There are more than one perspective from which to consider the plague of mushroom schools and substandard schools in many parts of Nigeria. As many people have, one could reduce it to an organizational problem resulting from the failure of government in regulating such an important social institution. This perspective, however, does not help us to fully understand why the proliferation of this social menace persists at an alarming rate. And I believe that the legislation and regulations needed to put an end to this abominable infestation will continue to elude our political representatives, if we do not understand how or why this problem has grown into a huge sector of our society, which, I believe, is going to influence our collective futures in ways that are not positive. The perspective I’d like to consider here is the ideological one which covers a huge expanse of cultural ground, and raises a wider range of critical questions.

I was going to commence this article with the assumption that most people understand the value of qualitative education, and the need for great schools as a necessity for the apprehension of that quality. I resisted that temptation to assume, having seriously considered the prevalence of substandard schools, and the level of contact that too many of us have had with them as students, staff, founder, co-founder, relative to founder, clients or customers at certain capacities, at a time in the past, or whether we’re considering such contact in the future. It is most unfortunate that the popularity of these cheap business establishments has desensitized people to the intellectual danger they pose.

For a moment, I also considered the need to write a long well-researched argument about the connection between the grade of schools and the quality of education the school offers. But why bother, when there is a shorter and much more powerful argument: the obvious fact that financial status of parents and guardians is directly proportional to the grade of school a child attends. If the children of wealthy Nigerians aren’t studying abroad, they would be in the best private institutions that are running on foreign curriculum. There are strong reasons to believe that the choice of school for wealthy kids is not based solely on status, it has a lot to do with quality of education and the future prospects of the students. If we’re being honest, it’s obvious that the rest of the populace have caught up with this academic secret of the upper class, as we have exhibited in instances where we contribute money to remove a “lucky” child from a poorly-funded school into a better-funded private one.

The paramount questions on my mind, at this point, is about why we have chosen to allow something which we know to be of poor quality, and something that would poorly influence the future of a huge percentage of citizens intellectually, economically, and politically, to not only survive but thrive. As a people, how are we rationalizing away the destinies of multitudes of students whose academic fate is left in the rusty web of schools, curriculum and system with no promise of excellence? What ideological deals have we made in acceptance of a reality in which the value of education and benefits of schools have become privileges, not rights? And, is this destiny-altering trade-off really ours to make? What sort of calamity are we preserving and packaging for future generations, with our current neglect and complacency?

There are many expedient questions that we need to grapple with as a people within our current educational climate. But there is one claim I can make without apology: we have not proven ourselves to be people that can be trusted with the destinies of future generations.

Before we put this blame of substandard schools and poor education at the feet of a handful of public officials and policies, it helps a lot more to consider the root and power source of this problem. The government and their slack policies might contribute to this phenomenal problem, the enormity of which many of us have not gotten our heads around, but the government is not alone in perpetuating the problem. Things didn’t get so bad because of the failings of a few people in power. This is a systemic breakdown for which hardly any member of our society can claim innocence.

Like many Nigerians, I found out how the business of school establishment works years ago. It is very similar to the business of organized religion. Perhaps, this is why there is such an overlap in practices between many of our schools and religious centers. With increase in economic poverty and decrease in shared values and social integrity, in addition to porous regulations, the stage was set a long time ago for a disastrous education system. Anyone who has ever taught in a private school knows that it is financially reasonable and profitable to start your own tutoring service, which would most likely grow into a school, instead of slaving for a proprietor. The logic is simple: it is better to become a greedy and exploitative proprietor instead of slaving for one. The number of people who have experimented and succeeded with this business logic is reflective of the numbers of people currently attempting to try out their luck via the same path.

The establishments that result from the logic above are always far from the ideal. And the reason for this can be reduced to one word: POVERTY. A financial poverty that has progressed into a deep and deeply shared poverty of the mind and soul. A poverty that has its own ideologies. Poverty that spiritualizes problems that money can solve. Poverty that pushes material needs and the need to make money to the top of the scale of priority and ranking of values. A viral poverty that perpetuates itself along with its ideologies.

When one compares the high-standard facilities with the substandard educational facilities that majority of our future labour market are being exposed to, one has to wonder if the minds of the “unlucky” and unfortunate students are not being molded into accepting and adjusting to every other substandard treatments all through their lives. At what point in the adult lives of these students would they ever feel they deserve better, or demand for anything better concerning their health, security, economy, and so on

As quickly as I can, I’ll highlight three ideological flaws fueling this cultural furnace that is burning up our future.

The first and the most obvious ideological flaw that has blinded us as a people to our slippery slope decline into intellectual demise is that we’re confused or uncertain about the value of education on a societal scale. We seem to have no idea as to how our current negligence might impact everything about our collective futures.

The fundamentally discriminatory ideology that anything is better than nothing for a category of citizens in the majority is absolutely counter-productive for any society of people. There are societies that would consider our current predicament as a national disaster. One of such societies is Finland, which passed into law, decades ago, the bill that would ensure that all Finnish children, no matter their financial background, would benefit from the same standard of education, in the same school, and in the same classroom.

Finland as a country is reaping the benefit of their ideological investment and commitment, as we will reap the consequence of our current negligence.

The second ideological flaw is a direct aftermath of our poverty-plated economism. We have allowed the business mode of thinking to overstep its boundaries. I made a distinction between a society of people and that of parasites in my book, Vantage View, by drawing a bold line between business mentality and ministry mindset. Understood from the appropriate cultural height, the ministry mindset is the mode of reasoning which places emphasis on service —rendering aids; proffering solution to real problems and meeting real needs, while the business mentality is the mode of reasoning that places material profit over and above all else.

I admit the obvious point that it doesn’t have to be a deal as exclusive as I’ve painted it out, however, at the risk of sounding simplistic, I strongly suggest that we need to recognize the psycho-social fact that the ultimate doctrine of the ministry mindset is diametrically different from that of the business mentality. One is of service, while the other is of profit.

A reflective consideration of the Nigerian society shows that there is an abundance of the business mode of reasoning amongst us, but too little of the ministry mindset.

How many Nigerians do you know, who are more interested in solving our social problems than they are in profiting off those problems?

It is quite understandable that there are people who might not be willing to accept the radical dichotomization I’ve done here with business and ministry, pitching one against the other, however, we all must come to terms with the fact that life, too often than we’re willing to admit, presents situations where one of business mode or ministry mode has to take precedence. And it is very obvious that, in Nigeria, one of the two has certainly won the social platform, and it has done so at the expense of the other. Personal need has become the most important need. Our brains have practically dropped into our pockets.

Can anyone honestly dispute the fact that it is the socially unhealthy excessive exaltation of the business mode that has shaped –or better put, misshaped, many of our social institutions, especially the schools?
Reasonable people in saner climes are handling schools and the education of their progeny as a ministry, not a money machinery that every hopeful, wide-eyed entrepreneur can and should exploit.

Moving on very quickly to the third and final ideological flaw I’ll be considering in this post: the parasitic culture of opportunism —a direct offspring of the business mode of reasoning. It appears that the increase in poverty has resulted in the explosion of motivational speakers who have made response to adversities or challenges, and attitude towards opportunities a major topic of interest in their career.

Many of these economic soothsayers, who have increased exponentially in Nigeria in the last couple of decades, bear persuasive but socially destructive materialistic prophecies. They succeed in this outrageous profession by getting followers as emotionally high and intellectually low as possible. This new priesthood in Nigeria has unwittingly influenced a society of paupers whose imaginations have been stretched to a desperate point, with consciences; minds; and hearts focused on opportunities, and very little is reserved for principles and values.

It is interesting that in the same list of witty definitions where a cigarette is called “a pinch of tobacco rolled in paper with fire at one end and a fool at the other end”, an opportunist is also called “a person who starts taking a bath if he or she accidentally falls into a river.” The Encarta dictionary defines an opportunist as unprincipled resourceful person: somebody who takes advantage of something, especially somebody who does so in a devious, unscrupulous, or unprincipled way.” Many individuals will find that general description of an opportunist as being quite oxymoronic. Culture of opportunism has taught people to merge being resourceful with the ability to take advantage of any or every situation for the purpose of making profit or gain. As a matter of fact, this culture has created a circumstantial ethics in which the just mentioned attributes are considered values or principles to be espoused by all. Hence, the classification of a resourceful person who has the ability to take advantage of situations or things as equally being unprincipled, unscrupulous, and devious is a huge oxymoron.

The English dictionary with text extracted from Wiktionary.org defines opportunism as “the practice of taking advantage of any situations or people to achieve an end, often with no regard for principles or consequences.” In light of this definition, the thought of Francis Bacon that “Opportunity makes a thief” does seem more meaningful and menacing. In other words, when the morality of values; principles and consequences becomes relegated, the category of “right” and “wrong” becomes a mirage, or a matter of mere sentimentalism.

This leads to the ultimate tragedy of an opportunistic framework, which is not merely that opportunity is placed over and above principles, but that opportunity can outrightly erase and replace moral sensibility; sensitivity to certain values and principles; and the human ability to choose.

The mushroom school phenomenon is thriving because of the growing acceptance of opportunism that prevails at the expense of values, principles, and even at the expense of the notion of passion and purpose. This is not a structural failure that we can push around like a ball in a blame game, it is a cultural failure that we must all take responsibility for as a people —a failure that will haunt us for centuries to come!

I admit that I cannot fully explore the can of worms I have cracked open with this post. My intention in writing this piece is simply to open the can and have everyone begin to deal with the irritation we’ve been stifling.

Note that I have only lightly touched on a small aspect of a poor structure of many of our schools. This is not about the essence and value of education, or even the structuring of schools. And what about the curriculum?

I borrowed ideas from my book and, in some cases, quoted directly to make a lot of points in this post. Vantage View is a book to watch out for!

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