May 9, 2021


..where you get familiar with everything happening

Rethinking Formal Education In Nigeria By Benedict Okhumale

6 min read


I recently accompanied a friend of mine to his children’s school, a private schoolin Lagos State. It was the occasion of the schools visiting day – a day set aside for the parents to visit the school and assess the performance of their kids, as well as to get feedback from the teachers. I was allowed to sit in the classroomwhile my friend looked through the notebooks of his daughter. The daughter wasin primary 3. As my friend checked the books I counted 17 notebooks. I was

bewildered! I inquired about the average age of the pupils in the class and the teacher told me 7years. on further enquiry she explained that English language alone had been broken down to 5 subjects and so forth. I felt the kids were

overloaded and overburdened.

I remember listening to a lecturer in a private university in Nigeria expressing his frustrations over the theoretical workload National Universities Commission NUC insist must form the teaching curriculum for a course that is very practical in it’s application.


I remember been taught Paschal Programming Language (a first generation programming language) in a computer science course (elective) in my time in the

University. At that time Paschal had become outdated yet I had to pass the

course examination which included writing codes in Paschal to merit my

Bachelor’s degree in Zoology.

I and my wife usually introspect about the relevance of the knowledge of

dissecting a cockroach and other insects we had to dissect and draw, the

Almighty formula (in mathematics) and a lot of things we learnt from primary

through secondary school to university, to our current realities. And infact we

struggle to remember most of the things we learnt over several years because we have never had to use the information after our formal schooling. In

retrospect It looks like time and efforts wasted. All the times we had to go to

classes, take notes, take continuous assessment test, all the sleepless nights we spent reading so as to pass our exams, the monies spent and so forth could

have been invested in more productive endeavours. How can anyone explain

how a graduate of engineering, zoology, botany, end up as a teller or marketer in a bank? Bsc holders of almost all disciplines working as call center personnel for telecommunication companies. Only a handful of university graduate work in

related field and apply a fraction of what they learnt in the university.

A friend of mine travelled abroad for his Master’s degree abroad and ended up in Canada, working after studying up to PhD level. His first degree was in

Zoology (Environmental studies major) obtained in Nigeria. He heads the

environmental department in his work place in Canada. He told me recently that in the course of his work he puts to use virtually all he has learnt up to his

PhD education.

Education should be functional. The skill set needs of the economy should

dictate what the educational system produces. Our case appears to be the other way round. There a lot of courses that are either obsolete and should be

scrapped or the curriculum revised or the admission into the courses rationed in line with the demand of the economy.

In time past my Dad started work as a clerk with his secondary level education and retired as a permanent secretary in the public service with on the job

trainings. He was appointed permanent secretary after about 30years of service. He didn’t need to have a university degree. He joined the public service with his secondary school level certificate and rose to the pinnacle on the basis of



In Nigeria today, it appears that if one has not attended a university “e no get

level” (not useful). Formal education up to secondary school or university is not

the only key to success. There are lots of people who underwent apprenticeship (informal education) after primary and secondary school either as traders,

farmers, artisans and they are putting to practice what they learnt and are useful to themselves and society. Infact some formally educated people are in the

employment of informally educated people. Formal education has become a

status symbol rather than a process of acquiring useful and applicable

knowledge and skills. It’s a thing of shame to even attend a technical or

commercial school these days. People who attend technical and commercial

schools are considered dullards. Whereas our economy now needs more of

technical and commercial skills. There are too many unemployed and unemployable graduates out there already and we are churning out more. You can become a technology game changer without having to attend a university. You can

become a successful farmer with expanse of cultivated farmlands without a

university degree. There are examples of men and women who earned wealth

from farming, transportation and commerce without any formal education. They

achieved their business successes through a combination of apprenticeship,

native intelligence and learning on the job. Some of them sent their children to

formal education up to graduate level and their graduate children are unable to manage their parents’ businesses or even start and succeed in their own

business or even chosen careers.

I grew up in Igarra in Edo state, Nigeria. My dad was in the public service but

engaged in farming during his off days. He had learnt a bit of from his own

father. I joined my father to the farm and I learnt a lot about crop farming and bit of poultry farming. My mum was a teacher in a public primary school. She too engaged in petty trading. Through my mum, I learnt how to mill palm oil,

groundnut oil, production of “garri”, pastries, plantain chip etc. We produced for our consumption and sometimes sold some. No one told me and my siblings

and neighbours’ children who worked with us that we could build a successful and fulfilling business from one or all of the products my mum produced. For

our parents we were just “passing time”. We had to undergo formal education

up to university level. It was unthinkable for a teenager to be earning money.

More so formal education up to university level was the minimum standard. A lot of our parents at the time didn’t attend the university, and they felt deprived, so they wanted their children to attend at all cost. Parents were shamed for not

sending their children to acquire university education. I was also a good

footballer but that wasn’t going to be a career. I am educated up to post-graduated level but I am nowhere near what Kanu Nwankwo, Tuface Idibia and a host of others within my age bracket have acquired materially and even in local and

international recognitions.


Do we blame our parents for not knowing better and insisting we attended

formal education up till university level and sometimes choose the course we

studied? Do we blame the guidance and counselling system? Do we blame the government and its appointed education regulatory agencies for not thinking out of the box ? Should we blame our society for been resistant to proffered

educational reforms? It is evident that there are fundamental problems with our

formal education system and everyone should share in the blame. All hands

must therefore be on deck to make the necessary sacrifices required to correct the anomalies for the sake of the future.


I will end this article by recommending we rethink our subsisting formal

educational system. We should focus most of our resources – money, labour and material on truly compulsory and qualitative primary education and secondary

level education (technical and commercial).

For primary level of education, the curriculum should be less theoretical learning and more practical, adaptable elementary skills that our economy requires now and in the near future. Skills required in an agricultural value chain, building and construction technology, Information and communication technology skills as we as basic commercial skills.

Technical and commercial education at the secondary level should focus on

building on the foundation of the primary school education. The Curriculum

should emphasize practical learning for the first 3 years then next 2years for

compulsory internship (during internship and apprenticeship they earn a stipend

that take care of basic living expense).  Afterwards they should be ready to be absorbed into the economy. Whilst in paid employment or self-employment there will be short specialised trainings for continues skills improvement and knowledge upgrade

University will then be for research focused learning for the needs of the

economy and a few courses like medicine, pharmacy, law etc.

University education should be purely private sector driven, with grants and

scholarships available purely on merit.

2 thoughts on “Rethinking Formal Education In Nigeria By Benedict Okhumale

  1. Benedict this was well written and conveys my thoughts as well. The economic needs must drive the educational curriculum.

  2. I must commend Ben for a well articulated treatise on a very critical issue for the Nigeria’s project, refocusing our educational enterprise, making it more functional and relevant to our collective aspirations as a nation state. Does Nigeria as a country have a collective aspiration? Do we really have a Nigerian dream? Is Nigeria a functional or a failed state? Is our collective social contract, that’s the Nigerian constitution, functional or or a dead, purposeless document which was fraudulently constructed to give a certain tribe or ethnic group an economic and political advantage? All these are the fundamental questions that we need to sincerely ask ourselves before we can get the educational sector right.

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