“The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – men who are creative, inventive and discoverers” Jean Piaget (Swiss Psychologist & pioneer in the study of child intelligence)
There is a blog doing the rounds recently about a conversation between an American expatriate and a US based Zambian author on board a flight from Los Angeles to Boston. The blog is titled “You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!”, and is primarily about how Africa’s best educated minds are failing the continent through their laziness. Incidentally, most of us who agree with this viewpoint fall under this category.
Before we discussed the issue in details, permit me to feature some excerpts from that blog:
“Oh yes it is and I will say it again, you are lazy. Poor and uneducated Africans are the most hardworking people on earth. I saw them in the Lusaka markets and on the street selling merchandise. I saw them in villages toiling away. I saw women on Kafue Road crushing stones for sell and I wept. I said to myself where are the Zambian intellectuals? Are the Zambian engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher, or a simple water filter to purify well water for those poor villagers? Are you telling me that after thirty-seven years of independence your university school of engineering has not produced a scientist or an engineer who can make simple small machines for mass use? What is the school there for?”
“And you flying to Boston and all of you Zambians in the Diaspora are just as lazy and apathetic to your country. You don’t care about your country and yet your very own parents, brothers and sisters are in Mtendere, Chawama, and in villages, all of them living in squalor. Many have died or are dying of neglect by you. They are dying of AIDS because you cannot come up with your own cure. You are here calling yourselves graduates, researchers and scientists and are fast at articulating your credentials once asked—oh, I have a PhD in this and that—PhD my foot!”
“You should be busy lifting ideas, formulae, recipes, and diagrams from American manufacturing factories and sending them to your own factories. All those research findings and dissertation papers you compile should be your country’s treasure. Why do you think the Asians are a force to reckon with? They stole our ideas and turned them into their own. Look at Japan, China, India, just look at them.”
The conversation may have been centred on Zambia but it very much tells our story in Nigeria. Knowing what the problem is, we’ve got to ask why it exists before we are able to identify the solution.
I believe this problem exist because we have not understood the primary purpose of education. As the Swiss Psychologist Jean Piaget said, “The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – men who are creative, inventive and discoverers”. Making things better is the primary purpose of education but in our case, education is primarily about getting the qualifications that will enable us secure a good job and we believe the better the qualification (course studied and school attended), the better the job. Once in the job, we bring no innovations but just continue with products, technologies and processes handed down to us because we are content with good salaries which afford us the good things of life.
In recent times and due to economic challenges, there is a small surge in Nigeria’s intellectuals setting up businesses and consultancies. Despite this trend, there is very little progress in Nigerian inventions, innovations, new business processing, etc.
If the lack of understanding of what the primary purpose of education is the problem, we need to go deeper and ask why have we misunderstood it?
I believe it essentially due to the Nigerian culture. In my blog titled, ‘The Problem with the Nigerian Culture’, I posited that the main lifestyle (the mindset) of a people is the culture of that group of people and the language, music, clothing, arts and literature are merely the products of the culture. That means, we measure if we are part of the Nigerian culture by how we think and act rather than the language we speak or clothe we wear (you can speak a local dialect or wear the local attire and still be foreign to the culture).
How does the Nigerian culture hinder the primary purpose of education?
Destination Mindset: The Nigerian culture incorporates a Destination Mindset into Nigerians. This is a mindset that says life is a destination and you would have ‘arrived’ when you get to that destination. That destination is what our culture determines as success and it entails having big titles (educational, job, traditional & religious), big cars, mansions in the city and in the village, society wedding and children who are attending (or have attended) the best schools in the country & abroad and studied the headline profession (Law, Medicine, Accounting, Banking and Engineering). So, education is seen as a means for getting to that destination, not as a means to learning to make new things or do things better.
In fact, many Nigerians who are MBA holders (& other fancy masters & doctorate degrees) acquired these qualifications to ensure greater foothold at destination. This is why many Nigerians have long stopped living (spending more time on leisure) because they have arrived yet they can see the desperate needs in the society they live in. This is a great shame.
The result is a society that celebrates possessions and not contributions to humanity. With this mindset, education as a means for making impact on humanity is not in view, rather one is seen as cursed if he or she has invested years developing a technology, a product or a process or fighting a just cause, and has not the products of the ‘destination’ to show for it. But truth be told, most innovations or inventions have been achieved through many years of hard work and huge sacrifices and most times, the glory of the innovator comes upon his family and nation many years after they are gone.
For all our education, we still produce and consume stable foods like Garri, Cassava, Rice and Yam the same way our forefathers did and in some cases (like rice); we still rely heavily on importation. Recently, the Minister of Agriculture Dr. Akinwumi Adesina said, “…while being the largest producer in the world, Nigeria accounts for zero percent of global trade in value added cassava products, while Thailand, which represents only 10% of the total production in the world, accounts for 80% of the global trade in cassava value added products.” We produce cassava in abundance but can’t make money from it.
This destination mindset inhibits us from exploring improved methods of production, create new means of consummation and harness the opportunities that abound locally & globally for our nation.
Entitlement Mindset: The second hindrance is the entitlement mindset of our culture. We believe that society owes us and when we have gained education, we feel the debt is even higher. The higher the education or quality of the education, the bigger the debt we feel owned.
There are even some Nigerians who have been actively involved in various first class research & innovations whilst working abroad but when they come back to Nigeria, the entitlement mindset sets in and most of these Nigerians no longer innovate. Instead of our nation benefitting from their expertise, our nation is expected to recognise their expertise and pay them the appropriate wages and respect. The outcome is that this well trained Nigerians are well paid, recognised with various titles and in many cases, received government appointments and participate in politics. The culture makes our people who have the expertise for innovation to transform into people with a destination mindset and when you feel like you’ve arrived, you lose the motivation to seek & implement new initiatives, ideas and products.
This mindset causes us to reject responsibility for the development of our nation, stop seeking growth, become proud and pompous, lose the heart of service and worse off, distorts our view of God (feeling like He owes us and may explain why our prayers are mainly ‘bless me Lord’ and not ‘use me Lord’). The outcome is most of our graduates are about the most arrogant set of citizens with little thought for what is happening in the nation, as long as the bubble they live in is not interrupted.
The other manifestation of the entitlement mindset is the seniority factor. When we speak & act in Nigeria we play the age or education card and this means, we look down at people younger than us or less qualified. As a result, we hinder the expression of people keen to innovate because their act of thinking outside the box challenges our knowledge gained but not practiced. Yet, the most innovative group of people in any society are the youths (18-35 year olds).
So, what is the solution?
The solution to this problem is found in the raising up of nation-builders. I have said on numerous occasions that until we have a critical mass of people who put Nigeria first in their thoughts, words and actions, we will continue to remain underdeveloped. When we have Nigerians who received good education with the sole purpose of making society better, we will see nation-building in action.
A common denominator found in people who are nation-builders is they recognise that it is their responsibility to give to the next generation a better Nigeria than what is handed down to them. They therefore view education was an essential tool to equipped them for the enormous task of nation-building. To them, life is not a destination but a continuous journey of learning and growth.
Nation-builders view their talents, skills, experiences and opportunities in light of the task of building & sustaining a developed Nigeria. They view life as all about people development which is why whatever they’ve gained in education is put into practice with Nigerians always the focus.
They are solution focused, creating opportunities to try new things, creating new processes, inventing new products, generating new or improvised ideas all with the aim of creating the Nigerian solution peculiar to the Nigerian challenge.
They do all these because they recognise that Nigeria owes them nothing rather they owe Nigeria the talents, skills, experience, etc., given to them by God for the benefit of Nigeria. There is, therefore, an urgent need for us to reconsider why we went to school and also reassess the motives for sending our children to school.
Until we have nation-builders amongst our set of educated Nigerians, education will make little impact upon our national development and our dream of a developed Nigeria will remain a mirage. This is an urgent call for us to become nation-builders and use what we’ve learnt for the development of Nigeria.