Education for Development (1)

Education for Development (1) This week I have decided to publish a section of a speech I gave at the graduation ceremony of a school in Lagos sometime last July. The topic was on education as a path to development. This week’s contribution is the first instalment; it will be concluded next week. I began the speech with a reflection on the purpose of education. So, what is the purpose of education? What have we brought these young ones here to do in this school? Stuff a whole bunch of facts into their heads? Turn them into robots that can recite multiplication tables? And maybe ensure they have a little fun while at it by surrounding them with all the latest gadgets? Let me quote from my book, A Trust to Earn: Reflections on Life and Leadership in Nigeria (Prestige Publishing, 2010): “Personally, I believe that education’s primary purpose is to make the individual develop the ability to imagine, and to endow him or her with the tools needed to translate that imagination into reality. Someone once said that the purpose of education is to provide the building blocks for change, whether intellectual, social, financial, or just a change of one’s skill level, knowledge or attitude from one perspective or the other. Without the ability to imagine a different state of affairs, change would certainly remain an illusion.” If we accept these definitions, it becomes clear that education has to do primarily with training, forming, nurturing and transforming the mind, so that the individual is enabled to bring about the kinds of transformation he or she wishes to see in the environment. I believe that the mandate for education was actually given in the Garden of Eden when God gave Adam and Eve dominion over all that He had created, asking them to tend and keep the garden. Our first parents had no teachers; they had to use their minds, their imagination, to figure out what to do with the garden – and maybe that was partly why God had to come on a daily evening visit to see how well they were performing! It would seem, in reality, that this ability to imagine a different world, a different state of affairs, is one that every human being is born with – a God-given gift of creativity, stemming from the fact that we are made “in His image”. Thus, like Him, we are able to “create” things – a poem, a painting,

“Personally, I believe that education’s primary purpose is to make the individual develop the ability to imagine, and to endow him or her with the tools needed to translate that imagination into reality. Someone once said that the purpose of education is to provide the building blocks for change, whether intellectual, social, financial, or just a change of one’s skill level, knowledge or attitude from one perspective or the other. Without the ability to imagine a different state of affairs, change would certainly remain an illusion.” If we accept these definitions, it becomes clear that education has to do primarily with training, forming, nurturing and transforming the mind, so that the individual is enabled to bring about the kinds of transformation he or she wishes to see in the environment. I believe that the mandate for education was actually given in the Garden of Eden when God gave Adam and Eve dominion over all that He had created, asking them to tend and keep the garden. Our first parents had no teachers; they had to use their minds, their imagination, to figure out what to do with the garden – and maybe that was partly why God had to come on a daily evening visit to see how well they were performing!

It would seem, in reality, that this ability to imagine a different world, a different state of affairs, is one that every human being is born with – a God-given gift of creativity, stemming from the fact that we are made “in His image”. Thus, like Him, we are able to “create” things – a poem, a painting, a kite, an airplane, a house, or whatever. Education is, therefore, supposed to serve to guide that innate capacity we have and, in the best of cases, assist the individual in discovering the specific area(s) of human endeavour where he or she is most imaginative or creative. What then is development, and why has it eluded us to a large degree? Development is precisely the (hopefully positive) transformation that is brought about in society as a result of the imaginative and creative endeavours engaged in by the members of that society. Every development begins with somebody waking up one morning (or in the middle of the night) and saying to himself or herself: “What if…?” That question might relate to finding a solution to a nagging problem – “What if one could find a way of keeping mosquitoes and other insects from coming into the house?” That ultimately led to the invention of wire netting for windows and doors. Or it might just be a question of finding a better, easier or more efficient way of doing something.

Development is precisely the (hopefully positive) transformation that is brought about in society as a result of the imaginative and creative endeavours engaged in by the members of that society. Every development begins with somebody waking up one morning (or in the middle of the night) and saying to himself or herself: “What if…?” That question might relate to finding a solution to a nagging problem – “What if one could find a way of keeping mosquitoes and other insects from coming into the house?” That ultimately led to the invention of wire netting for windows and doors. Or it might just be a question of finding a better, easier or more efficient way of doing something.

All the developments in the transportation industry – from the bicycle to the automobile, to trains and airplanes – came about basically to solve the problem of moving people faster from one point to another. Another important human trait that fuels development is curiosity: “What if we could cross to the other side of that mountain, or that big river, what would we find there?” Or, “What if there is actually life on other planets?” And so, such curious people begin to explore ways of getting to the other side of the mountain, crossing the great river, reaching the moon.

Every development begins with somebody waking up one morning (or in the middle of the night) and saying to himself or herself: “What if…?” That question might relate to finding a solution to a nagging problem – “What if one could find a way of keeping mosquitoes and other insects from coming into the house?” That ultimately led to the invention of wire netting for windows and doors. Or it might just be a question of finding a better, easier or more efficient way of doing something. All the developments in the transportation industry – from the bicycle to the automobile, to trains and airplanes – came about basically to solve the problem of moving people faster from one point to another.

Another important human trait that fuels development is curiosity: “What if we could cross to the other side of that mountain, or that big river, what would we find there?” Or, “What if there is actually life on other planets?” And so, such curious people begin to explore ways of getting to the other side of the mountain, crossing the great river, reaching the moon.

Educational institutions have for centuries acted as catalysts for development, creating the environment needed for curious and imaginative people to thrive, in the knowledge that the pursuit of their ideas (which might appear to be crazy at first) might lead to discoveries which would be to the overall benefit of the society.

Now, the important question for us is: What has happened to us? Why is it that education seems to have failed us? Whereas the standards of education tend to rise in other places, why have ours been falling? Our public educational institutions, which used to be the pride of the nation, are now only a dismal shadow of their former glory. I normally express the opinion that to a large extent the quality of the primary, secondary and tertiary education I received here in Nigeria in the sixties and seventies could compare favourably with that of any other country in the world. And indeed,

And indeed, many Nigerians of my generation have gone on to compete and prove their mettle among their counterparts internationally. It is a known fact that several Nigerians have occupied and still occupy highly influential positions around the world. If we are contributing to the development of international organisations and other countries, why is it that we find ourselves practically on the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of global indices of development?

 

• To be continued
Remi Sonaiya is a professor of French and Applied Linguistics. She was also the 2015 KOWA party Presidential Aspirant. She can be reached at remisonaiya@yahoo.com

Sign up for Updates

One Response to Education for Development (1)

  1. Femi Diipo May 22, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Will just wait for the continuation of this before saying what’s on my mind. Perhaps it’ll still be addressed

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of new posts by email.