The Unexplored Solution to Nigeria’s Failing Education System

“To truly predict the future of any nation, check the dominant curriculum(s) in their schools. If you do not shape the souls of students to truth, goodness, and beauty, rest assured that your nation will lack virtuous citizens.” – Daniel Olusola

“Daddy, daddy, look! Look what I made,” yelled nine-year-old Olaoluwa, excited as he ran toward his father, flaunting what seemed to be the latest of his assemblages. “You see it looks like Baba Adigun’s blue Peugeot,” he remarked, grinning from ear to ear. Apparently, he had succeeded in replicating the Community Chief’s car after so many failed attempts—or so he thought. A promising child already topping his class in the community’s only elementary school, and particularly enjoying his math and science subjects, Olaoluwa aspires to study Engineering in the university. He believes he will make inventions that will make life better for all in his community and others like it. The problem, however, is that while the education model in force in Nigerian schools today may succeed in preparing him for usefulness in the workforce, it will hardly equip him for a life of virtue and wisdom. Lest you be quick to dismiss this as inconsequential, the truth remains that the decadence that pervades the Nigerian society today is largely due to the failure of the education system in its primary role—producing good citizens.

Daily news reports chronicle incidences upon incidences of sheer cruelty perpetrated by people across all socioeconomic strata. It’s obvious that ignoble acts are not confined to the poor or uneducated alone, for corruption pervades all sectors of society at all levels. As the corporate worker is frantically seeking ways to subvert due process to make inappropriate gain, and as the public official is bent on siphoning public funds for personal use, so is the market woman on the street trying to cheat her customers to make extra profit, to mention just a few. This is not to say everyone is corrupt, but the consequences of lack of virtue across the polity are devastating.

Thinkers over the ages have echoed the self-evident truth that virtue is what upholds any civilization, and if our educational system is not producing virtuous citizens who are equipped to pursue the flourishing of our society, has it not failed? The purpose of education is the optimization and preservation of civilization, and it does this by inculcating ideas which convey virtue. Therefore, an ailing polity—such as ours, where virtue is lacking—is evidence of a failing education system.

The problem, among others, is that the prevailing education models (right from primary to university) lack certain critical components, such as (1) a holistic approach aimed at character-building and forming the total person, (2) a robust foundation for ethics, both in social (relationship to others) and natural (relationship to the environment) terms, (3) history, logical and critical thinking, which equip the student to generate and evaluate ideas independently, (4) rhetoric, which enables the student to articulate and communicate ideas effectively, (5) problem-solving, which empowers them to implement evaluated ideas, and most importantly, (6) a viable framework for harmonization of what is learned with the tripartite goal of truth, goodness, and beauty.

When educators adopt a utilitarian “factory” approach that only seeks to prepare students for the workforce, it won’t matter whether students are being trained to think critically to evaluate ideas. You’re left with citizens who can’t tell fact from fiction but can be swayed easily by illogically constructed ideas, and who do not have the necessary philosophical foundations for good ethics. Nigeria today, where bad ideas prevail, can be remedied with an education system that incorporates components that allow for the flourishing of virtue-driven ideas. Classical Learning is such system.

Classical Education is the form of education begun by the Greeks and Romans and is often regarded as the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on the true, the good, and the beautiful. It has over the centuries shaped Western civilization and has the potential of shaping ours in Nigeria. It involves the study of the liberal arts—the trivium (arts of language—Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric) and the quadrivium (quantitative arts—Geometry, Astronomy, Music, and Arithmetic)—and includes the study of classical literature (works of ancient philosophers, poets, and thinkers) and history, thus familiarizing the students with the evolution and impact of ideas on human civilizations. By reading and engaging with “the great books” which contain great ideas by the great minds in history, students will be prepared to engage productively and discerningly with the outside world. The rigorous nature of such learning produces well-rounded students with a strong work ethic.

While it may not be very practical to completely overhaul the current models, it will certainly be helpful to integrate the classical framework in schools to fix the deficiencies in the education system, as it will promote the development of critical thinkers, effective communicators, and informed citizens who appreciate the richness of human history and culture. Key stakeholders include (1) educational institutions and administrators who will allocate resources, design curriculum frameworks, and provide professional development opportunities for teachers, (2) teacher training institutions such as Universities and Colleges of Education that will train educators in classical education methodologies and ensure a pipeline of qualified teachers, (3) education ministries and government agencies who will set policies, standards, and regulations that impact curriculum choices, and (4) professional associations and organisations dedicated to classical education to provide resources, conferences and training for educators.

These, alongside (5) other advocacy groups will help to advocate for recognition and integration of classical education in policy discussions, as (6) education researchers and scholars provide empirical evidence of its effectiveness and benefits to influence policy decisions and shape pedagogical approaches.

Most importantly, we (the literate populace) must continue to learn more about Classical Education, advocate its principles among those around us, and most of all, adorn its principles by exemplifying its benefits in our nation-building pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty.

Igdaliah Otitoola

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