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    Friday, November 24, 2023

    Obafemi on Nigerian University Education in Constant Transition – Part 2

    By Tony Afejuku

    Education, the story and the storyteller

    As I implied in the epigrams above, the Humanities disciplines – be they song/music, literature, philosophy, history, the media and religion – provide the stories which give meaning to life, even to the discoveries of science and technology as found in the researches that emerge from university education.

    Omonijon and her animal friends

    The fable of Omonijon from my Okun homestead, part of which is Oworo in Lokoja here where this new federal university is sited is instructive. Omonijon gives nourishment to both the body and soul of each of her animal friends. Very briefly, this is the story:

    A king in a certain kingdom married two wives. Each gave birth to a child in the wee hours of the morning. The senior wife, a rough sleeper, trampled her child to death. She rushed the lifeless child to the riverside and dumped her there.

    But she was caught by the village’s head-hunter. She struck a bargain of a monthly ransom remittal to silence him. She rushed back to the house, armed with a stone, bathed in a ram’s blood and replaced it with the living child of the innocent junior wife. Judgment was passed in favour of the evil senior and the junior was banned from the village and flung into the evil forest at the mercy of wild animals.

    Her natural kindness bore witness. She made a good pounded yam meal which attracted the hungry nostrils of the animals that were attracted by her song and dance. They feasted and became her friends. They visited for the feasting festival and gave her supplies and protection. Soon, the truth came out. With a sense of guilt and a failure to pay up, the hunter recanted.

    The devious woman was banned with her conniving hunter. Search parties went and fetched home Omonijon, the victim. The animals missed their friend’s meals, entertainment and companionship. They yearned for her immediate return. They sang sorrowfully. And can/could all join in the song through the refrain.

    Lead: Omonijon mi (Dear Omonijon)

    Ref: Womo sewere wo hoin bo (Please hurry back)

    Lead: Amuyon koni jije ((You taught [us]) to eat pounded yam)

    Ref: Wo mo se were wo hoin bo

    Lead: A merin koni kiko (Who taught [us] to sing)

    Ref: Wo mo serere wo hoin bo

    Lead: A mujo koni jijo (You put dance on our forelegs)

    Ref: Wo mo sewere wo hoin bo…

    But Omonijon was gone, leaving behind, among wild animals longing, emotion, education and civilization. University education does no more or better. Wo mo se were wo hoin bo..,

    Education in changing times…

    Education is, however, fast changing. It is no longer in the way we knew it. This is in tandem with changes in human patterns and particularities, occasioned by improvements in technologies. The technologies are rubbing off on practically all sectors, with education taking its share. We have witnessed shifts from the traditional education system (the pre-formal Omonijon type to the pre-digital forms) to the modern education style, to which technology is central.

    In those days, we ordinarily deployed the chalk and the slate, which we renewed and painted black with camwood (Ijokun). That has since gone, replaced with/by the presentation slides.

    Smart boards have also taken over. Beyond that is the multiplication of avenues of learning. It is not necessarily in the classrooms as we used to know it, but right on our palms, through our smartphones, where we are hourly bombarded with an avalanche of information, and some learning resources.

    The digital age

    The IPAD, computers and other electronic equipment in a world of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality (AR) introduce us to other variants of learning and education: The new variants, though departing from the structured, institutionally progressive course of the school system, to a random, but equally exposing, un-ignorable process. Sometimes, these variants enable the structured course, while they are individuated at other times.

    The task before civilization is how not to obfuscate learning through the circumvention of its processes. We can hardly do otherwise considering the said threats to learning and the attendant dangers of coining deliberate falsehood (misinformation), inadvertently sharing them (disinformation) and spreading dangerous lies and propaganda (malformation), through the negatives of machine learning. What the World Health Organisation (WHO) once regarded as Infodemic is also a case in point, if you remember the many conspiracy theories in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Doubling down on remedies to the endangered culture of learning is integral to the preservation of the natural patterns of knowledge generation, sharing and impartation, not just for the benefit of the learner but the society, and the future. In addition to emerging counteracting applications, there will be the need for better governance, improved implementation of regulations, increased literacy rate and an enhanced social order, through the creation of awareness and the performance essence of the state.

    Important in the circumstances is how individuals are acculturated to new information, and how their awareness levels are enhanced. These ways are transiting, asking us to be mindful, lest we fail in our effort at integrating learning with practice because of the swelling confusion of meanings, as a result of the growth of unstructured avenues of learning. The intention here is not to undermine the new sources of learning but to be conscious of the possible difference between form and substance – given vent to in the danger of the social, new media and the death of the reading culture, among the new, young generation, who are glued to the internet, the Smartphone, Android and iPhones and the permanent blindness to the print. I am talking of the death of the reading culture, the print culture, that is.

    It is even more important for a society in transition. Transitions can be periods of anxiety. They might be times when our gazes can be both-forward-and-backward at the same time, just like the gaze of Janus, the Greek idol, which is at once gazing both ways. In this matrix is a call for constant introspection, just so that the determination will be going forward, rather than backwards. To go forward is, nevertheless, a function of vigilance, reviews and a continuous appreciation of where we were, in advance of where we should be. Again, time past, in time present for future time.

    Education in cultural contexts

    That said, the process of internalizing information and conditioning outlooks is crucial to defining the context of university educational system. How this affects the society in a state of flux is even much more important, in order to fathom an educational system that does not exist in a vacuum. It is why an educational system should be creative, rooted in the cultures of a people, as the beginning point of learning. We must recall the place of informal cultural systems and the essence of indigenous technologies as we ‘modernize’.

    It should capture the primary essence of the people, not just on a one-off basis, but unceasingly. This is to narrow the gaps between ideas and reality, between imagination and truth and between perceptions and knowledge. It is even more so in our evolving world, where change has become permanent. We cannot overemphasize that the permanence of change is constantly tasking our ability to cope.

    This challenge is because of the divergence of innovations, the disparities in their sources and the increasing multiplication of the interests involved. The processes could sometimes be overwhelming given the limitations of resources viz-a-viz the paces and spaces of change. This condition highlights the importance of localization. The apes in Omonijon’s forest learned human ways, relational forms of living and entertainment, but they remained in their natural habitat while retaining the new nurture gifted to them by Omonijon, which made them long for her: Omonijon mi re. Wo mo se were wo hoin bo…

    Localizing knowledge in a society in transition means an understanding of the immediate educational needs of the environment and the development of a curriculum that will be closely suitable to the progress of that environment. It means we are enabling learning to progress, first from a local background, before it is expanded to cover the larger world of the beneficiary, where there will soon be encounters with the earlier stated multiplication of learning resources, either in their real or fake forms. We are referring here to the need to exercise caution in swallowing hook, line and sinker, the so-called Global Best Practices, which means, nowadays, in our new educational systems total repudiation of our contexts, cultures, art, knowledge, acts and practices.

    While the expanded understanding of processes and procedures could come through educational travels and tours, or via different kinds of learning in other climes, the interconnections between a primary, local environment and a secondary, global scope are bound to produce a well-honed individual. The individual’s worldview would have begun to witness changes from a local environment whose well nurtured denizens are willing to deliberate about the need to preserve shared memories and patterns. This should lead us to the question of what we need as a people.

    To be continued

    Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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