Most economists are of the view that it is the human resources of neither a nation, not its capital nor its materials resources that ultimately determine the character and pace of its economics and social development (Todaro, 1982).
According to Harbison (1973), human resources constitute the ultimate basis for the wealth of nations. He argued further that capital and natural resources are passive factors of production.
Human beings are the active agents who accumulate capital, exploit natural resources, build social, economic, and political organizations and carry forward national development.
He stated that a country that is unable to develop the skills and knowledge of its people and utilize them effectively in the national economy will be unable to develop anything else.
The principal mechanism for developing human skills and knowledge is the formal educational system. According to Taiwo (1982), an educational system is a complex organization of interactions between interdependent bodies, groups, and individuals, all aimed at the achievement of educational goals.
The character and context of a particular educational system will invariably determine the nature, magnitude, and character of a nature’s development process.
Similarly, the educational system is influenced, shaped, and determined by several (natural) factors and circumstances. Among these are race, language, politics, economy, and religion. The factors will be discussed one after the other below.
The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1984, defined race as “one of several divisions of human beings, each with a different type of body”. There are, for example, black, white, and brown rice.
Race is one natural factor that influences the character of an educational system. A good example of a country in the continent of Africa that has more than a race in South Africa.
The country for a very long time practices racism called apartheid against the majority black population. According to Harber (1989), at the very heart of the educational system of such a country would be the racist political philosophy of apartheid and consequent racial segregation and inequality.
Apartheid as a feature of racism
Apartheid is one dominant feature of racism. Racism and apartheid will no doubt affect the educational system of a country. The educational system will be used to perpetuate apartheid and racism.
In a racist country, education will be administered separately for the different races (students are physically separated by race), so also will the curriculum and goals of education be different for the respective races.
Different and varying educational programs will have to be run concurrently within the same geo-political region.
Under such a dispensation, the dominant ruling elite will have a more sophisticated, purposeful, qualitative, and geo-oriented educational system.
The content of education will most likely favor this group, and there is likely to be a deliberate educational policy that will restrict the ambitions of the rival racist group to the lowest grades.
It is apparent from the foregoing therefore that race, as a natural factor, will to a very great extent influence the character of an educational system.
Language is another important factor influencing the character of an educational system. Language, in any given society, is the medium of instruction in the educational system.
It is also a means of preserving the people’s culture. There are some countries with just one official language. Other countries are bilingual, while some others are multilingual.
A country with few ethnic groups, and probably with an official language, will have little or no problem with its educational system, especially when considered from the language point of view.
How official language influences the educational system
In such a country, the official language will be its medium of instruction. But the situation will be quite different and difficult for a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country. Concerning this kind of situation, most of the minor ethnic groups will be marginalized in the scheme of things.
Their languages are not written and given prominence (except for the official languages); production of instructional materials in them will be quite difficult.
Commenting further on this problem, Graham-Brown (1991) noted that the dilemma of choosing an official language for education faces countries with a multiplicity of indigenous languages.
There are, however, some positive aspects of the influence a language could have on the character of the educational system.
Since education (through the school) is an instrument used in the transmission of cultural patterns in society, language becomes, therefore, language could be said to wield an overwhelming influence on the character of an educational system.
Language appears to be the factor that has the greatest influence on an educational system because, without it, an educational system would be non-existent.
Politics is another major factor that influences the character of an educational system. Most people share the view that education and politics are inextricably intertwined. There is yet another assertion that “education is political”.
Supposing this view, Wilson (1990) pointed out that educational systems throughout the world – what goes on in schools and universities and elsewhere under the heading of “education”, is of course constantly subject to political pressures, in any plausible sense “political” from outside.
Politics and education
Politics determines the place of education in the priorities of the nation, the national goals of education, the process of decision-making, and the pattern of education.
Furthermore, politics is necessary to facilitate or make space for education; it has to be politically possible to educate, that is, to say enjoy a context in which education may be done.
In this sense, education depends on politics just as it depends on other things – like a sufficient degree of health and consciousness for people to learn.
Suffice it to say that one major influence that politics has on an educational system is in respect of the (national) policy on education.
Education systems all over the world have national politics on education which are influenced by the national philosophy and objectives.
The national philosophy and objectives are politically determined. In other words, they are influenced by the politics of the nation (brought about by the political class)
The economy has a very significant role to play in influencing the character of an educational system. Although one would say that both the economy and the educational system are “mutually exclusive”, suffice it to say that no educational system can survive or stand the test of time without a virile and viable economy.
According to Taiwo (1982), it is the economy that determines the supply of schools, attendance of children at school, the quality and quantity of equipment, transportation and roads, employment opportunities, and the supply and quality of teachers.
More importunity, it is the economy that provides the funds that are needed for the operation and sustenance of an educational system.
Education, no doubt, is the key to a country’s socio-economic and political development. It is the educational system that produces the manpower (human capital) needed to transform a country’s economy.
The quality of manpower in economy
The quality of the manpower produced for the economy by the educational system will be determined by the amount of money invested in the latter (educated system) by the former (economy).
For the educational system to achieve its goals and objectives, it must be fully equipped in terms of personnel, infrastructure, and other instructional materials.
Quality teachers have to be employed and adequately remunerated; schools have to be built and well-equipped with state-of-the-art teaching-learning facilities, among other requirements of the educational system.
All these requirements of the educational system can be put in place, only with the presence of a sound and strong economy.
This is another significant factor that influences the character of an educational system. In a country that is characterized by an official religion, be it Christianity, Islam, etc, such religion is most likely to be a potent factor in determining the nature of its educational system.
The kind of religion practiced in a country will naturally bear on the philosophy and national objectives of education of the people. The influence of religion will also be made manifest in the curriculum of the country.
However, in a secular country, that is, a country with no particular official religion, the educational system will be secular. Here, the interaction of religious groups will not be significant.
Religion will go a long way in determining the kind of educational system that will be operated in a particular country. In other words, religion, as a factor, will show the way forward for the educational system.