that the triumph of evil over good is only ephemeral.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D, D.Litt