Maiduguri — Mallam Muhammad Sani Ibn Idriss El-Bulaturee is the executive director of El-Kanemi College of Islamic Theology. He is also the immediate past chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigeria Arabic Village, Ngala, Borno State. In this interview, he said government should reintroduce the defunct teachers’ colleges.
What is your take on President Buhari's anti-corruption war?
I want to commend the efforts of Mr. President to wipe out corruption in Nigeria. Believe me, with the steps he is taking, the measures he is putting in place, and with God by his side, we are going to have a country that is semi-corruption free, where the masses would be living a life of ease, a life that would bring a lot of succour.
However, as an educationist, I strongly feel that one of the causes of corruption is the absence of standard education in our public schools. The government should provide good and qualitative education for Nigerians. This is because, in a situation where most of our public schools have failed to give Nigerians the qualitative education they desire, they are left with no option but to register their children in private schools in order to get the best. And this means they have to pay.
Let me give you an example. If you are living in Abuja, the moderate school fee being charged on a child is N250, 000 per term. And if I want the type of education I got for my child, I have to register him in one of those private schools.
What I am saying is this: If I am on grade level 13, maybe earning N120,000 at the end of the month, and I have six children, the expectation is that I would pay N1,250,000 per term as tuition fees in order to get the type of education I want them to get. Therefore, if my salary as a worker in a term is, say, N500, 000 and I'm expected to give as school fees, N1, 250,000, where would I get this money? Where is the money to fuel my car to be taking them to school always? Where would I be getting money to pay for other vital things such as books, uniforms and other educational materials? In a situation where you cannot get this money from legitimate angle, then people would now go to the illegitimate angle, which I believe is the corrupt way.
If you were to advise the new Minister of Education on how to turn the education sector around, what would you tell him?
By his antecedents, the minster, Malam Adamu Adamu I know is always revolutionary in a way. If he gets good advisers he will succeed.
There is the insinuation that the failure of education in Nigeria could be attributed to lack of infrastructure. They say there are no adequate classrooms, there are no facilities. All these are secondary issues.
The truth is that, if you have a school, you need qualified teachers, and you must inculcate into their hearts, the love for the job and innovate a lot of ways to supervise them so that you know if they are working or not. If you can do this, believe you me, even if it's under the trees, they can teach and teach well and education would take place. The issue of enabling environment is secondary.
When Sardauna was in primary school, he spoke English better than most holders of Ph.D in English nowadays. When Tafawa Balewa finished his secondary school, we knew the type of English he was speaking. And those were people who studied in schools that did not have the facilities that our private schools have these days.
Why do you think most students avoid the teaching career?
I have written extensively on how to make learning and scholarship better. If I were to advise the minister, I would tell him to have an independent committee, a committee of retired and serving educationists, who have no links with the Ministry of Education at the federal and state levels. Ask them to go round our primary and secondary schools, as well as our universities, to bring first-hand information about the state of education in Nigeria. If you now ask a permanent secretary in a given state or in the federal ministry, or the inspectors of education, they would not be able to tell you the correct situation on ground. And unless you know the problem, unless you know the disease, you would not be able to prescribe correct medication.
I would also tell him to have what we call "The 'Least Educational Standard Measurement." If you are an educationist, you should be able to know that this is what is expected of a class-one child to know. This is what he is supposed to do at so and so time. These things have to be clearly written, and at the end, the assessment should be geared towards whether those aims and objectives that are meant to be achieved in class-one are achieved or not. If they are not achieved, what were the reasons that did not allow the achievement; and if they were achieved, what were the factors that assisted in achieving them. But now in Nigeria, if you say the standard of education has fallen, then the simple question is: What is the standard? What is the approved standard of class-one? What is the approved standard of class-two? You cannot just tell me, okay, a child is expected to pass, to have five credits, including Mathematics. This is not a standard. Something has to lead to this. What am I supposed to achieve as a class-one student? As a headmaster I should be given a book that would tell me that you should not produce a class-one student to class-two until such person can do this and do that. And having received this, I should also know that somebody would assess me at the end of the year. But the law in Nigeria does not recommend what should happen to you if you refused to enter the class.
If I were to advise the minister, I would say, please don't give money as salary to anybody who does not deserve it; don't give money as salary to anybody who did not work for it.
Again, there should be an independent body vested with the responsibility to rate schools at the end of every year. Schools that scored above 70 per cent should be rewarded and those that scored below 50 per cent punished.
Why do you think private schools are thriving despite the fact that they are expensive?
Yes, this is an acceptance of failure. Look at countries like Uganda and Sudan, where Nigerians are going to learn. And sometimes, people are taking their children to where they would come back with ideas that are not part of our culture. If the government has failed to give people the type of education they are supposed to have, then those people will undoubtedly take their children to where they would get the education. Isn't it shameful that Nigerians are now going to Ghana to read and Ghanaians are not coming to Nigeria to read?
A teacher has to know some developmental stages, from infancy to adulthood. He has to know the characteristic of each developmental stage.
I want to sincerely advise Mr. President to reintroduce the teachers' colleges so that those who want to be professional teachers would go there for six years, then do their National Certificate in Education (NCE), and thereafter, go to the university and read courses in education. Government must make education lucrative.