Celebratory, showy and a lot of chest pounding but also a reflection instigating experience for whoever observed the integrating and disintegrating markers about the education sector that were manifested. It could not have been deliberately planned to be anything more than a routine Graduation Day exercise, the type that takes place every now and then, here and there. However, this one turned also into a window on the contradictory dynamism of the Nigerian education sector. If the social grooming of the students in walking up briskly to the podium, grab their award, pose for the photo-up, all in a minute or so did not indicate this, then their horizon of academic ambition must. Mr. Nnaebube Nwajiuba, the 17 year old lad who stole the show by monopolizing no less than a dozen prizes told Intervention that he already knows what he wants to study in the university. After pronouncing it twice, the reporter had to ask him to write it down. What he wrote is Mechatronics, a discipline the reporter has never heard about. Asked what it is all about, he said it is about engineering design.
It was all happening at the 10th Graduation Ceremony of Cherryfield College, Abuja last Saturday. It was interesting because the brains behind the school are not super rich elements or politicians but more or less education minded players. Their intervention speaks to a seeming successful private sector take-over of secondary school layer of the education sector in Nigeria although it would take years to be sure about that. But if the schools have not only become a site of multi-stakeholder involvement – from the Parent Teachers Association to the spectacle of old boys of those schools coming to be part of the whole show, but also producers of very young products naming disciplines their parents never heard of, then something good must be brewing in those sites, notwithstanding the inherent elitism therein.
In other words, if what was on displays at this Graduation Ceremony is also what is going on in similar schools across the country, then it makes room for the tempting conclusion that Nigeria might have stumbled on a way of manufacturing the successor elite after all even as it has nearly lost the public school system by which most countries do that. Even as a huge chunk of the youths are lost in counter-cultural activities – cultism, alcoholism and kidnapping, cheating in examinations aided by some parents, so also is another even bigger chunk in pursuits typical of what their peers are doing across the globe – trying to master the world and how it works or ought to work. When one interviews them, both signs of brilliance, hopes as well as fears are discernible but which is nothing too strange. It looks like the educational system is failing only because the country itself has not found an assignment for the educational sector. Otherwise, the more reported anomalies there are less than the cases of brilliance, patriotism and functional citizenship or the modernist outlook one encounters in talking to them, be it an undergraduate in Ibadan, a 17 year old potential undergraduate in Abuja or an admission seeker somewhere in Jigawa State.
The Adakole; Nwajiuba; Mustapha; Onukaba; Olaleye and so on that were being called over the loudspeaker to come for one award in one subject or the other yesterday not only speak to excellence but also to an incubation centre where the students are not only meeting but mixing across the fault lines of tribe, religion and place. The most striking here must the lady who won the prize for Islamic Religious Studies in a school whose masterminds are obviously not Muslims. It also speaks to the days gone by when a Christian felt comfortable and protected in Muslim dominated schools and when Muslim students felt same, with many writing Christian Religious Knowledge, (CRK) and scoring AI. That was the experience of a recent governor of Bauchi State who, in their own time, wrote and passed Christian Religious Knowledge. Identity will always be important and will ever be relied upon to cause mischief in society by those who need mischief to get by. That is not frightening. What is frightening is when there is no elite consensus about where to draw the red line on manipulation of religious or ethnic differences. Some people would say ethno regional and religious identity politics is a problem in Nigeria precisely because even though brought up by their British counterpart, consensus building is not such a great attribute of the Nigerian elite, especially over contentious areas of nationhood. That keeps the temperature permanently high.
The adequacy or otherwise of the nature of training going on in the privately run high flying secondary schools that dominate the space now cannot be determined till the first generation taste power, not necessarily as political office holders but as leaders in their own right. But indications that the impending generation might not be archetype of Wole Soyinka’s wasted (somebody has since elongated it to wasted and wasteful) generation are emerging. If evidence were needed, the old students of Cherryfield who came to be part of the Graduation Ceremony provides one. They were not only there, they also came with donations for one set of award winners or another. And a global network is forming between former students of the school who went straight to top Western universities and is connecting back to their school and classmates back home and out there. In fact, there is a separate realm concerned with arranging admission for those who can pay school fees in top universities. And it is not only foreign universities. Nigerian based universities are also invading these type schools for their own share of studentry.
There was a moving testimony that closed the ceremonies. A woman who declared herself the longest member of the PTA told the story of her daughter being of the first set 15 years ago. She is now a medical doctor in the United States and another child of hers is still in the school now. According to her, “the school has something to offer”. Hers might be taken as a testimonial on excellence but what sort of excellence? It could be the academic structure just as it could be a statement on quality of the teachers. A few academic staff were called to receive awards yesterday, although the most interesting must be the kitchen staff who got the award too. Given the ovation that greeted his name from the graduands, he must have really found his way to their hearts through culinary dexterity.
Interestingly, it was not a strictly graduands affair. Big men and women were there. Apart from high school officials, there was Air Vice Marshall Clement Aroriode, (rtd), the Chairman of the occasion; Chief Emeka Wogu, former Minister for Labour, Comrade John Odah, Executive Secretary of the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa, (OTUWA), numerous members of Members of the National Institute and parents of graduands. Of course, it was a spectacle when parents of Nwajiuba Nnaebube who turned out the hero of the occasion were called to the high table to pose with the young man.
It is unlikely that the school offers a different academic structure from other schools of similar status in the system. Although the number of subjects students offer in the secondary education stage in Nigeria seems widely, it was interesting finding some subjects there such as Further Mathematics, Technical Drawing; Food and Nutrition; Financial Accounting; Fisheries, Information Technology; Civic Education. As mentioned earlier, it seems they also encounter formal training in Protocols at some point. Of course, mastery of cultural and social protocols matter in this age of identity. It has become too important to be left to operatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some people would argue that Leadership and Conflict Handling Skills should be part of the training at the secondary school level. The problem is not knowing when students are overloaded with courses that do not add up. For, the counter argument would be that there is nothing about leadership or conflict management that cannot be learnt under Civic Education or Government. hearing such positions as Headgirl, Deputy Headgirl, Health Prefect, School Time Keeper, House Captain, (for one dormitory or the other) suggests leadership grooming is going on already.