I observe that most writers on the listerves I belong to have nothing good to say about Nigeria, time after time. The same song is played again and again in different variations. The focus is on the country's inadequacies in its various manifestations over the years as crystallised in the current social dispensation.
I am of the opinion that these commentators and I are not referring to the same country, although the country we know about occupies the same geographical space and is known by identical forms of formal identification, such as its flag and history.
The country I understand as Nigeria and the country these commentators refer to exist in different dimensions. These dimensions are parallel but as I understand is claimed in non-Euclidean geometry, if I am getting it right, parallel lines may meet in infinity, so these parallel universes represented by the Nigeria I know and the one the unrelenting critics refer to, may intersect and converge in various contexts.
Nigeria is often compared unfavourably with other countries in the West and Asia, particularly the so called developed countries of the West and the developing economies of the East.
I have a problem with blanket unfavourable comparisons between Nigeria and these countries, beceause, in some ways, Nigeria is better than them.
One index of such dismissive criticism of Nigeria is education.
Democracy in Primary and Secondary Education
The reality to me, is that in some ways, primary and secondary Nigerian education is more democratic than that of England and some European countries. Nigerian education is also more reflective of the identity of the Nigerian as an African than is education in Europe and North America.
Predicted Versus Actual Grades in Relation to University Admission
Secondary education in England constricts the range of opportunity available to young people through a process of unduly influencing the chances of secondary school pupils' admission to a university program or to particular universities by relying on teachers' predictions
of the pupils' final school grades rather than on the pupils' actual grades.
The process of seeking entrance to a university takes place before the final examinations in the secondary school and so the universities rely on teachers' predictions of the pupils' grades rather than on the students' actual final results since those exams from which the final results will emerge have not even been taken when the admissions process is in motion. The idea of revising the system to take account of students' actual results rather than relying on teachers' predictions has been suggested, but to the best of my knowledge, predicted grades are still in force.
Why should one human being's chances of gaining admission to a university course or to a particular university be based on the predictions of another person? To what degree can anyone else, even a teacher, be fully informed on the potential of a student?
Schools Attended in Relation to Career Achievements
Secondly, it seems the relationship between education in England and perhaps France, and career opportunity, particularly in public service and the professions of law, banking and some others might be much more socially elitist, and in a negative sense, than in Nigeria.
Most of the prime ministers of England, for centuries, to the best of my knowledge, have come from either Oxford, Cambridge or related elitist universities elsewhere in Britain. The field does not seem open for students from other universities in England and Britain. Many, if not most of these prime ministers are themselves the products of elitist secondary private schools, where fees are much higher than even in the universities, thereby locking out the majority swathe of the population. I read that the judges in England and the political class seem to be largely dominated by former students of private schools, elitist and very expensive.
Exams that Constrict Rather than Expand Opportunity
In at least one, if not more European countries, I don't remember which one, the process of streamlining opportunity seems even more stark. I learnt some years ago that in one or more of these countries, the process of deciding who will go to university and who will not is decided in an examination taken either during or even before puberty. Not going to the university, for most people, significantly restricts their opportunities for development in the world of work, and by implication, the social, economic, educational and other cultural opportunities likely to be accessible for themselves and their children.
In the name of God, what is the likely level of development of most pre-pubesecnt or pubescent children to enable one decide decisively the range of opportunities available to them in future?
In Nigeria, by contrast, to the best of my knowledge, there is no correlation between where you studied for your secondary and university education and the opportunities available to you. A graduate of any secondary school or university may attain commanding heights in public office, and, as far as I know, no profession is dominated by pupils of any form of education.
In Nigeria, students also have greater freedom than in the European country/ies I mentioned in terms of their choice of careers because no one restricts anyone as to whether whether or not they will have a chance to apply for a university education.
Variable Teaching for Different Sets of Students in the Same Academic Year
Secondary education in England, both in private and public schools, is also elitist in terms of the grading of students according to ability. As far as I know, in the state, public schools, no one repeats a class. At the same time, however, pupils in the same class may be assigned different levels of difficulty of work depending on their ability.
In private schools, at least one known to me, not only is this approach of assigning different levels of complexity and sophistication of work to different students in the same class practised, the students being trained at different levels of ability are not taught in the same classroom. There could be as many as 1-5 different sets of sophistication and complexity of classroom teaching in the same subject for students in the same academic year. The top students across the board in all subjects are in the the first two sets, sets 1and 2.
In effect, therefore, the students in sets 3, 4 and 5 are ostensibly in the same academic year as those in sets 1 and 2, but are not exposed to the sophistication and complexity of work of the students in sets 1 and 2. In my view, the students of sets 1 and 2 might as well be in another academic year.
There are likely to be advantages to this system which I could better appreciate if I were to give it some thought but I am deeply disturbed about what seem to me to be its negative implications.
It implies that the students in the lower sets in the same academic year work under an illusion to which they are not given the opportunity to understand its illusory character. They will understand themselves to be in one academic year, while never being exposed to the greater level of sophistication possible for what they are learning. I expect they could graduate from school never appreciating such sophistication because they have never been exposed to it.
I would prefer to be exposed to higher levels of sophistication in a subject even if I am not able to work at that level while my classmates can. If one is not able to operate at that higher level, then one should be ranked lower in class in one's examination report or at the worst fail that year and repeat.
How are people to be motivated to aspire to more sophisticated levels of achievement if they are not exposed to them in the first place through the efforts of those working at those levels, instead of fostering an illusion of equality by placing students of widely varying levels of ability in the same academic year but teaching them differently?
As far as I know, the Nigerian educational system operates on the principle of equal exposure to levels of complexity and sophistication in the same academic year and ranks all students in that year in terms of their performance on the same material.
Completely Eurocentric Education in Methodology and Content
Primary and secondary education in Europe and North America also implies that students will be trained in a fully Eurocentric curriculum. They are likely to learn little or nothing of African history, African cultural achievements and government. All their education is likely to be about English, European or American history, culture, institutions and languages. The situation might be ameliorated in the US with the study of the African-American heritage, but, even then, what of the continent the African-Americans came from, which is central to their African derived religions, a continent which might remain central to how African-Americans are perceived ?
It is difficult for me now to describe the implications of such a development. It is also difficult to be categorical about its implications without an empirical study. At the same time, however, I consider it tragic that students of African ancestry in primary and secondary schools in the West are likely to learn nothing about the history, cultural achievements, language and governments of their countries and continent but are focused on learning about these aspects of other countries. The situation is made even more tragic by the fact these countries where they are studying have historically been associated with despising and denigrating Black people and are countries where anti-Black racism is more likely than not to be experienced by these same African students who are compelled to learn nothing about their own ancestral environments but only about the environments of former colonialists and present neo-colonialists.