Repositioning Education for National Integration, Inclusion, and Development.
Quality minds, strong institutions, thriving nation.
Keynote Speech delivered by Frank Nweke II at the 50th Anniversary of Federal Government College, Maiduguri and the 35th Annual General Conference of the Old Students Association on October 21, 2023 at the Federal Government College, Maiduguri.
I thank you for inviting me to deliver this keynote address that you deftly themed - A New Nigeria - Bringing Back the Glory of the Unity Schools.
However, I would like to crave your indulgence as I have taken the liberty to amend the theme and even added a sub-theme titled - Repositioning Education for National Integration, Inclusion, and Development - Quality Minds, Strong Institutions, Thriving Nation.
This was upon my reflection on the state of our entire education sector in the country. Even though we are here to celebrate a unity school, I believe that it merits our attention and will serve us better in the long run to address the challenges of our national systems.
If you agree with me, please stay seated and I will proceed with my address.
- It is such an honour to be on these grounds again, 46 years after my father handed me over to Mr. John Arthur Garrod at the gate, just four years after the establishment of this school. The last time I was here, I came as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2005. The years have not erased the feelings of nostalgia that still cling to my mind. This is truly a homecoming. To witness the 50th celebration is a privilege and I am grateful to God almighty for the opportunity to be here today and to share my thoughts with you.
- I congratulate the management and staff who work tirelessly to ensure the continuance of this institution through changing government structures, economic realities, and most unfortunately, the precarious insecurity that has bedevilled the state in the past decade. The Executive Committee of FEGOCOMOSA, I salute your hard work in delivering a momentous celebration for this golden jubilee and homecoming. I honour your commitment to keep the bond alive amongst alumni body members while fostering avenues for partnerships and interventions with the school.
- I can see some of my fellow ‘ancestors’ here. I also pay my respects to our schoolmates who have departed this world. May the memories of those who have gone ahead give us the courage to live fully every day. Amen.
- My address today will cover the following areas:
- A brief history of the Unity Schools.
- An evaluation of education transformation across the world.
- Where we are today as a country.
- And my proposal for education transformation in Nigeria; which I have captured in three distinct but interdependent categories - Thriving Nation, Strong Institutions, and the Quality Minds that will build them.
I have estimated that we will be done in 30 minutes, and I invite you to join me on a short journey that will end with one major take away - the time is now; the person is you.
- Thriving nations are driven by strong institutions run by quality minds. Quality minds are produced by clear vision, deliberate nurture, and consistent investment in education.
A brief look at Unity Schools, yesterday and today.
- When we came in through the gates of this school in the 1970s, Nigeria was clearing the rubbles left behind by a 30-month-long Civil War. Nerves were frayed and the bitter conflict left in its wake a yawning gap between ethnic groups and regions in the country. I honour the vision of General Yakubu Gowon who established the Unity Schools, the National Youth Service Corp and the principle of a Federal Character in 1973 to promote healing and reconciliation. At the 15th plenary of the Unity Schools Old Students Association (USOSA) in 2009, General Gowon shared that he got the idea for the schools when he went on a visit to the then Inter-Regional Secondary School in Sokoto and observed the sense of unity among the students where each of them cordially related with one another regardless of ethnic or religious background. This school, along with five others, including Kings College and Queens College were then converted into Unity Schools, with twelve more established in the newly created states of the federation.
- Coming from a Civil War, these institutions were germane to the implementation of a deliberate National Policy for Integration. As some of the first beneficiaries of this policy, the nurture we received from this great institution and the benefits that have accrued to us are testaments to the spirit of tolerance, love, and unity promoted during our time in this institution. We formed lifetime connections and partnerships that have produced new families across cultures, businesses in different parts of the country, and global opportunities. This was the dream our fathers had, and we can say that it was well-implemented and achieved, especially in the first two decades of operation.
- However, when we consider our current reality as a nation, a reevaluation of the significance of these schools will be required. The Unity Schools were renowned for superior standards and values, a melting pot for all classes of people and a focus on merit and excellent academic performance. Why do we as a nation now find ourselves at the tipping point of disintegration, mired in divisive sentiments, corruption, insecurity, and mediocrity? Some conversations and events from the last election were a shameful expression of divisive tendencies across the country, stoked by self-serving politicians who sought to make enemies of different ethnicities and religions to further their personal political ambitions. Even now, the blatant disregard for the Federal Character by the current administration’s lopsided appointments is in no way promoting unity and integration. The unprecedented insecurity and deplorable state of our social and economic fabric are glaring evidence of a disconnect between the vision of the integration programs and the reality of their current implementation. Unity cannot become a reality if it is exclusive to the four walls of 110 schools for a few thousand students.
- Today, the thrust of considerations when choosing schools for my children is different. While I acknowledge the need to promote the bonds of unity and integration in the country, I am deeply conscious of global trends and the need to raise children who can thrive, compete, and make significant contributions as global citizens. Moreover, due to insecurity, poor road infrastructure, and the infamous quota system, the Federal Schools do not have a wide cross-cultural representation as they were designed to, nor do they capture a good number of children of school age. On average, the Unity School system enrols about ten (10) per cent of the children who apply or compete for a spot in the school. This percentage is minuscule when compared with the number of children within the school age bracket in the country. In 2021, it was reported that seventy-six thousand, eight hundred and fifty-five (76,855) children competed for three thousand (3,000) available admission spots in the Unity Colleges. That is 3.9 per cent and less than one per cent of children who should be enrolled in secondary schools annually. The negligible number of students who make the cut for the Unity Schools does not support the purpose of widespread integration.
- These are further aggravated by depreciating infrastructure, unsanitary conditions, inadequate teaching staff, and poor governance and supervision of the schools. The reports of indiscipline are disheartening; truancy, male students sexually assaulting their female colleagues, and a general drop in the values once associated with Federal Government Colleges. In 2017, one of the colleges lost three children to infectious diseases because of poor sanitary situations. On my last visit to FGC Maiduguri in 2005, I was appalled to hear that students had begun constituting a nuisance with theft and cultism. This is vastly different from what we experienced and how we were nurtured in our day.
- This decline is against the backdrop of the Federal allocations to the Unity Schools in excess of N50 Billion annually in the last seven years. In 2022, the sum of N67.81 Billion was allocated, with each school supposedly receiving an average of N616 Million. Also, the quality of our curriculum does not reflect current global standards for education or prepare students to succeed in a rapidly progressive world. These challenges assailing the Unity Schools are not peculiar to only these 110 colleges. They are the reality of our entire education system as a nation. As such, when we speak of repositioning our Unity Schools or restoring their glory, the solution has to be inclusive and instituted from the central point of a national policy on education, formulated to serve our citizens and our national goals and objectives.
- The positive outcomes from the early years of the Unity Schools came from a clarity of vision that served our reality and needs at that time. Society is dynamic and the times are different. We must deploy the same methodology of evaluating our current reality vis-a-vis the world, design an encompassing national policy on education in response to our current challenges and the rapid changes in our world and create a pathway to the future we envision for our nation. Education is the bedrock of all social and economic development. Without a conscious and consistent effort to educate the citizenry, nations will slowly and surely decline into economic collapse.
An International Evaluation
- The old and the new civilizations that we aspire to be like were not built by accident. Visionaries, who were disciplined, built them. They were built through a conscious and dedicated effort anchored on a deep commitment to the welfare and well-being of their people and their place in the world. These nations have continued to make progress for the same reasons today. Countries such as China, India, Singapore, Malaysia, and Japan have created and catalysed their industrial revolution on the back of human capital development, paying keen attention to the design of education to fit each stage of their growth and prepare for a specific future.
- As of December 2022, CNBC did a report on 35 Indian-origin CEOs running some of the biggest companies in the world with over $1 trillion in revenue. Half of these companies are in the technology sector, five of them in healthcare and another five in industrial manufacturing. This feat flowed from a set of goals and deliberate corresponding investment of finance, national orientation, and values inculcation in the country. In 1968, four years before Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet and Google was born, India began implementing a national education policy based on the view that “the destiny of India is now being shaped in her classrooms. In a world based on science and technology, it is education that determines the level of prosperity, welfare and security of people.” This policy has gone through several iterations in tandem with identified gaps in the country, ranging from national pride to integration. Currently, the Indian Education Policy is placing emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving, both key skills on the rise as analysed by the World Bank Future of Jobs report.
- Another country is Singapore, which is hailed for being one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Education has also been deployed as a driver of their social and economic progression. Soon after their independence in 1965, they introduced the “Education for All” national education policy to promote equity, access, and integration amongst their multi-ethnic population. As the country grew, the policy also evolved. From years of paying attention to developing skills needed for manufacturing, and producing electronics and petrochemicals to a knowledge-based entrepreneurial economy, the system has adapted through the decades to equip individual students for personal and national productivity. In 1997, a new vision for education was crafted to promote lifelong learning for an unpredictable future, and in 2018, it was further enhanced to prepare children for a future driven by skills, innovation, adaptability, and flexibility.
- It is notable that these two examples I have cited share similar characteristics with Nigeria - the multi-ethnicity, challenges of colonization, conservative culture, and a large population in the case of India. They rely heavily on the use of their local languages for teaching and the recognition of individual strengths in their curriculum design, both of which have proven to be strong drivers of national integration. What they have done is to build on their independence policies for integration to serve the need for industrialization, technological revolution, and economic prosperity. This is what we have failed to do with the Unity Schools and our education policy from the 1970s. We must learn from the successes of these nations while designing a solution with our local reality in mind.
- Our current social, economic, and political reality must spur within us, the boldness to honestly identify and assess our gaps. Today, Nigeria lags behind on virtually all the indices that define a successful nation. On the rule of law index, Nigeria scores 5.8 over 100. 133 million of our 213 million citizens are classified as poor. The unemployment rate hit 41% as reported by the KPMG Global Economy Outlook report for half year, 2023. On the corruption perception ranking, we place 150 out of 180 countries under review by Transparency International. Our citizens are lagging behind in global competitiveness and earning power, making the ‘JAPA’ syndrome more prevalent as developed countries source cheaper labour. All of these gaps can be traced to the deep poverty of education in the country.
- According to UNESCO's data, Nigeria's illiteracy rate was 59% among youths and 65% among adults over 15 years old in 2021. This is poor. Cut-off marks for entry into Junior Secondary Schools are at an all-time low with some states requiring only 10 marks out of 300 as pass mark. Cases of Exam Malpractice in Senior Secondary School Exams have also soared through the years, from 8.9% in 2016 to 22.8% in 2022, reflecting a more endemic problem in the country. Organizations need to retrain graduates for workforce readiness.
In order to take advantage of global technological advancement, the ubiquitous job market, and the constantly changing economic models, we have to take radical steps to close the knowledge and value gaps for our population.
I will now share my perspective on what we must do to thrive as a nation.
Thriving Nation - The Vision and the Policy.
Under this vision that I will enunciate below, our goal will be to create a solution-focused populace and an innovation-driven society where every individual makes significant contributions to sustain Nigeria’s collective progress.
- To turn the tides of our national economy and become competitive in the global community, our education policy must move from talk to action. Based on available data, our last curriculum review was in 2008, 15 years ago, and was aimed at producing job creators and improving employment rates in the country. Special attention was paid to the acquisition of scientific and technological skills, inculcation of value re-orientation, civic and moral responsibilities as well as family living skills, acquisition of skills for poverty eradication, and laying of foundation for acquisition and applications of ICT skills. Unfortunately, the implementation of this curriculum has been below par and this is evident in the increasing rate of unemployment which moved from 20.0 (NBS Archives) to 41% (KPMG). The challenges have worsened and require a more robust approach that starts with an overarching vision for the education system.
- I have captured this vision in the phrase - Quality Mind, Strong Institutions, Thriving Nation. Thriving nations are driven by strong institutions run by quality minds. Quality minds are produced by clear vision, deliberate nurture, and consistent investment in education, from early childhood to the tertiary level and beyond, instituting a lifelong learning culture in rural and urban areas. This will also engage the efforts of all stakeholders from parents, to communities, the private sector, Civil Society Organizations, Alumni bodies, and policymakers.
- The Ministry of Education must take the lead as the chief regulator that ensures clear policy formulation with specific and measurable indices. The need for transparency and accountability with financing and administration will become even more important. The ministry will be responsible for convening the relevant stakeholders and collectively designing a curriculum for experiential, practical, and independent learning. Technology, creativity, and manufacturing skills must take priority positions in our curriculum reform for both content and pedagogy. To tackle our current reality of high illiteracy levels, our goals must be ambitious and matched with corresponding action for early childhood and basic education. Governments at the sub-national levels must be held accountable for funding allocations and agreed objectives.
- In a rapidly changing world, our approach to learning must pivot from content regurgitation to critical thinking and creativity. We can no longer afford to recycle stale knowledge in new prints in our basic, secondary, and tertiary education while expecting organizations to retrain our graduates with the basic skills to thrive in the workforce. Our goal must be to create a continuum of knowledge proliferation that promotes continuous improvement, lifelong learning, and a high capacity for problem-solving. A thriving nation will be adaptable and amenable to change while maintaining the core values of national cohesion and collective progress.
Strong Institutions - Setting the stage for the rule of law.
As a continuum, this approach will require the participation of key institutions in our society to propel the transformation of our education system and produce the quality of minds we need to build strong institutions and thrive as a nation. Woven into all their contributions will be the respect for self and for others.
- At the heart of this vision is the family unit. We must always return to first principles because the family is the first agent of socialization for a child. Our quest for a thriving nation will require parents to move from a culture of “do as I say” to one that celebrates self-awareness and cognitive learning based on the 5E learning model of engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation developed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) in 1987. In hindsight, this is the system my father deployed to raise my siblings and me. He believed that a parent should try to get into the minds of children to understand what informs their behaviour at any time. And so, he will wake you up in the wee hours of the morning to discuss an act of mischief, which more often than not, you had forgotten about. He wore you out by never accepting that you had no reason for your mischief and the dialogue dragged on for hours and days. It was mentally draining. In the end, he would document the entire encounter as a reminder that you would have yourself to blame if you failed to prepare for later life. I have copies of my father’s letters to me from childhood to my time as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He raised me to have an independent mind, while inculcating values of honesty, integrity, hard work, courage, compassion, kindness, and the blessing of a good reputation. However, you cannot give what you do not have. Hence, we must create avenues for parents to unlearn and relearn through the media, parent forums, and civil society organizations.
- Community - In the same vein, I had my extended Umuohajioke family and our annual meeting comprised my father, uncles, cousins and all the male children. The meeting has taken place on December 31 every year for nearly forty years. The agenda often revolved around the general welfare and well-being of family members. Its most important highlight for teenagers was the agenda item on discipline. It was at this point that fathers and guardians had the chance to inform the meeting about any errant or deviant child or adults in the family. The accused persons went on summary trial, with punishment, ranging from whipping, and shaving of hair for those that relaxed their hair in those days, administered, instantly. I wish to confess that we didn’t look forward to it as children. I know that most cultures in Nigeria promote the concept that “it takes a village to raise a child”. We must not lose this culture, rather, it should become one of the stimulants of our civilization. We must intentionally promote this from the policy and program level as well. I ran for governor in my state during the last elections and a key provision of my manifesto was to create avenues for retirees and senior citizens to continue contributing to the overall progress of our economy. Retirement should not put an end to learning and productivity.
- Educators - A few months ago, I delivered the commencement speech at the Graduation Ceremony of the TeachForNigeria 2021 Cohort of Fellows. My charge to them was to become lifelong learners and have a growth mindset. The future belongs to those who can acquire new knowledge and skills quickly. The field of education is always evolving and the world is changing at an incredibly fast pace. Continuous learning will make you a better person, educator and leader. Take online courses, read a lot, and travel to observe new places and cultures. Stay up-to-date with education research. Then, share what you learn with colleagues to spread best practices. Teaching is one of the greatest ways of improving assimilation. A growth mindset always positions you to pivot as needed for a future that is unpredictable. The future may be unknown, but with the right mindset and skill set, the next generation can shape it to be better than today. As educators, you play a vital role in shaping the next generation for the future by providing inspiring leadership. Our challenge is to awaken in those we lead, a spirit of continuous learning, growth, and purpose. You must also become the authors of books and training materials, and this may be in collaboration with other stakeholders to produce the best results. Policy-wise, we must elevate the teaching profession by providing adequate training, attractive incentives and a deliberate reorientation. We must also create the platforms for continuous training. We must promote opportunities for innovation within schools, allowing for solutions to be proposed and implemented by principals, teachers, students and other external stakeholders. There must also be a functional feedback mechanism, allowing for continuous improvement as needed in national policy and programs.
- The Civil Service must experience a transformation to institute effectiveness and efficiency in the system. There must be a reduction in the interference of politics in the civil service. This is critical to ensure optimal performance as the public and private sectors collaborate to deliver sustainable learning outcomes for the future. We must mandate the training and continuous development of civil servants, and ensure their remuneration and rewards are attractive. Overall, we must attract brilliant and productive minds to work in the public sphere by restructuring the civil service, improving performance management and rewarding excellence.
- The Private Sector will have three key roles to play in our education system in this pursuit of a thriving nation. They will be the technical partners who provide the much-needed curriculum, administrative and infrastructure advisory and implementation services in our education system. Secondly, they will become partners with the schools to create internships and work-study opportunities for students in secondary, vocational, and tertiary institutions. Thirdly, the private sector will fulfil its Corporate Social Responsibility by creating and plugging into key programs from the Ministry of Education, Non-Governmental Organisations, and Civil Society Organizations to promote different aspects of the policy and programs. There will be a wide range of activities and objectives to plug into as the goal is to raise well-rounded humans. As part of the knowledge continuum, organizations must also prioritize training programs for their staff, promoting a culture of learning as well.
- NGOs and CSOs - Third-sector organizations will move from silo interventions to a cohesive approach to delivering educational outcomes in the formal and informal systems. This will improve results, and emplace adequate monitoring and evaluation of projects and programs. They will work closely with all other stakeholders and be recognised nationally for their contributions to making Nigeria thrive.
- And finally on the list of institutions that will spur our educational transformation, is the Alumni body. That is us, and thousands of others who benefitted from ‘the good old days’ in the Federal Government Colleges and other Institutions of repute across the country. Today, we are political leaders, directors in public institutions, entrepreneurs, global leaders, and heads of companies. To whom much has been given, much is expected. We have a responsibility to lead the charge for the sake of our children and our future. We also have the advantage of nostalgia to fan the passion we need for this transformation journey. We must become ardent policy advocates who will lose sleep until the government adopts the required policy changes and follows through with proper execution. We are also well-positioned to provide Learning Interventions in the forms of mentorship, and even internship opportunities for students and current graduates. We should create structures that enable the alumni to share knowledge regularly and connect with students easily. Thirdly, in partnership with parents, educators, and other stakeholders, we must take the lead in monitoring and evaluating the outcomes of the set goals and objectives. Finally, and in the meantime, we will continue to support with infrastructural interventions and supplementary fundraising in our individual schools. As USOSA, we need to set up an Education Repositioning Cabinet to immediately define the roles and responsibilities we should embody going forward.
Quality Minds - Productive individuals for a thriving nation.
With Africa’s population expected to double by 2050—from its current 1.4 billion to 2.8 billion—Africa’s growing and young consumer market will be the main driver of global demand for consumer, education, health, technological, and infrastructural products and services. We must nurture the quality of minds needed to provide solutions for our present challenges, become the workforce of the future, and sustain the anticipated transformation culture we hope to instil through this new policy.
- Our children will be defined by the following qualities:
- Critical and adaptive thinking.
- Creative, innovative, and technology skills.
- Community-oriented and compassionate individuals.
- Culture of excellence and high expectations.
- Collaborative and competitive global citizen.
- Consummate readers and lifelong learners.
- Confident and charismatic attitudes.
We must get off the slippery slope of low expectations and promote a culture of excellence for our children. As Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore defined it while sharing Singapore’s education direction in 1997, “Excellence does not mean ‘outstanding’. Excellence means each of us at our own level being the best that we can be.” We must be keen on developing the individual child and create options that fuel their passion for their specific talents.
- We must return to our national policy on educating children in our local languages. This is a guaranteed method of instilling national pride and identity, giving children a firm understanding of who they are and how this influences their interaction with their immediate community and the world.
- Our examination and grading system must also reflect this objective to encourage lifelong learning above getting good grades. As and Bs will no longer be a reward for memorization, but a true indication of learning outcomes.
- Interpersonal skills, ethics, diversity, and cultural agility skills will be woven into the fabric of our curriculum to ensure the preparedness of students for real-world experience and global participation. In fact, our schools must bridge the gap between sequestered learning and life applications. Our desire for national integration and unity can best be achieved when each individual recognises their strengths and leverages them for the good of the whole.
- We must also restore inter school competitions for arts, sciences, sports, and entrepreneurial development. This will build confidence and team spirit, and further our cause for national integration and unity.
- Play must be a core part of learning from an early age into adolescence and adulthood. Children should find learning to be a delight, not an arduous chore. Media, entertainment, and education must converge to create content that encourages learning in fun ways until it becomes a part of our existence. We must promote educational shows for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths) Literacy, Current Affairs, and Critical Thinking as we used to have.
- At the core, we will raise a generation of patriotic citizens who understand the immeasurable significance of their existence and contributions to themselves, their families, communities, the nation, and the global community.
I understand that we all came here to hear about the Unity Schools specifically. But I hope I have been able to show you that we can achieve much more for ourselves and our country if we view our education system from an eagle-eye view. We may not be able to do it all at once, but we can start with the chunk we can chew immediately.
Our development and economic progress is largely hinged on the quality of our human capital. Quality education is the bedrock of all economic development. Raising quality minds to build strong institutions for a thriving nation will not happen by accident. It will take our collective effort.
If we do not take action now, and I mean this October into November, we may as well be here again in 5 to 10 years, analysing, pontificating, and postulating solutions to challenges that would be 10 times worse than what we currently face in our education system and in the country.
Who is ready to take action?
Saluting the leaders in training.
I started this address by observing the protocols…
But I must confess that I missed out on the most important people in the room. If you would forgive me, I think I have to start my speech again!
Will every student here do me the honour of rising to your feet? I remember when it was me and my fellow ancestors sitting in the seats you occupy today 47 years ago.
In 2005, when I visited the school as a Minister of the Federal Republic, I remember the feeling of pride that filled my heart as I thought about the very first time I arrived at this school as a little boy.
When we walked in through the gates, weeping as it dawned on us that our parents were serious about leaving us alone in a strange land, neither the principal nor the teachers knew that they were welcoming ministers, scholars, members of the clergy, political leaders, captains of industries, professors, civil servants and generals had walked in. They only saw little children.
I would like to pay my respects to you all, by addressing you as your excellencies, honourable ministers, senators, governors, presidents, scholars and academics, professors, generals, bishops, imams, teachers, distinguished ladies and gentlemen of Federal Government College, Maiduguri. You deserve the applause.
I encourage you to reach for the skies. Obey orders and question them respectfully, if you must. Study hard, participate in school programs and extracurricular activities, build your confidence and nurture the relationships that this school has blessed you with. You will need all of it.
I urge you to shun the vices that will feel good in the moment, but leave you with a lifetime of regrets. Drugs, teenage pregnancies, cultism, violence, and other such vices will derail your career and impede your ability to fulfil your destinies.
Many of our elderly parents are no longer with us today. In the same way, decades from now, we would have taken a bow out of this world, too.
You will be the leaders in whose hands the destiny of our nation will lie. And so, I urge you to be the best you can be, for yourself, your family, your community, your nation, and the world.
Thank you all for listening to me, and more importantly, I thank you for the actions we will take in the coming weeks and months. The time is now. The person is you.
God bless us all.
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