Too Theoretical, less Practical

By Ifeoma Nwulu. Ifeoma is from Lagos, Nigeria

Dictionary.com defines the adjective “theoretical” as being concerned with or involving the theory of a subject or area of study rather than its practical application. In other words, this means there is a presence of abstract terms, hypotheses and speculations. On the other hand, “practical” refers to that which is actually done. Unfortunately, education in my country is too theoretical and this is what I want to change.

As an undergraduate of one the federal universities of Nigeria, I have spent sixteen years in the educational system from primary school up to the tertiary level which I am now in. I have gleaned experience of how theoretical education is over this period of sixteen years. Starting from my primary school, the educational techniques practiced was good enough. In fact, it was better than most and currently the school is among the top ten schools in the nation. There was a true balance between theories and practices. Notes would be taken and we would immediately practice what we had heard and written. Subjects like music, primary science, home economics, computer science and physical health education were fun because we did not just read about them, and we practiced them. And the good part was that there were more than enough facilities to enable these subjects to be practicable. The only problem was the expensive fees which of course not all families could afford and so, we were few in number and I am indeed grateful for such a solid educational foundation.

The truth is I remember more things from my primary school days than my secondary school days all thanks to practice. The years spent in secondary school were in complete contrast to that of my primary school. For instance, computer science which used to be one of my favourite subjects became one of my worst because of the inability to practice.

We would write long notes about how to click on the computer and hardly ever got to see what exactly we were to click. And when we eventually got to see the computer, it would be one computer to four students or even five. In the end, nobody really learnt anything; we would just play the game ‘solitaire’ out of boredom. The music classes involved writing musical notes neither we nor the teacher understood. The only instrument that we were taught to play was the recorder which I already knew how to, thanks to my primary school. These two subjects are just examples; I need not bore you with the rest.

Some would say: “Why complain? Some people never even had inkling about music or the computer until they got to the university.” That is true, I count myself lucky but the practicability of what I was taught got worse as I began my university journey. I could write a thousand things about all that is wrong with the tertiary institutions of my country but that would be another “Tales by Moonlight”. Currently, students of some tertiary institutions have been on a ‘forced vacation’ due to a strike action instigated by a Nigerian union of university academic staff. This strike action has been on for over three months with no end in sight because the government has failed to implement an agreement that it entered into four years ago for the provision of funds for the development of these institutions. There are more factors that limit rather than facilitate the learning of young persons like me in tertiary institutions.

Students in the faculty of engineering are taught how to repair cars without even practicing the “art of repair”; it is all in their deficient notes given to them by their lecturers. Physical science students make do with kerosene stoves rather than Bunsen burners, cram theories and laws of science without actually applying them and never grasping what “physical” really means. Life science students on the other hand read all about their instruments in books. Instruments they may never see or may see in their places of work years after graduation. Medical students on the other hand may indeed never save lives but instead, endanger lives. With insufficient of cadavers to work with and outdated facilities available for use, we might as well be churning out doctors that will kill people rather than save them. The faculty of arts is nothing to write home about. You have final year students of English and literature incapable of writing error free essays or even short stories for children because they have only been given the rules and have never really had an avenue for the development of their writing skills. Those in theatre arts department have even more reasons to lament, no musical instruments available for practice, ill-equipped dance studios for rehearsals and stages that are falling apart are used for the display of their mediocre plays. Accounting, Banking and Finance and the Business Administration departments make up the faculty of Management Sciences. This faculty is to produce men and women who are to function in the business world – a world which is now attached to a fast-paced world of computers. Yet these students are not aware of accounting, banking and business management software that are available and used at work places. All they are actually taught is to draw lines in notes and label the left hand side “DEBIT” and the right hand side “CREDIT” without knowing why.

I could go on and on about the absence of practicability of already taught theories but what good would it do? With my experiences, it is obvious to anyone that as I climbed the ladder, education grew worse. At the beginning of my journey where there was a balance between theories and practices, it was expensive and therefore not available to all. At secondary school level, practicing became a problem and all we could do was read and read and read. The tertiary level is the climax of it all. It is unfortunate to know that many people have accepted this as the modus operandi.

If after spending a minimum of seventeen years trying to get an education and one is still being labeled as incompetent, then of what use is education? Reading is good but it is not enough. One must be able to practice what he or she has learnt. To learn and to be able to apply is great gain to oneself and to humanity. From all the stages of my education discussed above, one can see how vital it is for one to practice theories; this will in turn reduce the amount of problems in my country today. In the words of Thoreau: “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.” Tackling each of these problems will be a ‘thousand hacking at the leaves’ but changing the ‘too theoretical, less practical’ form of education in my country would be ‘one striking at the root.’

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