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The Intellectual ‘War’ of the Humanities (HSS) and the Sciences (STEM)

Tunji Olaopa

Iam a proud product of the humanities and the social sciences (HSS). That is my most cogent justification for the series of commentaries—the lovers’ quarrel—that I have penned on the status, relevance and invisibility of these group of disciplines especially within the Nigerian context. Since the HSS moulded my life and perception of values, thought, society and the divine, in spite of the many roadblocks put by my parents and society, it seems only inevitable that I will not only lament its continuing decimation within the national educational framework, but that I will equally be passionate about advocating its resurgence as a development catalyst. Nobody considers the HSS when talking about national development in Nigeria. That is at once a critical mistake and missin gap in Nigeria’s educational policy. And this mistake, I suspect, is a direct consequence of what we perceive as our development objectives as a nation.

This is not the first time I will be returning to this issue of the humanities and the social sciences, and their collective agonies in development-challenged Nigeria. No one can dare contest the cogency of the issues involved. Nigeria stands at a very critical juncture on many fronts. First, there is the ever-present challenge of national integration and nation building which has been on since independence and which appears rather bedevilled by constant retrogressions. Then there is the more existential challenge of national development around which even the objective of nation building is tied. Human capital development plays a significant role in the resolution of these issues.

Education entails a whole lot of dynamics and processes which, sadly, we have neglected for too long. Apart from all the education summits and conferences, which generated reports and white papers, what else can we say we have done with education as a critical sector in concrete terms? I have had to return again and again to the Education Sector Analysis (ESA) I took part in commissioning many years ago. It was revealing! The tragedy is that Nigeria has not really moved beyond the degeneration of the education sector as analyzed in that document. And yet education constitutes the critical site for the generation of national intelligence and competences!

After all is said and done, it seems to me that our present educational predicament is actually a blessing in disguise. In other words, it provides us with the policy opportunity to rethink what we want our educational institution to contribute in terms of curriculum contents that speaks to the manner of graduates the universities can offload into the Nigerian society.

To paraphrase Ernest Hemmingway, it is at the broken places of our educational predicament that we can ever hope to be made strong again. It is by looking critically at the fault lines and the fissures that we can grasp those issues which are out of place and how to fix them back. And I am convinced that a good starting point would be to revisit the false disjuncture that we have placed at the heart of our consideration of the sciences and the HSS, especially when we talk about national development. That false assumption seems too critical to gloss over. No educational policy can achieve the goal of optimal human capital development if its foundation is laid on a false premise.

Before now, I began the advocacy process through a round of critical vilification that targeted the Nigerian philosophers, political scientists and the social science community generally. I used the newspapers commentary columns, and the lecture circuits. I castigated university administrators and curriculum experts on the lop-sidedness of the National Policy on Education. This was a deliberate leg in the advocacy campaign. The Yoruba has an apt maxim for it: You cannot cut a person’s hair in his absence.

It seems only logical that any rethinking of the status and role of the HSS must commence from a critical assessment of the attitude, performance, professional conduct and competences, and HSS intellectuals’ perception of their own relevance in the national scheme of things. So far, I think the point about their relative invisibility within the Nigerian project has been made and made very well. What is left is to translate intellectual lethargy into policy activism. And it is here that the advocate must overcome the illusions of personal efforts in other to recognise the strength that lies in a platform that harnesses the concerted agitations of the stakeholders.

The Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) fits this bill in many respects. First, it is not a government establishment with the implication of a circumscribed capacity to fully explore all the necessary angles to the predicament. Second, it is a platform that is founded on the need to align theory with practice in the pursuit of viable alternatives that can transform government policies in all areas and sectors. The aim is to get government to work! Third, the ISGPP draws its expertise from a vast network of scholars, intellectuals, academics and practitioners across multiple sectors—government, civil society, private sector, public institutions and the Nigerian and African diaspora. This network of expertise gives the ISGPP a multidisciplinary flexibility that is unrivalled, and that can fast track a policy renegotiation in the education sector.

The first condition of making government to work for the good of Nigerians is to recognise how the human capital development dynamics function. While the founding document in this regard is the National Policy on Education (NPE), the human capital development ‘industries’ are the various institutions of tertiary education in the country, beginning with the universities. Between the NPE and the institutions of tertiary education, it is clear that something is fundamentally wrong with Nigeria’s capacity to harness the competences of the graduates that are churned out yearly. How do we know this? Youth unemployment data. Thus, if the situation is dire, can we dare reverse it? The persistent neglect of the HSS constitutes a significant dimension of this education predicament. Essentially, it is a fragmentation of the total human capital mass available for national development consideration.

This is what policy activism must combat, and the ISGPP is geared towards facilitating stakeholders’ participation for that purpose through series of rigorous and phased trainings, focused training programmes that target specific issues and deficits, expert seminars and commissioned researches that interface with the universities and other tertiary institutions, the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) and other examination bodies, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the National Universities Commission (NUC) as well as teachers, students and graduates of HSS and other relevant stakeholders.

And the issues that would underlie the discourse are not few: What are the historical issues that gave rise to the emergence of the HSS?; What are the specific global forces militating against their functionality?; What is the context-specific predicament of the HSS in Nigeria?; What are the intellectual elements of the HSS that are conducive to development?; How can the HSS be made employment-friendly?;; In what ways can policies facilitate the sciences-HSS intercourse for development?; What critical role can an entrepreneurial education do in complementing the sciences-HSS intercourse?; How can the National Policy on Education (NPE) be made more pragmatic for Nigeria’s development objectives?; How does the difference between ‘higher’ and ‘tertiary’ education facilitate the proper understanding of the role of education in national development?; What quick-wins policies can immediately facilitate the transformation of the HSS graduates into employable assets?; Etc.

There is also the challenge of facilitating such a huge intellectual and policy venture that is expected to force the hand of the government into policy reversals and policy pragmatism. ISGPP therefore solicits a committed partnership with others: development agencies; universities that are committed to giving their graduates a wholesome and holistic higher education; philanthropists who are seriously concerned about the pangs of youth unemployment in Nigeria; elder statesmen and social icons who feel the pain of the changing times (compared with the qualitative education they got); HSS graduates who have benefitted from a sound grounding in their various disciplines; corporate groups and NGOs who also face the challenge of unemployable graduates.

This is indeed a noble and worthwhile project worth championing, and the ISGPP is set to keep the issues on the front burner of national discourse. Nigeria’s willingness to tackle the HSS issue head-on could eventually serve as a notable policy reference for Africa to follow. In any case, it would be a notable policy plank in Nigeria’s overall development framework, and that would be enough achievement or the twenty first century. In the final analysis, and when success has been achieved, we can all look back in recognition that Nigeria’s educational framework has become, in Maya Angelou’s timeless words, ‘something made greater by ourselves and in turn that makes us greater.’

––Dr. Tunji Olaopa is the Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP)

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