On a certain occasion, I was to travel from Abakaliki to Ishiagu. Both locations are in Ebonyi State, Nigeria. Somehow, a family member offered to give me a ride: from Abakaliki to my destination. The journey was a smooth one, without any hitch. We travelled in a Mercedes Benz car, model 200. I was in the company of the man who offered to help, his wife, and their daughter of about 3 years old.
During the course of the journey, we stopped at several “police check points”. On getting to the first check point, the following ensued:
[One of the Police men on duty flagged down our car. The driver stopped]
Police officer: Good day Sir. Where are you going to?
The man: Ishiagu.
Police officer: Can I see your driving license?
[Man brings it out].
The man: This is it.
The police officer looks intensely at it.
Police officer: Can I see your other particulars?
The man goes for it at the side of his door; gets it out and hands it to the police officer.
The man: Look at them.
The police officer flips through, still putting-up a stern face he had from the moment the car approached the “check-point”. The daughter whispers to the father.
The daughter: Daddy why not just give them money let us pass.
Imagine a girl of three, with such a mindset? Imagine what such a child will turn out to be if, at three, she knows that what is required to “get-going” is to give some money? She has already been taught into thinking that bribery, or ‘doing it the fast way’ is ‘the best way’. This gets stuck with her: her perception of herself and others, in fact, her general view of the world and how it should be lived in. At this little girl’s tender age, her mindset has already been distorted by such a destructive mode of living. It will not be difficult for any right-thinking person to project into the future to see what kind of person our girl of three would be if she is not helped to unlearn some of the principles she has been taught already. Such a projection is meaningful and reliable because one of the primary characteristics of the human mind and personality formation is some form of rigidity: it is never easy to get someone to unlearn something(s) that he/she was taught at a very tender age.
The little story around which I am presenting my answers to the question “If there was one thing you could change to improve education in your country, what would it be?” took place in Nigeria. I am a Nigerian. And, my position and answer to the question is in relation to my country, Nigeria. Based on my personal experiences and readings, I have strong reasons to hold that the problem I identified with the little girl of three in my short story (mindset) is the same problem that is bedeviling Nigeria’s educational system.
The term, ‘mindset’, is defined by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2006: p. 934) as a set of attitudes or fixed ideas that somebody has and that is often difficult to change. On the basis of this definition, it is understandable that an individual or a society’s predominant mindset has a lot of determining influence on the educational process of the individual or the members of a society. For instance, some students conclude that they cannot do a particular difficult, though very useful thing. They would not even attempt it. Yet, they carry around supposedly first-hand information that that thing is difficult. Very unfortunately, they find available, lazy minds like them who will just accept their testimony that the thing is “hard”. They will not attempt also. Ben Carson was right when he described the brain (interlinked to the mind) as a complete network of billions of cells which could be stimulated at one point/part to remember vividly with recognizable details an event that happened like 60 years back. What happens if one continuously feeds the brain/mind with signals of negativities? If and when this is always the case, it will be useless hope to expect success from any human being with such mindset.
Further Elucidations: Mindset and Nigeria’s Educational System
Currently in Nigeria, the mindset of many Nigerian citizens is characterized by negativities, unwillingness to challenge the status quo, complacency and the shallow readiness to ‘just get going’. There is generally a low level of readiness to strongly stand for the right thing and at whatever cost. People want to get going: “any how”, “by all means”, “cutting corners”, and “by the help of those-who-know-those-who-know-those… who are in political positions.”
In the process and also because of the above situation, abnormal things are handled as if they are normal. In the words of Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen (in An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions, 2013, p. 9), we are interested in organizing our “failures rather than curing them”. We manage intolerable situations we are not involved in, or because those who have the means to take care of the situations are not from our place. The greater percentage of our population, because of the focus on government jobs, is just interested in acquiring papers from one educational institution or the other, in the name of “certificates”. Any people, young and old, acquire educational certificates by “all means”; only very a small percentage is interested in the integration of ‘virtue’ and ‘knowledge’ in the process of acquiring the certificate by “all means”.
Our ‘spirit’ of invention is totally dead, if it ever was alive. I recall several occasions in my first year in senior high school: our biology teacher came to teach us with some pieces of paper that were in shreds. The pen marks were already fading. After teaching us, he handed out those shreds to our class prefect and told him to handle his “teaching note” with care. He said that he taught the past ten sets of students before us with that same note. From the hubris that accompanied his voice, one could judge very correctly that he was still going to teach more sets with those shreds called “teaching note”. What kind of invention could possibly come out of this kind of education? Laxity and laziness of both the education administrators and the students are the features of mindset of the students being taught by such a teacher in my school and in so many other schools where thousands like him are taking care of young people, young and fragile minds. By his action and self-presentation, what he was loudly speaking to us, now has meaning to me: “I am proudly stagnated. If the world likes let it move on, let it keep evolving. I love it this way. I cannot kill myself. After all, if you carry civil service on your shoulder, you will die early. Aah! It is so comfortable to be dormant and stagnant.” This man, and his likes, that enter our classrooms as our teachers, desire and are interested in only one thing: that they get their monthly salary. They are neither interested where the trend currently is in their field (if they have an area of specialization), where the trend would be in the future, nor about the development and future of their students. Teachers with such a mindset cannot produce students with mindsets any different from theirs – except, some students who, thanks to their stars, are able to get linked to people with different and better mindset to pursue what is good, noble, and necessary.
But, what about those who might not have been quite as lucky to meet better teachers? Does it mean they should be left with their destructive mindset: a mindset which destroys not only them, but also all those they meet, those they work with, and society at large? No! And, having highlighted what I think the basic problem is, let me indicate how I think the change can be effected.
If we recall the definition of “mindset” by Oxford Dictionary, an individual or a group’s predominant mindset is always difficult to change. Yet, I think that mindsets can be changed. Therefore, I can initiate a change in the mindset of my people by taking the following steps:
(a) Convince a group of like-minded university undergraduates and all students on why we need to change;
(b) Convince this group to combine activism with peaceful demonstrations and demands for change – on the part of our fellow students and on the part of our teachers and school administration;
(c) We would be attentive to seize the slightest opportunity(ies) to appeal to fellow country-men and women to rethink our mindset. Our argument will be that we all should look into the future to see that if we do not change the way we live our lives and plan for the future of our children, it will be destructive for us and for our children.