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EDITORIAL: That Niger school debate

Debate among pupils or students in schools is an old exercise. Primarily, it is done to imbue pupils and students with essential skills in critical…

Debate among pupils or students in schools is an old exercise. Primarily, it is done to imbue pupils and students with essential skills in critical thinking, thoughtful reasoning and public speaking. Through debates, pupils and students learn to present their thoughts coherently in a way that they can influence others for their support or understanding. It also provides essential skills that help them to build confidence. Through debates, students or pupils learn to communicate effectively and confidently. Debates are also guided by a set of rules and regulations that make the exercise well-coordinated.

Recently, a video of a debating session at a Local Education Authority (LEA) school went viral on various social media platforms. In the said video, one of the debaters and a pupil of Kasim Primary School in Agaie Local Government Area of Niger State was heard introducing the discussion topic as; “Voting Should Be Mandatory”.

But soon after his introduction, the pupil completely abandoned the topic of the debate and started casting aspersions on the political class, including the president and lawmakers. At one point, he prayed to Almighty God to destroy them, just as he called on thunder to strike them.

In essence, rather than use simple and convincing arguments, the pupil resorted to using foul language. This is clearly against the rules and regulations guiding such debates.

But as we all know, pupils are usually coached on what to say during debates, while students, who are a bit older and exposed, are given talking points. The Agaie experience is clearly, that of a pupil trying his best to deliver the things he was told to say by his teachers. He was also emboldened by the applause from his schoolmates, even if some of them had no idea what argument their representative was making. There was certainly no correlation between the topic and what the pupil was saying.

We condemn the actions of the pupils and the teachers involved in the exercise. If teachers have an axe to grind with people in leadership positions, they have more than enough avenues to vent their anger. But they must not succumb to the temptation of using their pupils – who are far below the voting age – to pass a message like the Agaie experience suggests. This can at best be termed as exploitation and or radicalisation of the pupils, which should not be allowed under any guise.

Sadly, the teachers in Agaie appear not to understand their roles and what society expects of people in their positions. They need to be sensitised to avoid this kind of unpleasant situation. Even if the pupil was coached on what to say outside the school, probably by parents or some older persons he looks up to, the teachers have a responsibility to free the child’s mind of such hate and misrepresentation. Teachers should also follow up on what they teach.

Debate should teach pupils and students the need to avoid generalisations. It should encourage them to appreciate positions other than theirs. Our young ones should be educated to have respect for not only their elders but their peers as well. They must not be taught or encouraged to use vulgar language in making their case.

It is not for nothing that Civic Education is being taught in schools as part of our curriculum. Respect for elders and constituted authority, good manners, and patriotism, when combined, will always produce well-informed citizens who can contribute meaningfully to nation-building.

We commend the Niger State Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education for its position as conveyed by its spokesman, Jibrin Usman-Kodo. It condemned the act, saying it would be investigated and all those found culpable would be punished.

The resolve by the authorities to investigate the incident further and take appropriate disciplinary action against those responsible for coaching the student to use such language should be carried to the latter.

While condemning this unfortunate incident in Agaie, we urge all the relevant authorities not to allow a repeat of this ugly incident. It should be a time to reflect deeply on the state of education in the country. And the government must put in place measures to improve the education system. There is a need to reorient teachers on their roles. Efforts should also be made to recruit only qualified teachers for public schools. Parents and guardians should also support the teachers by showing good examples to children at home. A society that allows the radicalisation of its children is doomed.

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