The Nigerian culture as many understand is a rich and vastly diverse one, characterized with a number of prominent elements. For the purpose of this study, the elements with the most obvious effect on education are considered in succession and the identified effects are brought to the fore.
I must quickly mention that this work does not present a generalized viewpoint that applies to every single Nigerian and there exist a notable number of exceptions as is commonly obtainable in studies of this nature. It however presents a perspective that represents the bulk of Nigerians; especially students, stemming from firsthand experiences as a Nigerian student and some research that springs from a well grounded interest in the topic of discussion.
The first element of the Nigerian culture with an effect on the education of her people is the perception amongst them of what respect is. The Nigerian culture is one in which a premium is placed on respect, especially for elderly persons. Elderly persons are literally considered to be all-knowing and wisdom is assumed to be a direct function of age. On many grounds, this is a cultural value that many people regard as highly important and also beneficial. The argument mostly being that rudeness, insolence and so on as obtainable in the western culture are not condoned here. In fact, many youngsters with lapses whatsoever in this regard are outrightly considered as uncultured to depict how important ‘respect’ is, in Nigeria’s cultural
For quick clarification, respect is actually a global phenomenon and a very important one at that although differences exist from place to place regarding how it is understood &perceived. These little variations as portrayed in part one’s three-line illustration translates to some significant differences on the long term.
In Nigeria, the common yardsticks used to evaluate respect include how compliant a youngster is, to the ways and instructions of the elderly. As a result of this cultural value that many Nigerians subconsciously learn as children, a bulk of them grow up to be accustomed to elders, instructors, authorities etc, teaching or telling them what to do simply because they are believed to know it all. Exploration is hardly encouraged and most people only grow to live out the many prejudices they have imbibed while growing up. Consequently, what becomes mostly obtainable is a recycled version of the excellence or mediocrity (as it were) of these instructors and forerunners. The frontiers of knowledge & development are therefore hardly pushed on a significant scale and the progress that is recorded from generation to generation is nearly negligible compared to what is recorded in many other countries especially the already developed ones.
Closely related to the above, is another viewpoint of the Nigerian concept of ‘respect’ within which asking questions is tantamount to or interpreted to mean, questioning the knowledge, judgement etc of the instructor or authority as the case may be, which without mincing words, is considered to be a disrespectful act.
Apart from the general effect this has on a vast majority of the population which makes them highly uncomfortable with confrontation or holding public officers accountable for instance, it also has a subliminal effect on the curiosity of young Nigerians as the widespread preconditioning (mostly unspoken) is to wait to be instructed with no questions at all or as minimal questions as possible where unavoidable.
Of course, the importance of curiosity in the effectiveness of learning and education cannot be overemphasized. In fact, curiosity is rightly said to be the foundation upon which science and research is built, and science & research serves as the foundation upon which most, if not all advancement and development is built. It should quickly be pointed out at this point that science is more than knowledge and information; it is also a process of studying and finding out as stated by Karen Worth of Center for Science Education in Massachusetts. She goes further to say that the goal of science is to understand the world through a process called scientific inquiry (act of asking).
Like many other people, the President of -Learning is for everyone-, Theresa Willingham, believes that curiosity is a natural endowment and says that “we are all born curious”. But in a culture where it simply isn’t cool to be curious and is many times considered disrespectful, this innate gift practically dies with time and what we get is a population in which the vast majority have almost no interest whatsoever in research having been denied amongst many other things, the pleasure and excitement of discovery while growing up. I’m sure many would believe with me that research is an indispensable pillar, not only in effective education but in the overall development of a nation.
Having established a link between culture, curiosity and education, I’ll conclude this part with an excerpt from Theresa Willingham’s work on ‘celebrating and inspiring curiosity as a key component in Learning’, which nicely portrays the way in which curiosity as an element fits into a much bigger picture:
“...without curiosity, there's little impetus to discover or explore. Without curiosity, apathy and disinterest creep in and the commensurate effects of an unexamined life can be culturally far-reaching - affecting political involvement, scientific, literary, artistic, economic and social achievement and development....”Theresa Willingham, President, Learning is for everyone.