Formal education is one of the most overrated things in human development people on the African continent can gain, maybe elsewhere too. Education in the formal sense is an “institutional thing,” i.e. the stuff of institutions. It is not just the stuff of classrooms and ivory towers. Institutions rely on education and education has to be meet institutional and societal requirements through governance for it to serve any useful purpose in society. The symbiosis of institutions and education is both valuable and undeniable. In a nation where institutions are unenforceable, we must expect the education curriculum to be inadequate in many senses. Education is not just the acquisition skills but also the awareness of the requirements of civil participation in a just or improving society.
Institutions and Education
The primary use of institutions is that it creates stable preferences in the affairs of society be it social, political, economic, technological or cultural. Stable preferences guarantee the participation of citizens in a general activity (e.g. driving a car or voting on election day) or specialised activities (e.g. brain surgery or managing an electricity grid) as safe and repeatable. We know what to expect, or we expect to follow procedures once they are under the management of competent institutions. There is no expectation that people will lose their way in society amid stable preferences unless one is a rebel or has special incompetence. Stable preferences may have wrong sides too; they can lead to enclaves, exceptions, profiling, exclusions, and discrimination. Such are contrary institutions (those that achieve the opposite of its desired role) and are not very amenable to education. A genuine tragedy for society.
When a person falls ill-enough to need a hospital visit and has a high temperature, the stable preference for a doctor is to do a blood test to determine the cause of his or her fever/illness. If someone wants a new carpet for their living room, the dimensions of the floor space have to undergo correct measurement. If you have to book a flight, you must specify a date and time of departure, date and time of return (for a two-way trip), class of travel, luggage information, the number of travellers and other preferences. These are examples of stable preferences. Stable preferences also involve time and time-keeping measures, directions, instructions, rules, laws, examinations, cadres, driving codes, age, documentation, records, data, procedures, techniques, methods, marriage protocols, etc. The thin spread of stable preferences across Nigeria make its economic sectors and organisations not to complement each other, and its citizens to distrust each other.
Education, training, skills acquisition and learning make institutions work and develop to meet fast and slow changes in the needs of societies. One can thus say sound education is necessary to create adaptable robust institutions and vice versa. There is no “chicken and egg argument” to it; as you strengthen education, you strengthen institutions. It is a cycle strengthened by positive feedback and self-reinforcement.
Another facet of institutions is the ever-presence of common knowledge, at least how it affects an individual. Where institutions are enforceable by consistent routines, it becomes part of a citizen’s education to know the rules of the game or enough lay aspects of the law. If you get paid for work, or you make a profit on a trade you engaged, you know you must pay tax on the income. Commit a crime and you get caught, you know you will get a penalty. Bear several children, it will cost you more and absorb more of your time than if you had a few children. Everyone knows such common knowledge, but this does not mean everyone will abide, the majority do though. Common knowledge is a necessity that assists people in making the best choices for themselves and managing their inescapable participation in social activities, institutions, better. Being on the wrong side of institutions helps no one. Gaps in common knowledge can be embarrassing.
The “good citizen” who abides by institutional rules the best he or can with commitment and purpose is a responsible man and woman, and we know him or here as “Homo Institutio” [Institutional Person]. Homo Institutio is not a very African thing in the modern civic sense. But it remains a workable possibility, provided there is sustainable good leadership in the country. Good leadership always produces excellent education and good enforceable institutions. It is noteworthy that those men and women who deserve the ascription of Homo Institutio are in withdrawal–their participation is no longer welcome in the country. Only their antithesis remains. How unfortunate!
Limitations of Education
Education has its limitations, and these harm institutions, but most people may never consider it even fleetingly. There is also the unlikely issue of the things education cannot do for people and society? It is unasked questions such as this one that is causing the unenlightened ravaging and savaging of Nigeria by the educated. Education gained in Nigeria or overseas did not appear to have much impact on making institutions enforceable in the country. Public institutions and education in Nigeria do not complement each other in any significant way. If institutional enforcement is not nourishing culture and institutions of governance are not shaping education to make it very useful to society, the country has a modern-day unacknowledged disaster on its hands.
Take this example of educational illusion and enforcement of institutions (governance). Once the CV of a public official, elected or appointed, has the names of prestigious schools/universities, impressive qualifications, and so on listed, it canonises the person as “the Best.” Later on, the canonisation turns out to be empty hype for an incompetent fed to an ever gullible population. The institutions never improved under their watch, but deteriorated. After the British left, it was downhill for the plethora of institutions.
Education never stopped serial killers from killing, never stopped paedophiles or rapists pouncing on victims, never stopped soldiers inflicting human rights abuses on defenceless persons. Education never stopped the police from taking bribes, never stopped racists from shameless racism; it never stopped tribalists from plying their trade. How or why should it stop graduates from Delta State University or Harvard University from embezzling fortunes? It is the graduates of top schools/universities that stole Nigeria dry and put in disarray, not illiterates or those with basic education. Who wants to persuade his or her neighbour that formal education makes people civilised? How can well-educated person commit such offences? But they do.
Outstanding people with sound education exist in Nigeria, and a good deal of may read this article. We may know many of them. But some of them may have a superfluous rendering in society or succumbed to the logic of “If you cannot beat them, join them” out of despair and irrelevance. Thus many outstanding persons needlessly go to waste when they should be in demand at the core of institutions of governance. It is quite an expectation for Nigeria. Next time, perhaps. Education, from an alternative contemporary perspective, maybe good at teaching people how to create false personas which they then use to deceive the public to get what they want. One of the two biggest mistakes many have encountered made in life is believing that being well-educated equates to civilisation, culture, morality and a sense of responsibility. If you get rid of that illusion, mistakes in social interactions with people will disappear.
Realising how limited education has been disastrous for human and institutional development in Nigeria, it should be a poignant wake-up call for voters and those who cry out for prevalence of enforceable institutions. Education has to designed consider the institutional societal needs of Nigeria for its betterment and for it to be of any benign use.