Sunday 24 August 2008

Nigeria: Gulags of learning

Suspended for rightful protest

Some areas where educational institutions do not seem to have improved in Nigeria are those of situation analysis, student discipline, leadership and fostering an atmosphere where ideas and opinions flourish.

I write this as I read in the papers that 5 students were suspended indefinitely [1] from the Olabisi Onabanjo University having been recorded on television protesting against the raising of school fees - nothing in the story suggests they were up to anything else.

I would not go into details of that, but I would relay my own experiences of this failing.

Summer School gets hot

In the summer of 1980, I returned to school for Summer School in preparation for secondary school final examinations, we were to spend 4 weeks and for me some of those lectures were quite enlightening and instructive, I probably gained a lot in the first two weeks than I did in a whole half-term of regular school.

One weekend night, some of the more adventurous, if not the more idiotic boys in my class, who had their hormones running wilder than their brains could control them to remain human, went out to the girl’s hostels to meet up and do more with the girls.

When the girls refused to come out to play, the boys went on a rampage, destroying property and harming a few of the girls in the process, I think a few needed hospital treatment.

Judge and jury without justice

In the morning, the teaching staff and the Board of Governors met to review the situation and decide on what to do. Without interviewing any of the boys and on the emotive situation of observing the girls, they decided to close the Summer School with immediate effect.

They also decided none of the boys would return to the boarding house for the rest of their final year, having been a boarder for four years I spent my last and most important year in secondary school as a day student.

Now, the Board of Governors might have thought they were offering the best disciplinary action in excluding us from boarding school, but they never considered that without the regimen of supervision in a boarding house a good few of the boys would go off the rails.

The damage and the harshness

I believe the set of 1976-1981 could have been one of the highest achieving sets with regards to the final examinations but that unfair punishment of everyone without the investigation of who really was involved and culpable probably destroyed what could have been a solid foundation for the future of many.

Much as I did get into polytechnic the next academic year, in the end, I lost a good few years before I finally got my education back on track.

In what was a very striking observation, the vice-principal came round to supervise us packing our things in readiness for leaving Summer School, she saw two of us and said ruefully, “I am sure you were never involved in the fracas but a few unruly boys have spoilt it for everyone, even with this fate, I wish that you still encounter good fortune.”

It remains one of the things I hold against Remo Secondary School, Sagamu, I was only 14 and they never once admitted they did us wrong and it would always be a black mark on every other good thing that that school brought to helping mould the person I am now.

A letter to the hounds

Another instance was after a students’ unrest at Yaba College of Technology in 1984, we were sent home and then on re-entry we had to sign an undertaking of conformance to rules that registered us into some sort of slave camp.

One student had written a letter to the Nigerian Guardian questioning a number of unsettling activities in the school which for the sake of objectivity was critical, truthful and balanced.

However, the authorities would have none of this, so every lecturer was trying to find out who A. Joseph was, and because my first name begins with an A, I was asked at least thrice if I was the A. Joseph.

Where they should have been working together to resolve the issues raised, they were baying for blood like hounds, they wanted a scapegoat and thankfully, they never got that particular person.

A good number of us rather vocal student activists just never managed to make it out of the college with a result.

Manufacturing drones

Schools are stripping out individuality, independence and initiative; people pass through school but the school does not pass through them, we end up with drones that have excelled in regurgitating information rather than expressing knowledge, their intelligence is stifled and intellect is mediocre because they have been through the educational mangling machine that produces clones not thinkers.

You cannot express yourself, you should subsume self to the commonality of sameness or you would be punished severely – our schools are mortgaging our future because teachers, lecturers, principals, professors and chancellors would not be challenged, they would brook no questions and condemn every alternative thought.

Gulags of learning

Debate is for the outcasts, people on the road to rustication because they upset the peace equilibrium that dictates that your freedoms are only the ones you enslave yourself to and your rights are theirs to dictate – they are the benevolent masters who know what is best for you, you can never think through any problem.

Our schools have become worse than prisons, they have become gulags of learning; learning to conform, learning to obey, learning to submit and learning to be silent – they have become a malignant cancers that need to be excised from our society forthwith – the 21st Century cannot afford to have drones, people schooled for military style obedience, people whose brains have become so idle they can no more think.

The power of the school

Forget the concept of freedom of expression, the school can make or break your life and almost always get away with it even if you win your case; you bare the mark like Cain and would never be forgiven.

How schools acquired this malevolence escapes me except for the explanation that many teachers are not in their jobs for the love of the impartation of knowledge and the development of minds but are frustrated failures that have no goodwill or inspiration.

I am still thankful that I have had teachers, lecturers and professors who have promoted the thinking culture all for selfless and noble reasons; I commend them and hope they can take hold of their schools and turn them around for the greater good of society.


[1] THISDAY ONLINE / Nigeria news / Keyamo Flays Suspension of Ogun Varsity Students

NB: I have used school in the broadest possible sense to encompass all institutions of learning.

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