“Libraries raised me. I do not believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students do not have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days for 10 years” – Ray Bradbury
The other day, Ms Modele Sarafa Yusuf of Channels Television interviewed the Pro-Chancellor and founder of Afe Babalola University, Are Afe Babalola. One of the interesting details that struck this writer was the display of Babalola’s curriculum vitae on television. It reads as follows: General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (by correspondence); General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (by correspondence); LLB (by correspondence).
This unusual CV suggests that one of the country’s top notch legal luminaries is a self-taught citizen who did not have any formal schooling in the sense of sitting in a classroom beyond primary school level. This feat, it should be noted, was somewhat common in Babalola’s generation and for some decades after it; bringing to the table the question of what exactly has happened to erase self-education from the national landscape. Institutions of learning are proliferating; we now have over 125 universities. Yet, standards are outrageously low, while quality education remains an elusive goal.
Part of the problems as the opening quote by celebrated American fantasy, horror and science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, suggests, is the undue emphasis on formal education in which being taught replaces learning and the adventure of informal education. Leaf through the archive and you will find that many of the world’s outstanding scholars, writers and inventors were largely self-taught, having, like Bradbury, dropped out of school because of poverty. The list is a long one; it includes American writer, Herman Melville, author of the magnificent Moby Dick; Portuguese writer, Jose Saramago, who dropped out of school at the age of 13 but won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. There also is Gilbert Chesterton, influential English writer, who famously quipped that “without a gentle contempt for education, no man’s education is complete.” Talking of contempt for formal education, there is another group of geniuses who had formal education but like the foremost literary theorist, Terry Eagleton, who studied at Cambridge, maintain that their formal education was a waste of time. Recall too Wole Soyinka who, when admonished to take a doctorate by his colleagues at the University of Ibadan retorted scornfully, “Who will supervise it?”
This writer does not intend to minimise the benefits of formal education if for no other reason than that I earn a living by dispensing “education” in the formal setting of a university. However, it should be obvious by now and given the descent into what we may call certificated illiteracy that any serious reinvention of our educational system must step back in time to recapture the lost virtue of self-education and lifelong learning. Before amplifying this further, I crave the reader’s indulgence to enter a short take.
“The recent bailout to states owing arrears of salaries by the Federal Government may have its good sides, but I would have thought that bailout should be preceded by a diagnosis of how and why the recipients got to the prison and mess where they are”. The Speaker is Prof. Dipo Kolawole, a former vice-chancellor, University of Ado Ekiti. The occasion was an International Conference on “Issues and Challenges in Africa’s Quest for Development” organised by the Faculty of Administration, Obafemi Awolowo University on Wednesday and Thursday. Putting to work a contingency arrangement, the faculty defied a siege on campus by the Non Academic Staff Union by relocating the conference to Hotel DE Treasure in Ile-Ife.
As the Dean of the faculty, Prof. Taiwo Asaolu, observed, the international conference constitutes an attempt to resurrect a scholarly tradition begun by Professor Bamitale Omole, the current vice-chancellor of the university, who as dean of the faculty eight years ago, organised an elaborate international parley of the same kind. Kolawole explained in his address that Africa will not develop in any meaningful sense of that word without getting right such matters as leadership failure deepened by followers who celebrate criminals as heroes, poor security architecture, badly eroded educational systems, weak governance infrastructure as well as endemic corruption of government. One of the controversial issues raised at the conference concerns the divorce between knowledge workers and policymakers with some wondering whether policies and politics avail themselves of insights generated at forums like the conference. This of course remains an open question especially in the light of increasing searchlight on the Buhari administration regarding the nature and direction of the “Change” agenda.
To get back to the discourse on self-education, it should be clear that the current feverish search for degrees and diplomas at all costs without the corroborating amenity of self-education on the part of students is a dead end. The story was told of how a first class student from one of our universities struggled to pass courses at the postgraduate level. One of his lecturers, baffled by this paradox, commented that the student was only “a good examinee”, who obviously never enticed himself to undertake any serious reading outside of his lecture notes. In other words, a healthy emphasis on informal and lifelong education would have better prepared the student for graduate education and in addition for traces of original thinking.
The reason the older generation of Nigerians represented by Babalola could educate themselves sitting at home is because they cultivated independent study habits which did not rely on classroom instruction. At another level, the virtual absence of a lifelong education culture despite the Internet generated information outlets explains the gap which employers have found between the brandishing of several degrees and the capacity to cope with the peculiar challenges of the work place. This of course is not a problem peculiar to Nigeria but it is deepened by the lack of self-education habits on the part of our youths.
Have you wondered, to take another dimension of the problem, why there is such a huge gap between our academic community and the professions? Why for instance do our mass communication departments not invite distinguished journalists to teach courses in say, print journalism or editorial writing, as is the case in several other countries? In the United States, the tradition of appointing “professors of practice” seeks to remedy the defects of a formalised educational culture devoid of exposure to the real world but such notions are alien to our own system frozen in autocratic mediocrity.
A creative adoption of self-education will ensure that our professionals, many of whom are crusty and out of tune with modern trends refresh their skills through programmes of lifelong learning. Indeed, it is suggested that henceforth, the licences of our professionals should be renewed, subject to their showing evidence of having acquired up to date knowledge. A university lecturer who relies on classroom notes that are two decades old cannot be expected to have much educational influence.
It is time to revisit the values and virtues of self-education.