An improved curriculum that emphasises knowledge acquisition and application rather than just rote memorisation is the key to greater national development. So what barriers stand in the way?
It was on 26 November 2022 that a panel first gathered to give a soul-stirring review of the Nigerian reading culture in the Literary Renaissance Foundation’s [LRF] Reading Culture Dialogue. On Saturday, 4 March 2023, another panel was invited to the Dialogue – held on a quarterly basis – to discuss the Nigerian educational system and how the primary and secondary school curriculum can be improved for national development.
“We have been using a traditional curriculum,” says Graceflora Ohwobete, Examinations and Liaison Officer at the Lagoon School, Lagos. “It is basically teacher-centred and does not spur interest in reading.” The veteran stressed that this was the result of an intense focus on passing exams rather than equipping students with skills that they need to be successful out there, and she believes that it has had a very negative impact on students and stunted their education. “What we do now is we make the students cram and we teach to pass,” she says. “You’ll see someone who has finished SS3 and you’ll ask them simple questions about what they’ve just learnt. They got As, but they just can’t recall. We just overload the curriculum, but where’s the time?”
For Chukwuma Adekunle, seasoned Literature teacher and Vice Principal, Academics at a secondary school in Enugu, what makes this worse is that schools are blatantly neglecting the reading of primary texts. “Most schools do not emphasise the reading of primary texts,” he says. “Rather, they give secondary texts to students and make them work on those. They pass, but when out of exams they don’t really have the knowledge of these texts.” He believes that missing out on this knowledge eventually encumbers the students and restricts their learning down the line.
But this phenomenon may be the result of a struggle for distinction among schools, reveals Omatseye Oti, Chief Operating Officer at Michael and Cecilia Foundation, a non-profit that pursues the positive transformation of society, including in the aspect of education. “The competition among schools is rife,” she says. “It forces schools to focus on examination results and not the overall performance and development of the individual students.”
If unhealthy competition is one reason why the primary and secondary school curriculum has been bastardised, another is politicisation of the teaching process, opines one section of the panel. “I don’t think [researching and developing the curriculum] is what we need now, says Adekunle. “I think the research has been done. We should stop politicising the matter so that those who have already done the groundwork can be allowed to tender the work they have done.”
“Our curriculum is very rich, as jam-packed as it is,” says Olabisi Olasupo, teacher of English and Literature. “The problem lies with implementation. That is where the Nigerian factor comes in. Everything in the country is politicised. When you go to the Ministry of Education, the quality of people who are there is being truncated by nepotism. ‘The commissioner for education happens to be my brother’s son, so I must be there.’ By the time the hard work of professionals is handed over to these educationists who are supposed to implement it, then we start having the problem.” She believes that bringing in seasoned ministry workers and teachers on a merit basis will help schools utilise the curriculum effectively to the benefit of students.
However, another section of the panel insisted that the current curriculum was lagging far behind, was full of old ideas, and needed improving really quickly, regardless of the quality of teachers or ministry workers. “The curriculum we operate in Nigeria is an obsolete curriculum,” says Luqman Babatunde, teacher. “We have a long way to go. We should emphasise more on hands-on activities to fit the students into the 21st-century world.
“The world is changing and we have to change with it. Technology is driving most of the things we do now. So why don’t we embrace the state of the technology?” Luqman further recommended moving further away from the lecturing and teaching method that currently exists to more of an enquiry and discussion method of teaching. “People learn in different ways. Some people are more comfortable in learning by reading. For some it is by seeing. For some it is by listening. That is why I would suggest the integrative method of teaching which comprises reading, writing, speaking and listening.”
Having discussed the need or otherwise for an improved curriculum, and the different ways that it could be developed, the panel examined possible strategies that could be adopted to instil sound education in young people.
For Nneoma Okoro, postgraduate student at the University of Ibadan, teaching must be made very practical rather than majorly theoretical as is the case today. “Once you are able to practise something regularly, it becomes part and parcel of you,” she says. “I think we need to take into cognisance that aspect of teaching and learning as well.”
The inclusion of reading as a separate subject in the school curriculum was also highly favoured by the panel, with the caveat that teachers should take extra care to supervise the students and ensure that everyone participates effectively. “Book projects should be all-engaging such that each member of the group will be a contributor,” says Olasupo. “And instead of just making them read, teachers should make them to critique the texts they have read in their own opinion and words. If it’s made inclusive in this manner, every member of the group will be forced to work.”
She also suggested going further and making this a point-based effort. “We shouldn’t do this as class exercise alone. We should make it part of the continuous assessment, so that each student knows that their own contribution to that group work fetches them a substantial part of their assessment scores.” With this in place and students either gaining or losing points based on their reading efforts, Olasupo hopes that students will apply themselves more.
Tejumade Oke, a legal practitioner, is more interested in seeing reading encouraged outside the school setting, in places such as the home and the church. She expects parents to play a part by encouraging their children to read at home through reading exercises and the provision of a small home library if possible, while adults who teach children at church can also find innovative ways to include a little bit of regular literature to help young people develop a love for reading and writing.
“I have a library at home for my children,” says Oke. “And in church as a teens’ pastor, I’ve formed a book club where I don’t just give young people religious books but also other interesting ones. I give them Shakespeare, and they really love it. We’ve discussed so many things.”
The panel also noted that the educational capacity of young people can be improved through activities that go beyond reading. Abraham thinks that learning can be encouraged among young people by getting them to engage in activities such as preparing and delivering reports on news or African historical events in front of their mates. Such activities will help the students carefully study the topic they want to present, he concludes, aided by the consciousness that they need to give presentations in public.
On the aspect of funding, which the panel concluded that public schools really need, Olasupo believes that all hands must be on deck. Since the required funding is very huge, she discourages dumping it on the laps of the state government alone. “In Oyo State,” she narrates, “the late Governor Ajimobi formed a school board for each of the schools, drawing from old students and bringing in professors to head the boards, provided they passed through the school or were related to it somehow.
“[There were] good innovations bringing funds into the school. The parents and the PTA were also incorporated. Wonderful projects were executed by old students.” As for the results, she reveals that the schools benefited immensely, especially in infrastructure and teaching aids. “An e-library was established, fully equipped with computers – and even hard copy books,” she says of the school she had worked in at that time. “Funding was just coming in right, left and centre.”
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