The recent ban by the Kano State government of some textbooks again brought to the fore how less several stakeholders within the education sector care about what goes on at the basic and secondary levels of the system. Responding to concerns raised by the public alleging that some textbooks currently in use in some schools in Kano state seek to promote immorality as they consist of offensive contents.
Some parents in the state expressed concern that such contents contradict their religion, tradition and culture. They questioned the morale behind the inclusion of such contents in the books that would be used by school-age children. They also questioned the authorities that approved such books for use in schools. To control the damage being incurred from circulating the books, the Kano State government, through the Office of the Special Adviser (SA) to the Governor on Private and Voluntary Institutions, issued a statement to prohibit the use of six text books in nursery, primary and secondary schools in the state.
Unsafe contents were, for example, mentioned to have appeared on pages 78 through 83 of the Basic Science for Junior Secondary Schools published by Razat Publishers, 2018 edition. They include the subject-matter of teenage pregnancy, types of abortion students could do (to terminate unwanted pregnancies), six ways to prevent pregnancy with contraceptives, how to enjoy ‘safe sex’ without pregnancy. The public also complained the inclusion of ‘false’ information on abstinence as the book lists four types that are far from the actual definition of abstinence. The danger of exposing adolescents to these risky contents is, according to parents that raised alarms, better imagined.
The description of sex and sexual experience on page 31-34 of the book, Active Basic Science, 2014 edition by Tola Anjorin and others should never have appeared as part of the contents of a textbook meant for pupils and students of Nigerian basic schools. Other schoolbooks were banned for containing contents on masturbation and safe-sex with condoms. The book, Stigma, authored by Samson O. Shobayo, was banned as it encourages sexual relationships such as kissing with HIV patients.
All this couldn’t have happened in the old good days of inspectorate services when relevant stakeholders including schools’ supervisors, teachers, school administrators and managers all had concerned and cared for school as well as its activities. Through their routine inspection visits, only books recommended and approved for use in schools as reading materials were allowed to be used by learners. This is because every stakeholder, then, cared.
For instance, the Longman English primer used in primary schools in the mid-1960s where we read “Toma and Tani”, and “Bello and Bintu” reflected indigenous culture and tradition. Those old books were full of beautiful folklore stories, indigenous names, places, and events. With nostalgia, one is compelled to remember the Arabic primer, Kitabul Atfaal, where we read “Al-Walad Wal Jamal” and “Lamasal Walad Al-Jamala”. Cyprian Ekwensi’s 96-page African Night Entertainment published in 1962 is another indigenous fiction; an interesting read indeed. Several decades after, the impact of these books has remained indelible on our minds.
While the authors of the good old books chose their words, the publishers equally ensured strict compliance to aspects of the approved national curriculum without compromising the curriculum contents or the standard. Illustrations were presented in beautiful colours. The font side, paper grammage, language, the binding, and the print quality of every textbook conformed to standards. Neither vulgar language nor offensive illustrations were found in any of the books we used in our primary school and Teachers College days. This feat was achieved because everyone cared about what was taught, learned and read in schools. Today, most of the textbooks used by our children in schools have lost nearly all the attributes of a good reading material, which characterised the schoolbooks of our days. Today’s sad experience is what you get when no one cares about what students read in schools.
Part of the problem has been our desire as Africans to always search for solutions to our challenges from outside of the continent, which are most often counter-productive because the results consistently fail to meet our needs. This plausibly explains why each time we attempt to improve upon some of our existing practices in order to fit into the cultural and ideological template of western thoughts, we end up regressing a dozen steps backward. We have replaced our well-authored and finely published premier books with new ones that, in the least, lack moral compass. Even the change in name that transformed inspectorate services division into quality assurance department has not helped to restore the glory that is missing in our modernised textbooks.
It was apt to hear the SA to the Kano State Governor on Private and Voluntary Institutions say “It is our sole responsibility to regulate the activities of all private and voluntary schools in the state. We cannot sit back and watch things that encroach on our domain and destabilise the system. What happened is of public interest. There is outcry from members of the public and we must listen to them.” However, the small question I have for him is: How come the Kano Educational Resource Department (KERD), which is the government agency with a statutory mandate to approve learning materials for schools did not know that textbooks with such offensive contents were in the hands of schoolboys and girls until parents and the general public raised alarm? I think it’s simply because no one, including KERD officials, cares much about what goes on in schools.
It would be unfortunate if authorities at the KERD claim they are not aware of the Dr Hamid Bobboyi-led UBEC’s policy, which provides that a textbook shall not be recommended for use in Nigerian basic schools until it has been duly assessed and authenticated by the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC). For the SA to the state governor to say “Already, the education sector in the state is weak” is only a re-statement of the obvious. Even the unschooled Nigerian on the street knows that all is not well with the country’s education system, which is unarguably worse in the north.
During the week ending today, northern elites took time to gather in Abuja to discuss the abysmal state of education in Northern Nigeria. It has been public knowledge for a while that state governors in this region have, for too long, taken education for granted. The further this region proceeds in this direction, the ruins that stare posterity is better imagined. May Allah guide us to care more for the reading materials of our children in schools, amin.