By Dapo Akande
Somebody I hold dear and admire greatly for his keen insight on life issues says something which never fails to strike me each time, because it’s an obvious truth that very few people actually see. He says, an individual who doesn’t have plans for his life runs a very high risk of being conscripted into the plans of others. And more often than not, this “other” will see him only as a means to fulfilling his own selfish agenda rather than seeing the individual as an end in himself.
Let me give you an example. The thugs our dear politicians use to cause mayhem and intimidate supporters of political rivals as elections approach, perfectly exemplify the rudderless individual who patently failed to make any plans of his own, making him an easy target to be used and abused by a smarter man.
Education serves many purposes for both the individual and the society he or she lives in. If we start listing them all now, I won’t be able to pass any other message across in this article because the list is literally endless. Some are to prepare one for his career, to bring development in all ramifications to society, to equip an individual to be able to provide for himself and live a useful life as a process which conduces holistic development of the individual, to raise solution providers and to mould the ideal citizen are just a few.
Nwagwu and Fafunwa both define it in ways I particularly like. Fafunwa avers, “education as the aggregate of the process by which a child or young adult develops the abilities, attitude and other forms of behaviour which are of positive value to the society in which he lives.” Nwagwu on the other hand defines education as, “the process used by society to preserve and upgrade the accumulated knowledge, skills and attitude of its people and foster the well being of mankind.” There are others who insist education loses its definition if it doesn’t provide the mental capacity and an interrogative mind that challenges accepted norms to prove their efficacy.
However, if we’re to come down to the basics, we may need to start by saying the primary aim of education is to furnish the individual with the ability to reason and think for himself. This forms the foundation of almost every other definition.
Returning to our “lost boys” who appear to have failed to plan, I often wonder if they’re always entirely at fault. Why would a grown man risk his life fighting for a politician who he may never meet? And for how much? Sometimes, for as little as N500 or N1000 by the time the money is shared. There are few things in life more dangerous than a man devoid of hope. He will always be the first to bring the whole house crashing down. Why care about an entity you don’t think you have a stake in? No man in his right senses will use his hands to destroy his own house.
This is the predicament our nation currently faces. With bourgeoning youth demography, accounting for about 65% of a total population of over 200m Nigerians, most of whom are unemployed and many, unemployable, we’re sitting on a ticking time bomb. But that’s not new, it’s been said before. How different things might have been though, if we people could put aside how we look and focus on what’s really important. An army where everyone wants to be a General and no one wants to be a foot soldier cannot win a single battle because it’s common knowledge Generals don’t fight, they only command and coordinate.
I wonder how different things could have been if successive governments had cast their sights in the direction of countries such as Finland who separate into two groups at the beginning of senior secondary school, those who will take matriculation exams to gain admission to university in three years time and those whose strengths obviously lie in their technical abilities. They too are prepared for several years before gaining admission to technical school. So there’s a deliberate policy to cater for both academic and vocational further education equally, without a hint of bias.
Being an egalitarian society, both University educated and technical school trained citizens can look forward to equally respectable and rewarding careers. The positive effect this must have on their students, who having acquired the ability to reason through basic education, being able to decide for themselves which path to tow so they can become their best selves is immeasurable. Equally impossible to quantify is what these options, which enable them to make viable plans during their formative years, does to boost confidence and build up self-esteem. Self esteem often comes from having hope for the future.
Education is not solely an academic enterprise but is also a moral venture. The fact that it enables self-actualization is of moral value in itself as every human being has the right to try to become the best he can possibly be. The moral benefit shouldn’t end with the individual though. It should also serve the moral purpose of raising individuals who will place the interest of their society alongside their own. Anything short of this may pass as schooling but lacks the moral foundation to be termed education.
I’ve often asked why a country like ours “blessed” with leaders in possession of multiple academic certificates is in such a state. And by leaders, I don’t mean only those in the political sphere. Our educational system needs to be critically examined so it churns out more people with ingrained leadership traits and less clever crooks who use their “cleverness” to devise increasingly ingenious ways to loot and defraud. Whenever I come across our “lost boys” I can’t help but think, “if only”.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time.
Oladapo Akande is a Surrey University (UK) English graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. He’s an alumnus of the National Institute for Transformation and a two time author; The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. He writes from Lagos.