(TO KUTIGI AND OUR KINSMEN AT THE NATIONAL CONFAB 2014)
The reality of the sorry state of the level of attention given to education in this country stares me in my face each time I remember Daniel Defoe’s words that “We never see the true state of our condition till is illustrated to us by its contraries…” I believe so strongly in the philosophy that says that it is good to be learning and thinking, for learning and thinking paves way for intellectualism, and intellectualism is the mother of all knowledge and inventions. Therefore, contrary to what it used to be in the past when education was the pride of the nation, I am afraid this philosophy is gradually eluding us as inordinate ambitions and material acquisitions have overtaken the minds of the majority of the citizenry at the expense of education and intellectual development.
One of the indices of a developed nation is the presence of a vast literate and educated citizenry. It is also an indisputable fact that an educated society is a free, independent and healthy society, while a healthy society invariably is a wealthy and powerful society. The rise of the Western Nations and the emergence of the Asian giants as the world economic or super powers today is a reflection of the huge and long term investments made in their citizen’s education, personal and intellectual development by all stakeholders in these societies.
However, our greatest undoing in Africa and particularly Nigeria is that we have allowed the disease of illiteracy and lack of education to ravage our whole system. Our educational sector is totally enmeshed in dismal decay and heading for the rocks. The resultant effect of an educated and stack illiterate citizenry is the emergence of impotent, vision-less, selfish and heartless leaders. If it be true that an ulcer will vitiate the entire body, and consequently risk the life of the patient, then, we can absolutely imagine very plainly to what possible danger the spread of illiteracy and intellectual despondency may eventually lead us in this country.
Although, concerted efforts have been made in recent past by the Nigerian Government and some few concerned individuals and non-governmental organizations to arrest this situation, yet, our educational sector is still enshrouded in the increasing loss of interest in education, personal studies and reading culture as well as pursuit of excellence among the present generation of Nigerian youths, thereby ravaging our society’s homesteads.
For instance, we would recall that some of the goals included in the declaration for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by 189 members states of United Nation in September 2000, Nigeria inclusive, are eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women e.t.c but unfortunately, Nigeria is still lagging behind as there is a clear indication that two third of the goals have not been met according to the United Nation’s 2012 Millennium Development Goals Report, and with the myriads of problems facing the country at present, the biggest of all, corruption and insecurity, it is still in doubt if Nigeria will be able to meet these goals come 2015.
Conceptually, the goal of achieving universal primary education in Nigeria in 2015 is very bleak, because the signs are already boldly written on the wall. The indices pointing to this fact is that the level of education has drastically reduced over the past few years. Students from primary to the higher level no longer have the zeal or passion to go through the process of education before they could realize their dreams in life. The only language they now understand and have been rooted deep in their consciousness is ‘MONEY', ‘MILLIONS’, ‘DOLLARS’, and ‘POUND STERLINGS’. The fact that many children in this country do not have access to free basic education is mind-blowing, and so many if they had any access to education at all do not actually have the financial means to further their education, because they belong to the underprivileged class of the society. They eventually as a result of circumstances beyond their control find their way out of school to ply their trade elsewhere, and even many more that are still in school have been unfairly denied the right and proper motivations to direct their minds towards their studies.
The reading culture among students at various levels of the educational sector is totally webbed in the abyss of indifference and crass laziness. The effect of this is that these students are being negatively motivated by inordinate ambitions at the expense of their education in order to achieve their dreams of becoming millionaires in a very short while. They have resulted to climbing their way up the ladder through crook means. The instances of these have been manifested through student’s incessant involvement in various degrees of crimes such as examination malpractices, bribery, cultism, certificate forgery, drugs, political thugery, financial scamming and armed robbery, hire assassinations among many others, and now in recent times terrorism which suddenly rared its head in the cloak of the dreaded insurgence in the North-east called Boko Haram.
I must be honest and fair here to say that it is no fault of these students that they have become what they are today, but the blame should be placed at the door steps of parents, teachers, leaders and all stakeholders in the society for their indolent attitudes and gross irresponsibility towards securing the future of these students. Consequently, the bitter truth is that majority of them are only victims of circumstances. In view of this, our educational sector could be on a headlong dive into apathy, if not exigently overhauled and redeemed from its present malady. It is for this reason, therefore, that the urgent attention of all stakeholders with common interest of the nation’s youth development at heart be critically redirected to reviving seriousness and believes in education as the only vehicle through which we can attain self-emancipation, sociopolitical and economic freedom and advancement.
Now let us at this junction, take a panoramic view of the Debate as a transformational condiment of regenerating and reviving seriousness in education. Hence, these perpetual banes that have engulfed our educational sector as well as the entire system could be repositioned and redirected towards charting a cohesive and acceptable standard course. Firstly, Debate, which is a characteristic of the ability to convincingly articulate ideas aloud, is an important skill for any citizen of a democratic society. If we can say what we think, then, we are going to be able to persuade anybody else in the citizenry to agree with us and follow our lead. And if we are able to understand the basics of verbal persuasion, then, we are likely to dispel the ignoramus and dangerous antics of somebody or some groups of people who always play fast and loose with facts and try to rob us all of the understanding of the truth of the reality of our conditions.
The Nigerian education system no doubt has shortchanged the teaching of oral presentation in various levels of institutions and this can be reflected in our political dialogue and in dialogue on the streets. This in turn is a reflection of a national decline in public speaking ability. In Nigeria, you see a number of people getting increasingly uncomfortable addressing a jury, panel or an audience in courtroom, boardroom, lecture hall, town hall meetings or in public places. Whether you are a mother or father who strives hard to positively train your children to become somebody in future, a teacher who aims to command the respects of your students and be successful in your career or a leader who seeks the cooperation of your followers, the fact remains that you are going to need this skill somehow if you are going to achieve your objectives. Public speaking skills are important for all levels of people in nearly any field or Endeavor. That is why the teaching of oral presentation must be taken seriously and be given more priority in all our school’s curriculum. This I believe will inspire more seriousness in education and instigate good reading culture among students in various levels. This will also help them to focus more on their studies, which is a potent ground for breeding new generation of matured intellectual leaders who can turn around the destiny of this nation.
Secondly, I make bold to say that even about 90 percent of educated adults in Nigeria suffer from some form of gloss o-phobia. This is a difficulty or fear of articulating the brilliant ideas they have inside of them in the public. This fear is so huge, because it is the biggest fear they have and you see the physical manifestations of this in about half of them when they speak in public. This fear is more pronounced in a person who is very introverted and nervous. There are some people who are naturally blessed with oratory skills, but anyone and any student can still learn to develop and master the basic rhetorical skills necessary to clearly convey ideas in public. If we carefully look into the real world around us, we would find out that the institution of rhetoric as an educational discipline and debate as a condiment for reviving seriousness in education can never be over emphasized, because this is the only radical factor that can inspire the mental and intellectual development of the citizens of any nation.
In addition, politicians during election campaigns have to interact with the electorates in their constituencies. Series of political debates will go down among different opposing parties to try to appeal to the electorates through their presented manifestos in order to win their mandate as clearly demonstrated in the United States of America’s 2012 Election. Lawmakers, executives and judiciaries will argue with one another, and the people afterwards will engage them in order to reach a common accord in finding a wholesale solution to a particular problem affecting the entire nation, Lawyers will talk to their clients in and outside of courtrooms, Business owners and executives will converse and rub minds with guests and colleagues at seminars and in boardrooms, marketers and customer relationship or service agents will connect and relate with existing and prospective customers in their various field-works and space. Teachers and lecturers too will definitely interact with their students in classrooms, while graduates may never escape verbal exchanges at job interviews in various different places. In all of these encounters, one is going to be of much less use, if one fails to make any reasonable, logical, convincing and persuasive presentation or argument.
The present generation of African-Americans was built on the premise of education and intellectual excellence. During the period of racism in America, the Blacks suffered immense racial abuse, discrimination, tyranny and oppression in the hands of the white men. But once the Blacks have been able to acquire quality education, mentally informed and intellectually equipped, it was so easy for them to confidently challenge their white oppressors, fought for their fundamental rights and liberated themselves from unjustifiable tyranny and oppressions. Although, it was a silly, bloody physical confrontation at the beginning of their struggle, but the Black educated elite later on, through continuous organization and participation in various public speaking and intellectual debates were able to persuade the white men to stop the indiscriminate lynching of Blacks and eventually opened the eyes of the entire world to the destructiveness of Racism and the madness of human dissipation. Therefore, the institution of Debate and participation in public speaking absolutely afforded every single Black Americans the opportunity to advance their course and win the race against all forms of discrimination in the United State of America.
Furthermore, the integral roles played by intra and inter school debate competitions in inspiring seriousness in education and redirecting the minds of the youths towards academic excellence rather than pursuit of material acquisition is imperative. Hence, Debate as a necessary vehicle through which we can convincingly articulate and advance our individual and collective course in a democratized society is paramount to societal advancement. Democracy itself is as old as Debate; this clearly indicates Debate as an essential part of a democratic society. That is the reason why before any crucial decision and policy affecting people’s lives is made and finally implemented by the Government, it has to be critically scrutinized, logically analyzed and constructively argued out by all stakeholders. And that is the hallmark of a developed and civilized nation.
Finally, as pointed out earlier on, there is a national decline in seriousness in education and public speaking ability. The decline may be due to a variety of factors, including inadequate funding of the educational sector, parents and teacher’s irresponsibility towards the mental and intellectual development of school children, erosion of rhetoric as an educational discipline and technological changes that have De-emphasized face-to-face communication skills. Whatever the reason, the ramifications go beyond increases in the number of student’s mass failure in examinations, employment of unqualified teachers and lecturers, production of half-baked graduates, daft and unintelligent leaders. Therefore, in order to combat this national decline, Debate must be brought back to all our schools, inculcated in our academic curriculum and must be taken seriously and sustained at all levels of the society.
In conclusion, we have seen the primacy of the Debate and its viability of reviving seriousness in education. The reality of having a literate and educated citizenry starting with the youth is dependent on the society’s total acceptance of a unified effort in instituting Debates in all the levels of our society and sustaining it so as to chart a new course in redirecting our steps to making Nigeria a true democratic, more civilized and developed nation. Therefore, we need to wake up to the reality of the true state of our conditions in this country, and make proactive efforts in order to make things right. I am afraid, if we continue to leave our pot unwatched, we risk the grave consequence of getting our food completely burnt out. And yes! You will agree with me that a stitch in time saves nine which totally corroborated the usual warning of our fore fathers that “It is only a mad man that will go to sleep with his roof on fire”.
©Adeola Goloba 2014