My first position in school after a terminal exam was eleventh out of a class of about thirty pupils. My dad was so pleased that he went to the slaughter and bought meat which was used to prepare pepper soup, specifically for me. Despite my dad's satisfaction, it was not the best I could do. I had the potential to be among the best three in the class. Had I known how to read at the time, I will have been there at the top.
Our class was a class of mixed age brackets. There were pupils of the right age for that class at the time but there were also others who tried life without education and decided against it after seeing how unpleasant life without education could be. Those were the members of the class who could do some form of reading. They were the ones at the top of the examination charts. It was after three years that life outside of school thought me how to read. By then half of the six years of primary school duration was already spent. I was ten and have started following my mum to the choir where I learnt the sound of letters from the music octave of d: r: m: f: s: l: t: d.
The school curriculum was not designed to teach the sounds of letters and how to combine these sounds to form words. Immediately, I started reading and used that advantage to rise to the top of the examination charts where I rightly belong by virtue of my inborn ability.
With time, I have also come to realize that there is no place for poetry in the curriculum. My experience with poetry after coming to know about it, also by accident, is that it stirs your creative spirit thereby making you very resourceful.
That was the legacy of British colonial powers. I have often heard that the colonial powers gave us just enough education to enable us work as clerks in the colonial administrative offices. In view of what I have seen however, I conclude that the situation was worst than that. I don't think that a clerk could be of any use if he cannot read.
The nascence and proliferation of private schools in the last twenty years turned out to be the blessing that provided an option to many parents. The private schools have the nursery where a child is taught the alphabets and their sounds and how to combine them to form words. By the time a child leaves the nursery after three years, he has already known how to read. Reading makes sense to him and is thus able to take full advantage of the six years of primary education and the levels after that.
The next big predicament of public education is the conservatism of our administrators. Despite the big difference that is demonstrated by private schools, they have failed to understand that there is the need to modify the curriculum to enable it give result. They complicate matters by strangling the system and refusing to allow people with an agenda of change to find their way into system. When such people manage to find their way in, their suggestions are viewed as something that can bring about total brake down. The schools they administer are deprived of anything form of motivation that can improve learning, be they books, quality teachers, or decent classes. These are the people for whom billions are appropriated yearly in terms of salaries without anything to show for it.
Additional problems are political. Most governments often see the leadership of ministries as positions that should be given to political friends as a reward for their contribution to the victory of the government at the polls. No regard is given to the training of the appointee, whether he is an educationist or not.
Since a large number of Nigerian children particularly in the rural areas attend public schools, it could be said that the future of the Nigerian nation depends to a large extent, on the state of public schools. This is the reason why the government must take seriously the state of public education in the country. There is the need to improve the curriculum to include the crucial areas mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, train staff to teach them and provide the resources needed to support the sector for optimal results.