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Toyin Falola, Nigerian History and the African humanities

The second global challenge to the humanities derives from the arrival of the STEM disciplines. This development is a significant consequence of the capitalist construction of relevant knowledge. STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—constitute a significant revolution in curricular reorientation that pushes higher education into the context of global and national development discourse. STEM effectively consolidates the downward spiral of the humanities into looming oblivion. STEM does not need to be defended because it provides an obvious and immediate template of developmental curriculum that speaks to Africa and her postcolonial development predicaments. With the new stipulations contained in the STEM pedagogy, African states can then begin to consolidate their initial belief in the sciences as the engine room for national development. One only needs to scrutinize, for example, Nigeria’s National Policy on Education (NPE) to tease out an educational policy that is founded on the need to develop an educational system and paradigms that will service Nigeria’s development objectives through the constant and efficient production of skilled and “functional” graduates. These graduates are then expected to form the solid foundation of a human capital dynamics that the Nigerian state can deploy effectively to her national development imperatives.

Unfortunately, Nigeria’s higher education is still disconnected from her development objectives despite the vast army of graduates that enter the job market yearly. On the one hand, there is already a perception of a differential disconnection between the humanities and the sciences in jumpstarting development that fractures the capabilities of what ought to be the collective and concerted effort of tertiary education in Nigeria. Everyone wants to attend the universities. The polytechnics and the colleges of education get left out of the development equation. On the other hand, those who attend not only the universities but other institutions graduate with a firm belief in white collar jobs. And since these jobs are not readily available, youth unemployment effectively undercuts the relevance that higher education ought to contribute to national development. Thus, even if STEM gets entrenched into the Nigerian educational system as the curricular and pedagogical template of choice, it still would not translate into an instant development game changer. So many things are already wrong.      

Professor Falola’s construction of the African humanities’ relevance is an extremely nuanced one that dispenses with several orthodox assumptions and stale arguments. One of the most significant is the understanding of the relationship between the humanities and STEM as one of antagonism. For him, when the scholars of the humanities defend their disciplines, they often do so against the background of the essential differences between the humanities and the sciences. Therefore, within this logic of exclusion, the humanities’ relevance must be drummed into the ears of everyone, and especially of the Nigerian government. It therefore becomes the norm that the humanities’ relevance to development must always be constructed against the relevance of the science and of STEM. But this assumption of exclusion and antagonism is a deeply faulty one that could only do more harm to our perception of the relationship between higher education and national development. This is because the logic of opposition between the sciences and the humanities occludes the fact of what Falola calls intersectionalities. To create the linkages between STEM and the humanities, we need first to underscore the weaknesses of the two. On the one hand, STEM education has failed to deliver the promised development it promises. On the other hand, the humanities have also failed to underscore their own relevance to the development imperative. But integrating the one into the other poses more possibilities for arresting Nigeria’s, and Africa’s, development impasse. However, intersectionality requires more than the entrenched insularities have built into our curriculum. It demands a creative curricular and pedagogic creativity that lead, in the final analysis, to a robust human capital that will understand the demands of the time and the variables that can launch Nigeria’s development initiative.

Professor Toyin Falola stands at the core of these efforts to rethink and restructure the way we think about the humanities, the development initiatives and higher education in Nigeria. And these alone recommend his unique scholarship and intellectual contributions for critical commendation as an intellectual whose reflections challenge the way we think about Nigeria and Nigeria’s being in the world.       


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