“If you are planning for a year, plant rice. If you are planning for ten years, plant tree. If you are planning for one hundred years, educate children.” – Confucius (551 – 479 BCE).
Though the above quote was attributed to Confucius, it is believed it originally came from Guan Zhong (720 – 645 BCE) who lived earlier, although it is said that both were politicians in the Spring Autumn era of China. The statement actually read: “The best investment for one year is to grow grains; the best investment for ten years is to grow trees; the best investment for a lifetime is to educate people. What you gain from one year’s growth will be grains; what you gain from ten years’ growth will be trees; what you gain from a hundred years’ growth will be people.”
Whichever one one takes, it is the spirit behind the quote that is of utmost interest. Education is not something approached like a seasonal ritual of planting. It is a conscious and deliberate effort to produce a chain of productive people that will sustain a society and make it a relevant, dominant force in the world. It is a culture that has its tradition in enlightenment. Education is a totality of life. To underscore its importance, the prophet of Islam, Muhammad (SAW) exhorted Muslims to go to any length in search of it. We are supposed to be its seekers from the cradle to the grave.
With the right form of education, we can be the architects of our destiny. And therefore, if we want to get it right, we have to do what is right. What is right is to know that first of all education must be formulated with a purpose in mind and not a haphazard arrangement. A nation must have as a foundation for education its history and vision. Its citizens must know where the country is coming from and where it wants to be.
The type of education given determines the direction of that country and ultimately its impact and influence in the world because that kind of education can be exported for relevance. The British did that. The education it exported made its recipients see Britain as the ultimate role model; same for the French. America displaced them through various forms – sports, music, entertainment, military prowess, etc, to the extent that at a point, America was the world.
The Soviet Union understood the game and so did its best to match America pound for pound, military tank for military tank, ideology for ideology and in all departments of sports, choosing some to become unquestioned masters in.
Now we are witnesses to the incursions of the Asian Tigers, especially Malaysia, China, Iran and Turkey into the arena of exporting education for future relevance, impact, and influence and even loyalty. As it was from pre-independence through the 60s up to the middle 70s when our nation’s elites looked to Britain for “inspiration”, so it will be from the next twenty years when the nation’s elite will tear themselves over which country among this lot will be their “inspiration”.
Those who studied in Turkey or went through deliberate moulding and guidance in Turkish schools in Nigeria will want to take Nigeria the Turkish way while those who went through Iran’s education will have no other country worthy of emulation in their eyes than Iran. Those with Malaysian education may not pose much of a challenge because the country is more or less liberal. But Iran and Turkey go through the students and become them.
But that is education. That is thinking hundred, a thousand years ahead. That’s how civilisations are born and that’s how they rise and survive. First, educate your people to know themselves, believe in themselves, and then export your thinking and culture to others, displacing their culture with yours. Physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, medicine, sociology, law, etc, are basically the same, constant and universal everywhere and in any language. These are knowledge areas and it is the type of education driving them that makes them active or dormant.
If a nation does not know and is not ready to know that the type of the education imparted on its kids determines its existence, relevance and influence, then it will remain a battleground of direct and indirect colonialists. Therefore, what are we thinking of along that line for the next generations?
Then we have to start doing things the right way with empathy and consideration. For instance, a picture of President Muhammadu Buhari picking his teeth presumably after a sumptuous meal, relaxing and calmly watching television was released some time ago by his media handlers. The picture has since been photoshopped variously to suit mischievous people’s intentions.
However, truth be told, his media handlers did not do any good to the president’s image. In a country where 80 per cent of the population is poor with at least 80 million living on less than one dollar a month not knowing where the next meal is coming from, you cannot post the picture of their president looking so very satisfied and unconcerned. And to cap it all, it is from the collective purse of these hapless citizens that are used to feed him! Wrong education begets wrong ideas.
In any case, something is not quite right when a leader on an already fabulous salary still has the state shouldering his family’s expensive feeding bill while the ordinary citizen struggle for crumbs just to hold the body and soul together.
If the American system, from where we copied our presidential system of governance, does not provide for government feeding its president – American presidents feed their families from their salaries – why should we? It is not only America that does that anyway; European leaders, too, fund their feeding by themselves. They don’t put the bill on the state. Sometimes you ask, how did we get that and what sustains it?
Another of the misnomers is when a presidential spokesman asks how many Nigerians own cars or generators in an attempt to justify the fuel price increase. It is not rocket science to know that any increase makes those with cars and generating sets increase their services which affect those that do not have. There is a chain reaction; everything is affected.
Long before EFCC, ICPC and the other anti-graft agencies, we were getting it right. I know a senior civil servant who retired as a permanent secretary in the old Borno State made up of the present-day Borno and Yobe States. He wanted a Mercedes Benz car but his car loan was for a Peugeot car, so he had to seek approval from the state government to augment the loan with another loan from his bank to buy the Mercedes.
Then, if your grade level was for a bicycle or a motorcycle, that was what you will have. Not anymore. Now, a level three officer can have a mansion and a fleet of exotic cars in the mansion without anyone raising an eyebrow. Any wonder we are still held down by ragtag gangs of bandits and insurgents when those who are supposed to be fighting them now have the best cars and houses in town?
Our multifaceted and multifarious security conundrum is as a result of our not understanding what education is and what it ought to be. And this is why those entrusted with our security think their personal and financial security is far more important than our collective good. But is it? Will they ultimately be safe?
Without the right education, we will not be able to shun corruption, our engineers will remain engineers that cannot construct a culvert, build a car or take us to space. Our teachers will continue teaching for the pay and not for the nation while good governance will continue to elude us because people will continue to aspire for leadership for the lucre of office and not for altruistic reasons. Our agriculture and health sectors will remain pedestrian as officials will continue to siphon the money meant to better those sectors.
Education gives one the necessary orientation to know and do what is right. There is this story of a certain Malaysian Judge Marzuki who fined an old woman for stealing what to feed her family with but went on to fine all those in court to pay her penalty with excess for her upkeep. He said, “I on behalf of the court, herewith fine each one attending this hearing 50,000 rupiahs for settling in this city and allowing someone living here to starve so much that she is forced to steal to feed her children and grandchildren”. That story may or may not be true but it is a lesson on education. Education teaches empathy and love for creation.
We have moved far away from imparting the right education when Nigeria Police, for instance, choose Naira Marley to dialogue as a representative of our youth or when a BBNaija contestant or winner is made a youth ambassador.
Education, education and education should be our preoccupation for the next sixty years – the right education that imparts the right values. That is where to start in fixing Nigeria.