Saturday, December 31, 2016

USA Africa Dialogue Series - And Prof. Emmanuel Ayodele Yoloye Lives On

Ayodele Yoloye and the Future of Education in Nigeria

Dr. Tunji Olaopa

Executive Vice-Chairman

Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP)


Like literature, history, medicine and the arts, the field of education also has its unique icons—intellectuals, practitioners and theorists—who translated theories and practices into a passionate agitation for the transformation of education as a driver of change in Nigeria. Several names come straight to mind—Babatunde Fafunwa, Alvan Ikoku, Samuel Bajah, and of course Ayodele Yoloye. The recent demise of Emeritus Prof. Emmanuel Ayodele Yoloye is an occasion both for celebration and for reflection. It calls for celebration because we have an opportunity to reminisce on the life and time of a teacher of teachers, whose entire life, private and professional, tells a story of passion and commitment. His professorial status is really a trajectory of a lifelong dedication to a cause. Indeed, Professor Yoloye represents a trajectory of accomplishments that is worth celebrating.

Professor Emmanuel Ayodele Yoloye—father, husband, teacher, science educator, evaluator extraordinaire, educational psychologist, professor of professors and "the Bloom of Africa"—lived a very good life that is attested to by all. But that is not the reason I want to celebrate him. Rather, I find in Prof. Yoloye a solid template that combines theory and practice, and research and policy in a dynamic framework that enables education to speak directly to developmental issues in Nigeria. This is significant for me as a researcher, political scientist, policy worker, and public administration reformer who has been walking the tight rope between theory and practice for a long time. Bridging the gap between research and policy is a delicate endeavour. It requires a sensibility that is neither too academic nor too professional, yet a smooth blend of the two that makes one a genuine member of both worlds. That is one of the uniqueness of Prof. Yoloye's life. I enjoyed the privilege of inviting him as a significant member of the Technical Advisory Team, which supported an endeavour that I coordinated between 1999 and 2002; the Education Sector Analysis (ESA) project. The study backstopped education strategy development and policy work in the Federal Ministry of Education at the time. His wisdom, erudition, expertise and time were crucial items that I drew on in the landmark project which attempted to bridge the data gap in the education sector as well as create a baseline statistics upon which many policy designs affecting pre-primary, basic and upper secondary schools, vocational/technical, and higher education, cross-cutting reform issues, etc. were fashioned.

However, more than the celebration that attends Professor Yoloye's exit is the need to reflect on his legacy and what that translates to in terms of larger concerns surrounding Nigeria's development. As an educationist, Yoloye occupied a field, unlike literature and medicine, which speaks directly to the development of Nigeria, especially in terms of human capital development and learning achievement. Take a famous example. Prof. Babatunde Fafunwa is renowned today because of his bold attempt at relating education to national development through the mother tongue experiment. The critical issue he confronted was that of how to create a critical mass of human capital that would take on the burden of national development in all spheres of human endeavour, and the role of mother tongue in such a project. What role, in other words, does culture play in manufacturing a vibrant and knowledgeable workforce that could relate her peculiar cultural undercurrent intimately with Nigeria's development challenges? Prof. Yoloye is doubly relevant because he dedicated his professional academic life to another significant dimension of this project.

He is effectively a part of the long lineage of Nigerian educationists, including Prof. Chike Obi, who are convinced of the relevance of science education to a profound transformation of Nigeria's development profile in the twenty first century. Yoloye and others should be seen as the lone voices in the wilderness calling on the nation to engage its own reluctance and take the bull by the horn. They are right, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education now makes the case that these foresighted precursors have been making for years. STEM signals the triumph of an educational and curriculum policy that attempts to generate competitiveness in school with regards to the study of science and technology and the implication of such a curriculum for national development. This makes it doubly tragic that a country like Nigeria that urgently need to upgrade its development profile has not deemed it fit to engage the policy end of the STEM challenge nor seek to unpack the relevance of Yoloye's science education research as basis for deep-seated reform. This research is all the more requisite because it advocates the teaching of science from the primary school level within the frame of integrated science, which was one of his inventions, and wherein the scientific spirit could first be firmly ingrained in the educational quest of the children.

His involvement in science education at the primary school level was indeed revolutionary since it led to the transformation of the lukewarm attitude to science education. Through the African Primary Science Programme (APSP) and then later, the Science Education Programme for Africa (SEPA), Prof. Yoloye and others breathed proactive life into curriculum, teaching methods, teacher trainings, enrichment of science education and the development of publishing initiatives for science education project. From a pan-African perspective, Yoloye's original research passion, intelligence testing, allows him to unravel the fallacy behind Eurocentric biases which undermines the African's capacity for abstract and scientific thinking. Science, indeed, is a universal endeavour and Nigerian children have a right to its promises as a prelude to Nigeria's human capital flowering.

Prof. Ayodele Yoloye has more in terms of educational legacy that speaks to Nigeria's human capital impasse. It is as if he has been telling us all along that if Nigeria is to transform her development fortunes and achieve the capacity to make her educational dynamics the hotbed of human capital development, the best place to commence is not only the active cultivation of science education but also the active measurement and evaluation of educational processes, institutions and programmes. Educational evaluation is a gatekeeping mechanism in education that allows for adequate quality control of educational programmes and the evaluation of student learning dynamics. If education must become a fulcrum for development advancement in Nigeria, then educational evaluation becomes a crucial ingredient in the reform of Nigeria's educational sector. Innovative progress in education requires a rigorous evaluation framework that balances new ideas with environmental imperatives. And Yoloye saw this necessity and dedicated his entire career to pushing the boundary of theories and practices in this regard.

It should be straightforward, for instance, to connect Yoloye's research outputs in educational evaluation, his promotion of science education and his advocacy of mastery learning into a firm and robust educational philosophy around which a STEM framework for curriculum transformation in Nigeria could be grounded. Mastery learning foregrounds a pedagogical strategy that inculcates a mental and practical reassessment of learning. At a primary school level, mastery learning provides sufficient motivation that allows young minds to achieve the mastery of scientific attitudes and challenges. If science itself is considered broadly as the mastery of the universe and its physical laws, then a pedagogy premised on mastery learning as the foundation of science education promises a lot for the reassessment of Nigeria's educational policies and philosophy.

Ayodele Yoloye had many policy initiatives, especially with regard to the evaluation of educational programmes and curriculum development. But the large and damning question is whether we have integrated his ideas on curriculum development, measurement and evaluation and science education while he was still alive to pragmatically refine, redefine and reassess them. Now, Professor Emmanuel Ayodele Yoloye is gone. And he left a body of insightful and revolutionary ideas and practices around which a solid educational practice in Nigeria could be built. Alongside other education icons in Nigeria, there really is no need to reinvent the wheel of educational advancement beyond the pragmatic frameworks which these patriotic educationists have provided. Yoloye does not stand alone; he is one great name in a firmament of other great names who have invested a lifetime in education reform in other to excavate a rich package of ideas and ideals around which Nigeria can overcome its development lethargy. If we must develop, we must rigorously guide the content of our educational programmes. This is one of the significant lessons Yoloye is asking us to learn as a nation. Emeritus Professor Emmanuel Ayodele Yoloye is truly gone, and we mourn and celebrate his passing; but it is not too late in time to put his legacies and ideas to good use to salvage our educational predicament. 

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