Speech at the 11th International Conference of the Association of Sociologists of Education of Nigeria, 2017

Special Guest Keynote Speech

11th International Conference of the Association of Sociologists of Education of Nigeria (ASEN)

Lagos State University, Faculty of Education, October 11-14, 2017

Professor Chidi Oguamanam

Education and Economic Recovery 

Greetings, distinguished colleagues. I thank the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Fagbohun, for the opportunity to contribute to the LASU scholarly community at this point. I also thank the conference organizers, especially the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), Professor Noah, the President of the Association of Sociologists of Education of Nigeria, Prof. Uche Azikiwe and the host Dean, Professor C.O. Fasan, for extending to me the invitation and offering me the privilege to share some keynote thoughts on the theme of the conference – “Education and Economic Recovery”.

I am by training and profession a lawyer. By vocation and day-to-day existence, I am an educationist. In the University system, it is our tradition to retreat to our disciplinary silos as specialist faculties, colleges or schools, zealously guarding our intellectual borders while trying to engage in interdisciplinary concert. But we are all bound by a common bond as education practitioners. Education is the indispensable oil that lubricates society’s perpetual grind toward progress across cultures and civilizations. Education happens in informal, formal or more organized contexts. Such contexts are determined by ideologies, cultures and worldviews. For instance, those who say that “western education is evil” are not insisting that education is evil. Therefore, notwithstanding our ideological extremisms, we all agree that education is indispensable.

As experts in your fields, sub-fields and specialities, you know (better than I do) that there is uncountable number of definitional perspectives or definitions of education that also spill into our understanding of the sociology of education. As a fundamental empowerment strategy, education is a natural design to curate the individual to realize their potential as social beings. Education ensures optimal functioning of the human society and its natural world in a healthy and sustainable fashion. It forges the intersection of the individual, social institutions and the society at large as a catalyst for social progress and social cohesion.

In international law, the right to education is recognized as a human right. The primary objective of human right is to erase all barriers (race, gender, sex, sexual orientation disability, religion, ethnic origin, circumstances of birth) in order to ensure that every human person is able to realize their potential. When individuals are able to fulfil their potentials, their societies are correspondingly able to function optimally as evident in, among other things, wealth creation through technologies, innovations and open-ended entrepreneurial channels that result in economic growth and social progress.

Not only is education a human right, it has overlapping interests with other human rights in their shared commitment to rid the individual and society of barriers to progress and in their common and ultimate mission to ensure that the individual is optimally aligned with society for the best outcome for all.

More than any discipline, education is in constant evolution to identify lessons from social and institutional experiences, to chart, pre-empt, respond and to position and reposition society in its evolutionary trajectory. In this regard, education maps the pathway for wealth creation and wealth management. It has proven to be the sprint in the foot of economic and human development and the wind in the sail of every civilization.

Like most human endeavours, the economic fortunes of countries are like roller coaster rides. Economists continue to officiate the ebbs and flows of economic fortunes benchmarking them according to degrees of stress they perceive through their esoteric scales and crystal balls that regularly confound ordinary people. Most of us are familiar with such expressions as “economic recession”, “economic depression”, “economic austerity”, etc. Predicting global or national economic health is not an exact science. For example, immediately before the 2008 global financial meltdowns, the world was cruising on a perceived economic boom, propelled by unprecedented burst of innovation in digital technologies, the so-called “com boom” or “digital revolution”. Suddenly, from that altitude we crashed, without deploying the landing gear, into the ditch of so-called “dot.com burble” and the great financial crisis that followed.

Like most developing counties, Nigeria’s economy remains vulnerable to forces outside our control and to our fragile and unpredictable political and institutional cultures. We are forever on the edge on matters regarding our country’s economic temperament. Recent crash in global oil price resulted in the near collapse of our economy. Latest stabilizations in global oil price hint at some form of economic calming, some call it economic recovery. But the volatility of our economy does not quite warrant the recent gloating and politics of our so-called economic recovery. You can only recover what is lost. Since after independence, specifically following the discovery of oil, Nigeria has never had a stable economy. Rather, as a nation, we have been flip-plopping our way through our economic life and missed opportunities on a rhythm of two steps forward three steps backward – a deficit of progress in which our economic realities and indices are far detached from our phenomenal population growth.

Our educational system remains under pressure to bridge the apparent disconnect between our graduates and the demands of our peculiar economy and labour market. Our recent educational history has witnessed bold and innovative steps geared toward education for employment or entrepreneurship-based education albeit in a half-hearted manner.

Behind these initiatives are also creative curriculum engineering or curriculum redesigning which is a permanent feature of the sociology of education. As sociologists of education, the current era where information communication Technologies (ICTs) are the pivot of social, economic and cultural renaissance, your work as the brainbox of educational planning has never been more cut out.

Beyond the economic recovery (which the DVC and ASEN President attest to at micro level) – a narrative which, at a global or macro level, verges on a sort of mirage notwithstanding the underlying official rhetoric, we have a generational opportunity to re-engage the foundations of our education in the pursuit of the incredible opportunities offered by new technologies which Nigeria’s youths – its greatest human resource – have rapidly embraced.

But lest I be misunderstood, in the intersection of education and economic fortunes of a nation, we should not dispense with the theoretical/philosophical-oriented education as represented by the humanities or liberal arts, and aspects of the social and primary sciences. After all, there is no technology without science, and no creativity without art. These categories are often the first to be despised, degraded, denigrated and defunded through the smoking fire of economic crisis. But the truth is that they are the drivers of cultural revolutions and are the vanguards of infinite human creative potentials that often translate into gold mines for economic and entrepreneurial possibilities.

For example, as the world transforms into a post carbon economy with fossil fuel being relegated to a low value produce and environmental nuisance, Nigeria’s hope for economic survival is increasingly pointing to the entertainment and art sector as evident in the Nollywood and our burgeoning creative art industrial complex. In addition to their valued added, our creative writers, musicians, actors and artists of all shades are potential catalyst for transformational tourism that can sustainably energize our economy.

Education holds the balance in the pendulum between the academics on the one hand, and practical skills in trade and technologies on the other. Striking that balance is crucial for the optimum realization of the economic, social and cultural potential of any civilization and society. That balance is urgently needed within the policy space of a developing country with a fragile economy such as Nigeria. More than any other discipline, the sociology of education is better placed to articulate and indulge or drive that conversation. It is evidently a timely and topical discussion.

Counterintuitively, Nigeria’s greatest national security threat is not terrorism, neither is it our fractured and fragile polity. It lies in our failure to invest whole heartedly in quality education at all levels. For example, with education, not many young men or women could be convinced to take the part of violence and suicide to prosecute any cause, whatever it may be. The years of military rule in Nigeria were years of the locust that mortgaged the future of Nigerian youth through the relegation of education. If education was prioritized above defence to be the highest sectoral beneficiary of our post-independence budgets, our polity and economy would have been stronger. And most of the present existential threats to Nigeria could not be as potent as they have since become.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this important exchange as you mark the second decade of your journey at ASEN.


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