- ASUU: We need a minister who can reposition Nigeria’s education
- Education Rights Campaign: Budget to sector nose-diving
Stakeholders are not comfortable with the low pace of the nation’s education development in the last 20 years of democratic government, particularly the last four years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration
Twenty years of democratic government, mixed feelings have continued to trail the nation’s education sector, which critical stakeholders lamented is still not only wobbling, but also lacks the strength to revolutionise the socio-economic and political development of the country.
Appraising the sector in the last 20 years and four years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, stakeholders such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), scholars, and civil society groups, among others, wondered that like many other sectors, the education industry had been bogged down by various challenges besetting its growth. With 11 Ministers between 1999 and 2019, they, however, expressed dismay that the sector had failed to marshal strategic plans that would lead Nigeria out of its present woods.
They listed some of the numerous challenges hamstrung, and crises stagnating the sector to include policy somersault, acute under-funding with less than 15 per cent of the nation’s fiscal budget being voted to education in the last 20 years, incessant strikes by staff unions (especially in tertiary institutions), high tuition fees, brain drain syndrome, poor facilities, inadequate qualified teachers, shortage of classroom facilities, ineffective curriculum, mass failure and examination malpractice in the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).
Worse still, while many students are learning under trees and sheds, and many are sitting on dust infested floor to acquire education in some schools in the country, some communities are without primary school to cater for the education needs of the children in the 21st Century. Under budgetary allocation to the sector which has consistently failed to measure up to the 26 per cent UNESCO benchmark in the last 20 years, the Federal Government in 2015 allocated N484,263,784,654 (10.78%); 2016 – N480,278,214,639 (7.92%); 2017 – N550,597,184,148 (7.40%); and 2018 – N605,800,080,038 (7.04%) and in 2019, the government voted about 7.05 per cent of the total budget, translating to N620.5 billion to the sector. Meanwhile, the face-off between the Federal Government and ASUU, which led to prolonged closure of the public university system, is yet to be resolved as the union claimed it merely suspended its last strike, pending the implementation of the agreements reached with the government.
Though, successive governments at the federal level have in the last 20 years initiated several moves, which have also failed to reinvent the wheel of the sector and bring about the needed tonic for development due to lack of political will on the part of government and other policy makers.
Some of the steps taken by the government between 1999 and 2019 to restructure and reconstruct Nigeria’s education sector, but which are yet to bring about the needed growth, include approval of licences for establishment of about 74 private universities across the country; reintroduction of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) for the development of basic education component of the sector; establishment of more public higher institutions; introduction of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and the NEEDS Assessment geared towards providing funding intervention for the sector from basic education to tertiary institutions. Others are the Treasury Single Account (TSA) designed to ensure financial transparency in the government establishments; the Federal Government Reading Campaign and rehabilitation of National libraries; the Home Grown School Feeding Programme introduced by the President Buhari’s administration for which N500 billion under the Social Investment Programme (SIP) was appropriated between 2016 and 2017 (covering over 26 states of the federation, with other states to join the programme); and professionalisation of the teaching profession through the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), which undertakes the continuous professional development of teachers with current and up-to-date materials and technology. Commenting on the school feeding programme recently in Ekiti State during the launch of the programme, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, however, said each state participating in the programe would contribute 40 per cent, while the Federal Government shoulders 60 per cent. According to the Vice President, so far no fewer than 9.3 million pupils from over 56,506 primary schools across the country are currently benefiting from the programme, while over N5.6 billion had been spent since it was kicked off four years ago, as one of the fourm components of the Social Investment Programmes initiated by President Buhari’s administration.
The programme is aimed at boosting enrolment and retention of pupils in primary schools across the federation with over 24 million school children in the 36 states of the federation, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja as targets. Despite all these efforts and numerous others undertaken by the government, the sector has not been able to move the nation forward due to the crisis of insufficient funds on the part of government to make the initiatives work.
It is, however, pathetic that today, the country, based on statistics from the United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF) has about 13.2 million outof- school children, the highest in the world after Pakistan, while according to a civil society group working in the Northern part of the country, the population of Almajiri children has grown from about 10,000 to 14,000.
Presently, apart from insufficient number of higher institutions in the country, most of the institutions, especially the government-owned are facing acute under-funding, lack of expansion and poor infrastructure to either deliver their mandates or provide access for the teeming youths, seeking higher education.While appraising the sector recently, Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, said Nigeria would require N2 trillion annually to fix education sector in order to address the enormous challenges confronting the system.
This was as he pointed out that the Federal Ministry of Education had in the last four years spent N1.338 trillion on capital projects, as well as reduced charges in Unity School, UTME registration fees and other examinations. Analysing the education budget, the Minister said that in 2019, the sector got about 7.05 per cent of the total budget, translating to N620.5 billion, recording a marginal increase over the total of N605.8 billion budgeted for the sector in 2018.
“This falls below the 15 to 20 per cent minimum percentage recommended for developing countries by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to enable countries meet their education needs,” he added.
In his valedictory press briefing, tagged: “Our Stewardship in the Last Four Years,” Adamu said: “In terms of improving funding for the sector, I am optimistic that the Federal Government will expeditiously look into the recommendations we have made in that respect because no nation cannot rise above the standard of its education.”
He said within the last four years of transforming the sector on all fronts, the Federal Government spent the amount for the provision of infrastructural and manpower development in basic, secondary and tertiary education, as well as increasing the carrying capacity and creating unfettered access to education at all levels for the young ones.
In the area of capital expenditure, he noted that UBEC interventions in states recorded a total of N350 billion, while TETFund and NEEDS Assessment interventions recorded N857 billion with the ministry and other agencies recording N86 billion, amounting to N1.338 trillion in four years. This figure, according to the Minister, is aside the N25 billion recently approved for public universities in the country.
The Minister, who apologised to Nigerians that he failed to reduce the number of out- of-school-children (OSC) in the country by half at the end of his four-year tenure, said he was able to reduce the figure from 13 million to about 10.1 million, which is still the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and perhaps in the world.
As part of moves to address the challenges of education, Adamu hinted that President Buhari had given assent to the bill seeking the establishment of a National Commission for Secondary Schools (NCSS), while the fees paid by students of Federal Government Colleges had been reviewed downward with effect from the next academic session commencing in September. Meanwhile, the National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, while speaking with New Telegraph, said rather than glossing over the challenges and problems of the sector, he sought painstaking approaches that would address the fundamental sectoral crises.
Therefore, as a way forward, he called on President Buhari to appoint a Minister of Education who knows what it takes to reposition Nigeria’s education for global reckoning. Ogunyemi stressed: “The Minister must be well-grounded in the history and trajectory of education so as to realise that there was a time when the nation’s education, particularly public university education, was the envy of all in Africa.
“The Minister must also have the clout to build on the uncompleted project of the immediate past Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu on education funding by raising the annual budgetary allocation to at least 20 per cent in next four years.
The second major area of change, which ASUU will like to see under the new dispensation, is for government to drop the envelope budgeting system which has adversely affected public universities and return to the needs-based budgeting.” According to ASUU, such budget profile would enable government to implement a number of agreements and memoranda (including the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement, the 2013 MoU and 2019 MoA) it signed with ASUU and other trade unions in the sector. Besides, he said Ogunyemi told New Telegraph that the budget would also enable the country to design the education system for achieving national goals, as well as for Nigeria to free itself from the pit of underdevelopment into which it has been plunged.
While stressing the need for a comprehensive review and harmonisation of the country’s educational policies towards bringing them in tune with the reality of today’s Nigeria, the ASUU President regretted what he described as hike in school fees from primary school level to university level. According to him, a situation in which education has been priced beyond the reach of the poor is a recipe for increased corruption, unproductive economy and complete breakdown of law and order.
“So, it is time the government made access to qualitative education free at all levels and backed the declaration with appropriate policy enforcement,” Ogunyemi noted, adding that this would be in the long-term interests of hapless Nigerians, who are already looking for a leadership that could rescue them from the afflictions of ignorance, diseases and poverty. Also, on his part, the National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Mr. Hassan Taiwo Soweto, described President Buhari-led Federal Government of the All Progressives Congress (APC) first term as being a huge disappointment in the area of public education. According to him, not only did budgetary allocations to the sector nose-dive dangerously, the country also witnessed many disruptions in tertiary sub-sector as a result of strikes by academic and nonacademic staff. While condemning the Federal Government for not implementing the agreements signed with ASUU and other staff unions, he noted that the poor welfare of academic and non-academic staff, as well as the poor workingenvironmenthadledtobrain drain of scholars to foreign lands.
“At the moment, we have an acute shortage of teaching staff and laboratory technologists, among other retinue of workers in the tertiary sub-sector. Similar situation is confronting the students in the last four years, while the government never thought it wise to increase budgetary allocation to education,” Hassan added.
To him, though the argument before was that the country was in recession, and despite that Nigeria had since come out of the recession, the situation of underfunding has persisted. “Except TETFund enabled projects, no real improvement had come the way of teaching and learning infrastructure in the tertiary institutions in the last four years,” Hassan said, adding that beyond the school feeding programme, the government needed to improve the condition of public education system with adequate, well-trained and well-remunerated teachers, textbooks, libraries and other facilities for the initiative to lead to overall improvement in enrolment, retention and quality at basic education level.
As a way forward, Hassan, however, reiterated the call for better funding of public education and democratic management of schools, saying: “I have no doubt that Nigeria has the resources to provide free and quality public education at all levels. This is the only way we can achieve a sustainable basis public education that will leapfrog the economy.” Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Dr. Masa’udu Kazaure, who bemoaned the poor budgetary allocation by some state government, especially to the polytechnic institutions, recalling that the Board, had to stop the Quality Assurance exercise in some polytechnic due to lack the funds by the institutions to pay their staff salary.
“How can a polytechnic that cannot pay its staff salary fund quality assurance exercise? It is very bad,” he noted. In his assessment of education sector in the last four years, the Executive Secretary, told New Telegraph that there had been steady growth in private sector participation and involvement in the education sector. And since the government alone could not fund education, he added that the joy of it all was that private investors are coming more into the system, adding that generally there are other funding sources such as TETFund, UBEC, PTDF, USAID, World Bank and other International Development Partners that combined with Federal Government to fund the sector.
“And, when we combine all these we will realise that the funds are far above the 26 per cent some of the unions are talking about,” Kazaure noted. Also to a Lagos State University (LASU) don and Dean of School of Transport, Prof. Samuel Odewunmi, education in the last four years of Buhari’s administration has been on “life support system.” “It is on autopilot just gliding without any noticeable thrust. TETFund and UBEC are the main engines of infrastructural development. TETFund is the saving grace for tertiary institutions in terms of physical infrastructure and human capacity enhancement. It is the sole funding source for training, conference and research,” Odewunmi said. The lecturer, who insisted that education was never listed in the government’s topmost agenda, lamented how ASUU had been shouting itself hoarse about the inadequacies of the system, which he recalled had led to strike on several occasions in the last four years without any sign of resolving the problem. Odewunmi, who in his assessment of the sector pointed out that the high figure of out-of-school children, bore testimony to the gross neglect of the sector, however, said: “It may not be catastrophically bad, but there is no remarkable performance worthy of mention in the sector in the last few years.
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