Working in the education sector has meant needing to reflect on the whole purpose of education. Is it for educating the workforce to contribute to the economy, teaching people to be responsible and aware of issues in the world, teaching and equipping people with lifelong skills (including social skills) or teaching people to think critically and question what they see? I have concluded that education for a country like Nigeria should focus on the latter, as this leads to inventive and innovative ideas – essentials for lifelong learning, and job and wealth creation. It is without a shadow of a doubt that the development of any nation depends on the ability of its people to think critically. Steven D. Schafersman describes critical thinking as ‘reasonable, reflective, responsible, and skillful thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do. A critical thought process imbues the person with the ability to ask appropriate questions, gather relevant information, efficiently and creatively sort through this information, reason logically from this information, and come to reliable and trustworthy conclusions about the world that enable one to live and act successfully in it.’ This is an essential tool as the realities of life are best challenged by the appropriate action taken,which is influenced by the thought process. I remain convinced that the difference between a developed and a developing nation is the thinking ability and capability of its people.
The clear lack of critical thinking skills and an inability to question what we see has had huge repercussions for Nigeria’s development. The new basic curriculum states that teachers should teach ‘critical thinking’ in primary but teachers themselves are victims of the deficient internal system that discourages independent thinkers, problem solving, creativity and innovation and where much of the teaching that goes on is teacher-led with little or no input from the students. We have increased the number of school-age children enrolled in schools (although there are still 11 million currently not in school!). Nigerian learning institutions have inadvertently contributed to huge influxes of passive students from primary to tertiary levels who lack discovery learning, discussion and problem-solving skills and a people who cannot take reflective decisions on their own.
In the employment sector, this lack of critical thinking and questioning is manifest in the country’s reliance on the downstream sector for its revenue but not job security for its people. The oil sector contributes 70% to the national revenue but employs pnly 5% of the total workforce including an additional 5% who are engaged in industrial activity, whereas agriculture contributes 26% to the national revenue but employs the largest numbers – 70%. A critical-thinking nation is aware that the focus should be on agriculture to create diverse subsectors – from mechanised farming, storage and transportation to adopting locally produced and appropriate technology that is accessible to the vast majority of the population, who are subsistence farmers, enabling them to feed themselves and the wider population. Instead, Nigeria, the largest producer of rice in West Africa, deploys its scarce resources by spending $1.3bn to import rice annually.
Consequently, we are a nation where thinking is not encouraged and is even considered deviant behaviour. Why? For those who have not been through formal schooling, there are other ways in which they have been indoctrinated. In family life, obedience and respect are intertwined; at work only the boss has the key to creative business plans. Regarding faith, total ‘acceptance’ of the doctrine is non-negotiable, all of which has meant that, in all areas of life, we lack the ability to think beyond and make decisions on valid proof. Instead, we are a nation of emotional thinkers – where emotions are evidence for the truth.
Recommendations include :
• training teachers and university lecturers by qualified professionals with relevant materials to deliver the ‘critical thinking’ curriculum;
• State governments to continue with retraining teachers to be student-centred in their teaching and learning;
• Corruption lessons to ascertain why people engage in such practices (is it to seek fair or preferential treatment?), and the implications of such actions?;
• parents/educators allowing children to think about their actions and consequences;
• and encouraging children/students to make decisions that build problem-solving skills.
These are forging lifelong skills that will assist them as they make their way in the world.
Clearly, there is a gap in the thinking mentality of the people but the key question is ‘can education fill that gap by teaching people to think critically and question what they see?’
Abiola Sanusi, Education Specialist, Riplington & Associates