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The biology jeopardy

A revision of secondary education curriculum gone into effect has struck out biology as a compulsory subject for all secondary school students. Biology, along with…

A revision of secondary education curriculum gone into effect has struck out biology as a compulsory subject for all secondary school students. Biology, along with mathematics, economics, agriculture and English language, were untouchable subjects in secondary schools.
All students took them, regardless of discipline. But students returning to school this September confronted new rules.
Biology “is not compulsory at all now,” said a schoolteacher, asked about the change.
The subject is still core for students in the sciences, but arts and social sciences students are at liberty to pick any other subject—including vocational and technical subjects—to make up required course load.
The stark change made for uncomfortable deliberations in staff room in weeks leading up to resumption.
School administrators agonised over the new rules, hoping to take a position—toe the line education authorities have drawn in the sand or put forth reasons why students need to continue studying biology as a compulsory subject.
“It is not going to be fair,” says Sunday Oloche, principal at Greater Tomorrow Academy.
With enough time to decide what to do, the decision of schools about biology is mixed. While some have toed the government line, several others continue to offer biology to all SS students—at least until they are in SS3 and choose between sciences and the arts.
“Biology concerns human beings and systemic development. [By comparison] home economics teaches puberty—that’s science in nature, not creativity. But these people [students] have to know to be guided,” says Oloche.
The argument is that children need biology to shape their views on what it means to be physically human—in the same way civics teaches citizenship and responsibility.
Oloche cites the first-aid example: anyone can be your first-aider in time of trouble, but not if they have gone through six years of secondary school with only three basic years of integrated science as their entire understanding of the human body.
Translation: your first-aider doesn’t have to be limited because they opted for the arts and skipped biology.
“It is a subject you need most in life,” says James Augustine, an SS3 student of the arts. “It helped me understand myself.” By that, he means time his body hit puberty before dragging into adolescence.
Understanding the changes his body had to go through meant James didn’t lose his cool.
Favour Jerry, an arts student who’s done three years of secondary-school biology, calls it “an important subject that everybody needs, both arts and science.”
That’s “because it talks more about the human body. I feel that if everybody doesn’t know it, there will be a difference,” she says.
Both of them could be in the last batch of students for whom biology is across the board.
At a secondary school in Mararaba, Nasarawa, a class of SS2 students—arts and sciences combined—interrupt a civics class to consider their options in the absence of biology.
They speak of two years of life studies they couldn’t have learned from their grandmothers. In the absence of biology, they say, most would opt for geography and agriculture when they get to SS3.
Their choices veer away from what education authorities envisage on account of what subjects schools are able to offer in Nigeria.
A 2009 study into the implementation of secondary school curriculum found that up to 75% of Nigerian schools offered skill-based vocational and technical subjects like home economics and agricultural science compared with only 3% which offered subjects as auto-mechanics.
The new curriculum suggests subjects as computer science, woodwork and joinery and information technology.
Examinations are increasingly including computer science, for which students can enrol if their school gets approval upon securing good labs for computer studies.
About half of all Nigerian schools lack a computer science room, and only 12% of schools have workshops.
By contrast, 56% of students leaving secondary learn fine art as the only practical or entrepreneurial skill, according to the study which considered students in federal, state, high-class and low-class secondary schools.
It is uncertain how the changes will filter through the school system, but adaptation is inevitable.
“Since the idea of education and curriculum always changes, schools will adapt,” says Oloche.
When they do, parents “will not have any option,” he adds. “They will only agree with what the school lays down.”
A handful of schools are already on the new curriculum bandwagon, leaving students to pick their subjects a-la-carte.
“It depends on individuals,” says the schoolteacher mentioned at the outset. “If you are going into engineering, they say biology is not necessary at all.”
A classful of students yet to decide between sciences and the arts think differently.

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