Linking Our Culture To Our Educational System By Femi Akomolafe

Education is the medium by which a people are prepared for the creation of their own particular civilization, and the advancement and glory of their own race.” Marcus Garvey

First, a working definition.

According to the Webster Dictionary, “culture is the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought typical of a population or community at a given time.”

As one expert puts it: “Culture is an integral part of every society. It is a learned pattern of behavior and ways in which a person lives his or her life. Culture is essential for the existence of a society because it binds people together. In the explicit sense of the term, culture constitutes the music, food, arts and literature of a society. However, these are only the products of culture followed by the society and cannot be defined as culture.”

And according to English Anthropologist Edward B Taylor, culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

According to Deepa Kharta, “Culture is something that a person learns from his family and surroundings, and is not ingrained in him from birth. It does not have any biological connection because even if a person is brought up in a culture different from that in which he was born, he imbibes the culture of the society where he grows up. It is also not a hidden fact that some people feel the need to follow the beliefs and traditions of their own culture, even though they might be not subscribing to certain ideologies within.”

The role that culture plays in society is as vast as they are complex. For example, it can be argued that the health of a society depends on its culture, as this determines what people eat, how they prepare their food and how they treat themselves. Culture also determines how a people relate to their environment and shape how they commune with their ancestors and their gods. Culture is not only a means of communication between people, but it helps, through shared identities, to create a feeling of belonging and togetherness among people in the society. It is also through a culture that the entire knowledge-base of a people is transmitted from generation to generation.

It is often forgotten that traditional African societies were among the few in the world that created harmonious environments that had no standing armies, police or prisons yet where the security of lives and properties were to a large extent guaranteed.

Let us take a look at five areas where we can benefit directly by linking our culture to our educational system.

FOOD: Many professionals in the health sector have had occasions to bemoan the dreadful increase in hitherto relatively unknown crippling diseases that is now overwhelming our health service. They often cite diabetes, heart problems, obesity and stroke which are assuming epidemic proportions. These professionals also pointed out that the increases are directly linked to our changing eating habits.

According to these experts, our people are committing what they term ‘Nutricide,’ (Suicide through nutrition). Sadly no one is taking them seriously; there are no policies in place to stem the tide.

It is said that we are what we eat. And it ought to be a great concern to us that we spend our scarce resources to import foreign eating habits, which tend to give us crippling diseases, we then look for more scarce money to import foreign pharmaceutical products to treat these diseases.  Our president has also had occasion to complain about the huge amount we spend on rice import.

The restaurants that used to serve our traditional foods are fast disappearing, and they are being replaced by ‘Fast Food’ joints, which continue to serve fatty dishes with little or no nutritional value whatever.

It is often argued that we live in a globalized world and we have to follow WTO and other International treaties, but this is an erroneous and disingenuous argument.

We are practically the only one that is obeying WTO rules when it comes to opening our ports to every form of imports, especially food items. It is impossible to import food items into Japan, the EU, and the USA without following very stringent rules and regulations. These regulations are often too daunting to prospective exporters that they simply give up.

We can also add that the WTO does not help us when it comes to treating our sick patients.

We shouldn’t also forget that people in the technically advanced countries are moving towards producing organic food, simply because they have realized that the food they have been eating is what is making them sick. It also should be remembered that most of the chemicals we use ass fertilizers on our farms are BANNED in their countries of manufacture!

We have abundant labor pool in the form of our children, we have a good climate, and our land is also, for the most part, very fertile. And also luckily for us, we have elders who still have the traditional knowledge to transmit on how to go produce our traditional staple foods.

It should be noted that almost every country that we called developed today strives first for food sufficiency and security before everything else.

What is needed is the policy to directly link us back to producing and consuming the traditional food our bodies are evolved to process. It does not mean that we say goodbye to eating imported foods, but that these should only serve to complement our indigenous foods.

We should remember that in years back, every school from primary to secondary, maintained farms and gardens. The first hours of every morning were devoted to tending the farms and students got grades for their efforts. It is not too late to revive this.

We have universities and other tertiary institutions which unfortunately are not being mobilized in a coherent way to contribute tangibly to our national development?

Rather than our universities students sitting down in classrooms gobbling down theory upon theory, our syllabus and curriculum should be re-structured to make practical work form the biggest percentage of their grades. Every human being has to eat, it makes eminent sense therefore for everyone to have basic knowledge of agriculture.

There should a policy formulated to make agriculture, once again, become the bedrock of our economy and not only in the production of cash crops but in the foodstuffs that we need for our survival.

FASHION: It is sad that our dear country is never mentioned wherever\whenever fashion of Haute courtier is discussed, yet our fashion-designers are among the most creative in the world.

We just have to look at the gorgeous designs our women folks wear, and the types of head-gear they tie on their heads to recognize the incredible amount of untapped creative energies abounding around us. Their creativity is also well evidenced in the incredible array of weaving\plaiting styles our womenfolk sprout on their heads.

Most of the creators of this tasteful fashion designs are self-taught or are those taught by a seamstress who is, in turn, mostly self-taught. They function outside all our formal institutions and so are unrecognized.

The country can benefit immensely by formulating a cultural policy that firmly put Nigeria’s fashion at the center of official policy. We need to make the conscious efforts to actively promote our own and all that is needed is to formulate the proper policy framework. In the very shortest time, we shall start to reap bountiful fruits.

The rest of the world is bound to recognize and respect us when they see that we take pride in whom we are and that we take pride in our own products. We got our independence more than half a century ago, so it makes little sense for our officials to continue to dress like colonial overlords.

We could, for example, have a policy whereby only Nigerian-designed dresses are to be worn by all state officials at every state function. Food and drinks served at official occasions must also be Nigeria-made. So must the furniture and other paraphernalia that decorates our official functions.

Again, the sight of Nigerian children going to school in uniforms designed during the colonial times is something that should irritate our senses. There is absolutely no reason why our fashion-designers should not be tasked, through official policy, to design appropriately-suited uniforms for our children.

The same policy could be extended to our Military, para-military and police force.

Also, our Civil Servants at the judicial service, the legislature, and the executives should also be covered by a policy that promotes the wearing of Nigeria-designed and Nigeria-made uniforms and attires.

The benefits from such a policy are just too numerous to enumerate here. But suffice it to say that it will boost agriculture and employment.

LITERATURE OR ORATURE: For those of us lucky enough to have been born more than three decades ago, one of the best things to happen to us was the sheer corpus of stories we learned from our grandparents and elders in our villages.

Some of our writers have tried their best to chronicle some of these stories in their books, but the largest bodies of these stories remain unknown, especially to our children who, sadly, continue to be fed on foreign culture disseminated by televisions and the Internet.

Like most things, we have simply abandoned this old practice in the name of modernity. It is not too late to formulate policies to bring this noble tradition of story-telling back to our lives.

Most of our parents and elders are just sitting down at home the whole day with little or nothing to occupy their time. They will also be glad to see that we stop neglecting them and see them as useful and relevant part of our new society. We should put policies in place where we call upon our elders to become active participants in imparting their vast knowledge to us and also to our children. We can set two days in a week whereby old people will go to the schools in their area to teach traditional things like herbal medicine, singing, dancing, story-telling, agriculture, cooking, traditional healing methods etc, etc.

We can learn from other societies that have successfully brought their tradition into the computer age by using ICT tools to create indigenous games based on local stories. Our children could be stimulated to improve their ICT skills by transforming our Tortoise’s stories into computer games which they can play instead of the violent Hollywood stuff that impart to them zero moral values. Our traditional sports could also be transformed into computer games.

We can also learn from Ethiopia, an African country that has successfully transformed one of its traditional stories into an award-winning computer game.

Our ceremonies like marriages, births, naming ceremonies, deaths, and funerals are also an area where we can benefit from the knowledge of our parents\elders.

Whilst we bemoan the moral decadence in our society and the high child pregnancy rates, we could mobilize our elders to come to our rescue.

ART: Art is another very important area that remains largely disconnected from official state policy. Yet, all around us, we see ordinary Nigerian creating impressive works of art. Most of the artists are self-taught with absolutely no formal education and with absolutely no support or recognition from the state.

Again sadly, these men and women, boys and girls remain largely unnoticed by our policy-makers. Only the tourists pay them the scantiest attention.

Of course, our students continue to be thought all the theories of art with very little attention paid to the practical side of things.

What is needed is needed here is to directly link this informally-educated roadside education to the schools where they can impact their practical knowledge and experience to complement the theoretical side of things.

It is time to have a policy that recognizes art and try to directly help artists. In the Netherlands for example, a certain percentage of the budget of building a state’s office is devoted to purchasing artworks from Dutch artists.

The Ministry of Culture can start a small loan scheme to help upcoming artists who will be gainfully employed, stopped being burdens on parents societies, pay taxes, help their families and create works that could sell to earn foreign exchange for the nation.

These efforts taken together will also redound very positively as the country will benefit immensely from the creative energies that would be released by this combination.

MUSIC: Sadly, traditional Nigeria music is dying. That’s the only conclusion one can draw despite all the glamorous razzmatazz awards that are being doled out yearly.

The older generations of musicians are passing away and the new ones refuse to learn skills that will perpetuate the rich musical heritage of the nation. Our youth are contended to call themselves musicians as long as they can use computers to generate beats.

It is easy to blame globalization but the failure to develop and consciously promote a coherent Cultural Policy is also partly to blame.

Why, for example, are there no regulations governing the percentage of indigenous contents in our media? Many of our radio stations play foreign music the whole day because they are not obliged to have local content. We cannot afford not to make a conscious effort to promote our own thing and expect to reap something in return.

We are happily promoting tourism, yet we are busily promoting foreign ways of life – eating, singing, dancing etc, etc.

There also should be a policy in place whereby our media should also set aside a percentage of their air-time to allow our elders to teach some of these things.

HEALTH: It is sad that we seem to have forgotten the old wise saying that “Health is wealth.”

In years of yore, our parents treat every manner of illness and sickness and injuries with herbal medicines they mixed from the leaves, roots, and barks of the plants in their forest.

Not only were our parents sensible enough to eat wholesome food from their surroundings, they also pay particular attention to the type of medicines they take. That is the reason why we today have Octogenarians in our villages that are still sprightly but yet have never seen the inside of a hospital.

Sadly, the herbal knowledge of our parents remains untapped whilst the whole nation is going gaga over Chinese medicines. The Chinese take great pride in their indigenous herbal knowledge; they formulated policies to link these into their school curriculum. The result is that they are leading the world in traditional medicinal products.

Our parents are dying away slowly and the experiences they have accumulated over the eons are perishing with them.

We should try and collect as much of this knowledge before it is too late. We should have a policy whereby our old parents should be invited to impart their knowledge at our school of medicines. They could work in tandem with the Western-trained medical specialists to formulate new methods of medical treatment that are uniquely Nigerian.

Dissecting The Education Crisis In The North – Part 1

The recent mass sacking of teachers in Kaduna by governor El-Rufai has brought the question of education in the North to the front burner. The teachers were sacked for failing to pass a P rimary Four teachers’ competency exam. A third of the teachers passed the exam so it’s not a case of everyone just being fired. Personally, I do not think there is anything wrong with the sacking. Being a teacher is a job and if they are unable to do the job, which is obvious by not being able to pass the competency test, then they should be fired. The kids being trained by teachers who are not worth their salt, carry the consequences for the rest of their lives. So why should they suffer for the teachers?

Still, the mass sacking has me thinking about the general state of human capital in the north. By human capital here, I mean the knowledge and skills that people possess, of which proper education is one means of increasing it. Human capital is perhaps the most important factor behind long term economic development. People who know more tend to do more, and tend to be richer. Societies with people who know more tend to do better and have higher standards of living than societies where people don’t know so much. Of course, knowledge is relative. The least knowledgeable societies in the world probably know a bit more than their ancestors, but that doesn’t matter. It’s really about what societies know relative to other societies.

If we are to judge knowledge by the level of education, then the north is in crisis. Adult literacy rates in any language in the north are as low as 30 percent in some states. In fact, on this statistic, the worst ten states in Nigeria are all in the north. For context, the global literacy rate is somewhere around 86 percent, with some states in Nigeria having literacy rates of 95 percent. This unfortunate statistic cannot be pinned on the older generation either. Youth literacy rates are just as bad. Bauchi state for instance has a youth literacy of about 49 percent and again the worst ten states are in the North. The statistics repeat themselves almost any way you measure it.

The obvious question is, why? Followed by “what can we do about it”? It is easy to think that this is all about improving the education systems, but the reality is the problems start way before that. They start in the womb.

Nutrition has been identified as one of the most important factors for brain development of babies in the womb, and children from birth until about five. Mothers who eat food rich in proteins, certain fats, iodine, and others, tend to pass these on to their babies, either in the womb or via breast milk. These nutrients aid the brain development of babies and set the stage for their cognitive ability, or their capacity to learn. The nutritional requirements for brain development persist until children are about five years. At this point, the stage is set for life. Children who get to the age of five in “peak” condition are set to learn more and do more for the rest of their lives, compared to children who do not get there in “peak” condition. To put this another way, children who get proper nutrition from the womb until their early childhood are going to be smarter and learn better than children who don’t get proper nutrition. This stage is set even before the child walks into a primary school.

So, what do the early childhood nutrition statistics look like? You can probably guess. Data from 2014 shows that some states in the north had only about 50 percent of infants receiving adequate nutrition in their first year in life. Again, the worst ten states are in the north. For context, the average in the South is about 95 percent. The statistics repeat themselves in most cases regardless of how you measure it. On average, children in the north receive a lot less nutrition than their peers in the south, and if all we know about the importance of nutrition for brain development is true, then they would also have less cognitive ability as a result.

What this means is, even before they get to primary school, even before they get to the hands of the poor-quality teachers, even before they get to the dilapidated structures, they are already at a disadvantage. A disadvantage that stays with them for life. The problems unfortunately do not end there. They continue into primary school too. But more on that in the next episode.

Osun Commissioner Advocates Yoruba Language, Local Examples For Teaching

The Osun State Commissioner for Education, Mr. Kola Omotunde-Young has charged teachers to make use of their Mother’s Tongue, Yoruba language, and locally available examples and concepts for illustration to achieve effective teaching and understanding.

He stated this recently while inspecting some schools in some parts of the state, maintaining that Yoruba should be used as the first language and English as second language in teaching.

The commissioner called on teachers and parents in the state to support the functional education drive of Governor Rauf Aregbesola by showing commitment to teaching and give the children adequate parental care.

According to Omotunde-Young, for the efforts of Aregbesola’s administration at improving education in the state to yield positive results, parents and teachers need to see themselves as major stakeholders in the drive.

He urged the parents, guardians and society to pay more attention to the educational development of their children.

The commissioner maintained that parents must specifically ensure that every child enjoys good parenting as a right and not a privilege and give the children moral education to complement what they are being taught in school.

He urged the teachers to ensure effective teaching and mentoring, appealing to them to make classrooms friendly and learner centered so that the standard of education in the state can improve.

The commissioner urged teachers and school authorities to always maintain clean environment, noting that it will reflect in the overall behaviour of the students.

He said, “We should support our neighbours to be better parents so our children can be productive and have safe environment to live now and in future.”

Omotunde-Young appealed to parents and guardians to provide for the academic needs of their children, lamenting that many parents sent their children to schools to resume the new term in tattered dresses.

“It is the right of the child to be properly clothed and educated and parents must be made to realise that having children come with responsibilities that cannot be ignored.

“Parents who failed to cater for their children must be reported rather than allowed to deny the child education. The Ministry of Education in collaboration with other child centred agencies of government shall soon publish telephone numbers, e-mail and contact details to report mothers and fathers who refuse to live up to their responsibilities on their children.

“It is in all our best interests to support, mentor and assist the uninformed and uncaring mothers, fathers or guardians to improve in their responsibilities to the child and report such to authorities if they refuse to be good parents”, the commissioner said.

ASUU And The Seasonal Union Shakedown By Nonso Obikili

Every couple of years, we seem to go through the same episodes. ASUU goes on strike due to the government failing to implement an agreement. Talks are held, and after deliberations, the strikes are called off, typically with some new agreement signed. In most cases, the strikes last a few weeks, although there have been instances where the strikes have lasted for months. The strikes are not unique to ASUU though. For some reason, the strikes are typically followed by strikes from SSANU, JOHESU, and a lot of other unions. Almost as if they operate on some type of schedule. But why do these strikes occur so frequently?

 

To get a grasp of this it is important to understand the political cycle and the constraints that the federal government faces. We have had four-year terms since we returned to democracy in 1999. The four-year term means the federal government faces a similar cycle in terms of its interaction with the populace, which presumably has the power to retain or remove the government. To this end, the government is at its freest immediately it is elected. Right after elections, it typically has the goodwill of the people, and more importantly, it has time to rebuild that goodwill in the event it loses it doing something unpopular.

 

However, as time goes on, and as it gets closer and closer to the next set of elections, the government loses that opportunity to rebuild goodwill if lost. What this means in practice is that the closer you get to elections, the more difficult it is to implement policy that is unpopular, even if it is a good policy. As is common knowledge in policy circles, if you have a difficult policy to implement, do it early and quickly, so you can demonstrate the benefits before the next elections come around.

 

The goodwill cycle also means that there are times when the government is at its most vulnerable. As you may have guessed, it is not when the government is just freshly elected as at that point, it can still rebuild goodwill. It is also not right before elections, as at that point it can just blame whatever hostility on politics. The point when the government is at its most vulnerable is somewhere in between the two, where it does not have enough time to rebuild good will but also does not have the opportunity to blame it on politics.

 

It is this vulnerability that ASUU, and other unions, have exploited since the return of democracy in 1999. Since 1999, ASUU has embarked on no less than 14 strikes, although some of those have been just week-long warning strikes. More recently, the strikes appear to have come at the time when the government was most vulnerable. The latest strike is coming just over a year before the next set of elections, at a time when the government has little room to rebuild any lost goodwill. In 2009, it went on strike for three months starting from June, shortly before the death of then President Umaru Yar’Adua. In July 2013, it embarked on another 5-month strike, which ended roughly a year before the elections. Here we are again in 2017, again just over a year to the election season.

 

Given the vulnerability, what is the best response by the government to the strikes? It is always to make a deal. A deal that reduces the potential for destruction of whatever goodwill the government has left. Goodwill that it will not have the time to rebuild. The deal is typically unimplementable and includes a pay bump and a gentleman’s agreement to not go on strike at least until after elections. The deal works for both parties. For the government it ends the strike, and even though the deal is unimplementable, it can worry about that later. For ASUU, the deal comes with a pay bump, but crucially a deal which will serve as the basis for a future strike. And so, the cycle continues.

 

To be fair to ASUU, its mandate is to fight for the wellbeing of its members, which unsurprisingly does not include all Nigerians but only those who are academic staff at universities. To that objective, it has done extremely well. It is also not the only union that uses this tactic so it would be unfair to only call them out. Still, it is yet another example of how many of our institutions have turned into rent-seeking agencies focused strictly on getting their share of the national cake.

 

How do we break out of this cycle of strikes and unimplementable deals? I don’t know, but sooner or later, someone is going to have to figure it out.

Every Student In Agricultural Universities Will Have Farms From Their Second Year- FG

In a bid to enhance agricultural education and upgrade their standard of learning , the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, has directed the governing Councils of all Federal Universities of Agriculture, to ensure that every student in their institution must own viable farmlands on campus from 200-level till graduation.

Ogbeh who gave the directive during a meeting with members of the governing councils in Abuja yesterday August 8th said,

“Every undergraduate must- and I repeat- must own a farm on campus from 200 level. We are training high-level young farmers who, even before graduating, should have started earning a living. We should be training graduates who should be going straight into production, with credit support from their alma-mata, produce chicken, eggs, goats, milk, set up meat laboratories, bake bread and above all produce and sell large quantities of high-quality hybrid seeds”