Schooling In Nigeria A Scam?

By Olabisi  Deji-Folutile

School na scam!  I hear this phrase a lot of times these days, especially from Nigerian youths. Ask them what they mean, they will tell you that the whole hype about education being the foundation for a productive and profitable future is all lies – that all the talks about schooling being the gate pass to a life of comfort are all made up.

As far as they are concerned, Nigerian schools are teaching them things they may never need or use in life. Unfortunately, society keeps telling them that the road to success in life lies in school when they can actually see that most of their peers doing well early in life are school dropouts. And the ones that society idolises don’t even have degrees. That is confusing!

One of them told me recently that going to school is a waste of time. To him, people spend so many years in school and still come out to do things that do not really require any form of academic rigour to handle. He cited examples of graduates ending up as fashion designers, photographers, event planners, etc. That’s share waste of time, isn’t it?  These ones could have invested their energy in these vocations rather than waste their time studying what is not really relevant to their lives.

Well, that may be true. Many youths ‘doing well’ in Nigeria today are dropouts. A lot of them are into music. A lot of them got into the limelight through reality shows and they seem to be doing well for themselves.

Meanwhile, the number of graduates doing menial jobs is mounting every day. Just this past month, the story of a female graduate of the University of Calabar, who left her teaching job to drive a tricycle popularly known as Keke NAPEP went viral on social media. According to her, she took up a teaching job after she graduated but, because the pay was meagre, she decided to venture into driving a commercial tricycle, which she said, brings her far more financial returns than her teaching job.

Another lady, Unyime Asuquo, a graduate of English Language, is also riding keke to earn a living because she has not been able to secure a job since graduation.  If after leaving a university, all you come back to do is ride keke, why go to school in the first instance? No one needs a degree to learn how to ride keke, so why waste time and energy in a higher institution just to become a Keke driver?  How do you convince people like these that education is not a scam?

I know people talk a lot about the correlation between academic success and success after school.  They claim academic feats rarely translate into success in life. They cite examples of first-class graduates working for third-class degree holders and wealthy stark illiterates employing brilliant professors and teachers. All of this seems to further justify the phrase that school is a scam. After all, if the narrative of schooling guaranteeing a great future is true, professors should be the richest people on earth and first-class graduates should probably be among those controlling the world’s wealth.

I may not have empirical data to back this up, but I have observed an increase in the number of Nigerian youths dropping out of higher institutions.  I have also noticed that these youths aren’t really bothered about not finishing school. The ones I know are not idle either. They are all working – some as social media managers, web designers, SEO experts. These are skills they learn on their own in most cases. They even earn more money than graduates and they seem at par or even better than their graduate colleagues in terms of eloquence, industriousness and relevance.

Are these enough reasons to conclude that schooling is a total waste of time? Definitely not!   Rather, I would say what we need is a functional educational system.  It is now apparent that Nigeria’s current educational policy is neither satisfying the yearnings of its teeming youths nor delivering the needs of the labour market. From personal experience at recruiting for jobs, I can tell you for free that many people that parade themselves today as graduates are unemployable. This does not mean that these youths aren’t smart; they are not just groomed for the labour market.

First, we miss it as a society when we think that every child should go to higher institutions. That is a grave mistake. There was a time when Nigeria had functional technical schools where students could learn vocational studies and specialise in whatever area of interest they were good at. Then there was carpentry, welding, building, hairdressing, catering, etc. These colleges were equipped to provide these vocational courses. Had my youth friend been aware of this, he would have known that you don’t have to go to university to become a fashion designer or event planner.

As a matter of fact, the main objective of the 6334 system of education, championed by a renowned Nigerian educationist, scholar and former minister of education, late Prof Babs Fafunwa, was to produce self-reliant graduates with better labour market skills and earning potential.

The 6-3-3-4 system of education, introduced in 1982, according to experts, was designed to inject functionality into the Nigerian school system, by producing graduates who would be able to make use of their hands, head and heart. It was designed to produce the expected technician class needed in Nigerian society.

It had a provision for technical schools. The idea is that every child would have six years of primary school, three years of junior secondary school and then proceed to a technical school or senior secondary school depending on their interest and ability. As early as JSS3, the students proceeding to these technical colleges would have done so. They don’t have to waste their time by finishing the SS school or sitting the UTME because they really don’t need that stress.

Technical colleges prepare students for specific trades or careers. They could spend 2-4 years there depending on their programme of choice. And they are awarded certificates at the end of their study. These colleges had workshops. They were not the typical classroom settings. The students had the opportunity of experiencing what they were expected to see in the labour market. In other words, the colleges offered practical lessons. These schools teach students life skills that cannot be taught in the traditional classroom setting.

In the developed countries, these technical schools are almost the complete opposite of a university. Rather than receiving a broad education, they prepare their students for a particular job of interest. Whereas, universities are for people interested in research or a general pursuit of knowledge.

The 6334 policy initially seemed laudable unfortunately, it didn’t take into consideration the fact that at the tender age of 13, some children may not really know what they want to specialise in. Besides vocational courses are stigmatised in this part of the world and those who go for them are largely regarded by society as being crude, unpolished and dull.

Perhaps, it would have been better if the pupils had been allowed to finish senior secondary school before going for the vocational courses. So, it was replaced with the 9-3-4 system of education which merged the six years of primary education and the first three years of the JSS education. That muddled everything up. We ended up neither being here or there.

Be as it may, the technical colleges are almost all dead now. That integral part of our education is gone and this is one of the reasons why the young ones are convinced that schooling is a scam. This is one aspect of the problem.

The other leg of it is the use of obsolete curricula in many higher institutions.  Many of these institutions have not reviewed their curriculums in years. The result is that they produce graduates that cannot use their hands, head and heart. The world is changing but the curriculums have remained static. To be relevant, schools have to upgrade their curriculum to be in tandem with the needs of today’s world.

There is also a problem with the way our higher institutions structure their programmes. There are some course combinations that are not allowed here. This restricts the students and prevents them from expressing themselves. The schooling system should be reviewed to make room for more goal-oriented courses.  Institutions can encourage students to have majors and minors. You can major in Computer Science for instance and have a minor degree in history or music. This will ensure diversity and help students to discover their purpose.

Besides, Nigeria has a funny way of getting people admitted to the university. Everybody must have a credit in English and Mathematics. I often wonder, the mathematical formula that someone studying English would need or the lexicon that a maths student would need to solve mathematical problems. We just put unnecessary stumbling blocks in students’ way. Some students spend extra five years at home looking for maths and English to gain admission into Nigeria’s higher institutions. This is another problem. Imagine going through such a hell and coming out to ride a tricycle.

For me, school is not a scam. Rather, the dysfunctional education system that we have in this part of the world is the scam. Education remains a key driver of societal growth and progress. However, it would be a mistake to think that we go to school to obtain certificates and that the certificates should be a meal ticket. Proper schooling should help to develop one’s critical, logical problem-solving skills. Collins English Dictionary (2009) describes education “as a process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgement, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

You don’t have to go to a university to learn these skills. Some of the highest paying careers in the US include dental hygienist, Air Traffic Controller, Margin Department Supervisor, Construction Manager, Automobile Service Station Manager, Cardiovascular Technologist, Elevator Mechanic and  Power Utility Technician. They are all learned in trade schools or technical colleges and not in universities. Some Nigerians all in a bid to obtain foreign degrees often end up attending these schools abroad meanwhile, back home, our employers discriminate against polytechnic graduates.

With the IT revolution in today’s world, people in charge of our education should be thinking of how to establish centres where youths can be taught how to code, develop websites, design and implement software solutions. That is how to make education and learning practical and relevant.

I know that Nigeria’s situation can frustrate many people. There is a deliberate move by our leaders not to focus on the education sector.   Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State has told us that politicians shy away from investing in education and health because such investments are generational as it takes 30 years for the results to show.

Since politicians only have a four-year term in office with a maximum of eight years if returned for another term, he said they often ignore these sectors and focus on road constructions, the building of secretariats which to them can easily be paraded as achievements.

Perhaps, the other point the governor forgot to mention is that politicians make their money from kickbacks on such projects which make them attractive than investing in human resources.

Unfortunately, the reality is that Nigeria cannot achieve its full potential until it begins to invest in its human capital. Bill Gates made this valid point some time ago when he advised the country to build human resources rather than bridges and roads. As good as these infrastructures are, they become useless if done at the expense of providing quality and practical education to the citizenry.

A Yoruba proverb says a child that is not trained well will sell off his parents’ house. In other words, if a father builds a house at the expense of his child’s education, that child will end up selling the house built. If Nigeria continues to build infrastructure and devalue education in the process, its uneducated and half-baked graduates will destroy the infrastructures and the country will be back to square one.  A word is enough for the wise!

Olabisi Deji-Folutile (PhD) is the editor-in-chief, and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email:

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