I am extremely pleased to be here this evening representing the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari who would have been here.
(Since the representative of the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory has given the key to Abuja, I have the permission to give the key to Nigeria so that you are all welcome to visit everywhere in the country.)
It is, as I said, a great pleasure to be here on this auspicious occasion of the 65th Annual Council Meeting of the West African Examinations Council. WAEC has in these years become one of the truly iconic institutions in our region. And I agree with the Honorable Minister of Education that there is hardly any Nigerian under the age of 60 or even older who has not had to be subject to a WAEC examination. Indeed, there are those who would say that the fear of WAEC is in some sense a way to being wise.
It is truly worthy of commendation that a sub-regional body which predates the independence of most of its members is still alive, relevant and growing from strength to strength. Every year we see more and more people subscribing to WAEC examinations and we see the examination body itself coping with the growing number of people and more challenges, this is truly worthy of commendation.
As this is a gathering of educators and I believe I can also describe myself as one, permit me the indulgence of some reflection on the idea of refocusing our philosophy of education in our sub-region.
What does educational success require today? What does it mean to be educated today? What do we as examiners look for as a measure of performance? Traditionally, philosophies of education have focused on what we should teach and that of course is crucial.
However, it is perhaps more important today to emphasize how we should teach, which obviously would impact how we should examine and what questions we should be asking and what it is that we should look for in our students. But regarding what we should teach, it is in my respectful view that it is more important now than ever before, to redefine success.
Today, the acquisition of wealth, power, or educational attainment or influence is the mark of success which isn’t necessarily a bad thing except that we are no longer concerned with the process or means of attaining success. The end, it appears today, justifies the means, which explains why cheating in exams and fake certificates simply do not generate the sort of outrage that such conduct would have generated years ago.
Often, cheating is with the collusion of parents and teachers. But this only reflects the larger failure of values in our societies. Public servants and many in private sector positions who have unexplainable phenomenal wealth are celebrated in one form or the other – alumni recognitions, honorary degrees, chieftaincy titles and even high religious titles.
So, education and educational policies within a milieu of collapsed values and leadership failure is a totally different kind of task. When values in society have collapsed, when they have been upturned, the role of the educator, the role of the policy maker is completely different unlike when values are maintained, by and large.
At the moment, what we find is that we are almost pretending that values are still where they are because the way that we develop policy and the way we teach assumes that values are exactly where they were perhaps 65 years ago but that is not the case as you and I know.
So, it is the challenge of our generation and time, as educators and as policy makers to set the moral and ethical standards that will define this new time and this new period that we are in, standards that emphasize integrity of the means by which success is attained and what it means to be successful. This will mean using and developing curricula that emphasize integrity, self-denial, and hard work.
Somehow we must break through the false notion that success is obtainable by miracles and not hard work. How do we ensure that what we teach engenders positive work ethics?
It is also obvious that a major problem in many developing countries is planning and organization. Anyone who has served in government in any of our countries will know that planning and organization, and simply getting things done, starting and finishing things is a problem.
So, in developing curricular and teaching material, we must not and cannot avoid teaching young people without including planning, organization, collaboration and team work ethic. These have become absolutely important because no matter how knowledgeable people are, if they can’t plan, if they can’t work together, and can’t depict the right work ethic, then practically all of the education they have acquired is useless.
Regarding the issue of how we teach, this is fundamental. Learning by rote or cramming is how we have always done it. This excludes critical thinking, introspection and analysis, and so it essentially involves cramming materials and regurgitating it at exams.
Education must rigorously encourage curiosity. The mind of the young ought to be trained to question scientific and social phenomena – to think, to reason, to interrogate issues, to contest ideas, to be introspective. There are today accessible tools for this type of pedagogy. So today you have coding, basic computer programming, even animation production are now readily available.
In any event, it is becoming clear that technology has forced a shift in the paradigms of commerce, the practice of professions and ultimately development. Since innovation and creativity are the engines of technology itself, we cannot realistically teach this generation without methodology that emphasizes creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving as fundamental outcomes.
It follows also that how we examine should be driven by the same considerations, the sort of answers that we should be looking for, the kind of questions that we should be setting for exams, the outcomes that we expect should reflect in many ways what we are teaching and we should be teaching more critical thinking, more problem solving and the of outcomes that will produce the kind of individuals who are able to think through systems and who are able to innovate.
Let me just say that my experience as both a law teacher and as a person in government is that we need in young people and for everyone who is associated with the work of government to be able to ask certain questions and we need to encourage an atmosphere where people ask questions. So, people are interrogating all of the things that they come across.
I found that as a teacher, you expect that a student in your class should be able to solve legal problems but the way that people are taught is not necessarily to solve legal problems; it is to assimilate the material and give it back to you on examination day and that affects everything. It affects how the lawyer develops, it affects whether or not the lawyer will be able to look at all of the material required to bring justice and to bring succor to client or to society.
So, I think that our emphasis must be on encouraging a thinking society, a society that can question.
I like to again congratulate all of you and wish you very well indeed as you continue today’s event and it is my honour to formally declare this meeting open.
Prof. Yemi Osinbajo
Federal Republic of Nigeria