Education

2021: Education sector a mixed-grill

Given the performance of the education sector in 2021, there are mixed-feelings among stakeholders over the various developments in the sector, especially kidnapping of students and teachers, strikes and poor funding, saying nothing concrete has really changed in the last one year

Union: Govt displays lack of commitment to MoU
Don: Nothing really changed in the sector
NIN compulsory for WASSCE registration

Against the backdrop of developments in the nation’s education sector in the outgoing year, key stakeholders have expressed mixedfeelings over the low performance index of the sector. As the outgoing year 2021 remains only four days to end, the review and assessment of the education sector by key stakeholders indicated that the sector was full of mixed-grills.

In the sectoral appraisal, major challenges confronting the nation’s education in the year under review include insecurity in schools; inadequate funding; strikes by the various workers’ unions in tertiary institutions; rising figure of out-ofschool children; insufficient school facilities and laboratory equipment; shortage of qualified teachers; dilapidated structures; dearth of infrastructure; unfriendly learning environment; as well as low ranking of Nigerian universities globally. Given these challenges and many others numerous crises besetting the sector over the years, this year’s scorecard and performance index, according to stakeholders, is at the lowest ebb.

Specifically, the unabated invasion and attacks unleashed on educational institutions in the country, particularly in states such as Borno, Yobe, Kaduna, Katsina, Niger and Zamfara by the Boko Haram sect and bandits, leading to abduction of students and teachers for ransom, as well as the crisis of herdsmen-farmers’ clashes are not only threatening the sector, but also accounted largely for the soaring figure of out-of-school children.

For instance, between December 2020 and this year, at least over 1,000 school children were said to have been kidnapped by the bandits, while no fewer than nine of the abducted students were reported to have been killed by their abductors, while some are still being held by their abductors. Besides, more than 600 primary and secondary schools across states in the Northern part of the country were forced to shut down due to banditry and fear of invasion. Another threatening challenge of the education sector is the alarming figure of out-of-school children, which the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report put at 13.2 million in Nigeria, indicating the highest in Sub- Saharan Africa.

However, apart from the crisis of insecurity of schools across the country, there is the problem of dearth of facilities in schools in which some students sit on dust infested floors, under trees or sheds in some part of the country to learn. Meanwhile, stakeholders have condemned the poor budgetary allocation to the sector, insisting that inadequate funding of the sector at all levels of government accounted for the sliding fortune of the entire system from primary school to tertiary institutions.

In the year under review, the Federal Government’s annual budget to the troubled education sector was N742.5 billion, representing 5.68 per cent out of a total budget size of N13.58 trillion, the lowest in 10 years and much below the recommended benchmark. However, the Federal Government initiated efforts through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) as interventionist funding agency for higher institutions and to offer education grants to state governments for the basic education sub-sector.

But many tertiary institutions and state governments have failed to access the TETFund and UBEC funds, thereby slowing down the development of the sector. Again, the challenges of protracted face-off between the Federal Government and the various university staff unions such as ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT, have persistently bogged down the system.

In the year under the review, the sector, especially the university system has witnessed warning strikes and strikes by the workers. Barely two weeks ago, the planned nationwide indefinite strike earlier threatened by the Academic Staff Union of Universities that would have disrupted academic activities in the university system, was averted. Another minus of the sector in the outgoing year is the poor performance of the Nigerian university system in the global ranking of universities.

In the latest ranking by Webometric World Universities Ranking, University of Ibadan (UI), which came first in Nigeria, ranked 1,196th in the world; while Covenant University came second and ranked 1314th and Obafemi Awolowo came third and ranked 1,503rd in the global ranking, suggesting that the country still has a long way to go. This year, some universities due to the distortion to academic calendar brought about by COVID-19 pandemic did not admit fresh students for the 2020/2021 academic session, while some institutions announced the admission of 70 per cent for 2021/2022 session, while 30 per cent would be admitted for 2022 academic session.

This distortion would deny many eligible candidates from securing admission, while several others due to the limited admission spaces in the university system would not also be able to secure admission yearly. Despite the shortcomings recorded in the outgoing year, the Federal Government approved the establishment of four new federal universities to address shortfall in technology, medicine and nutrition, while 20 new private universities were also approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), bringing the total number of private universities to 99 and the total number of universities in the country to 193. Although the sector recorded high performance in the 2021 WASSCE with 81.7 per cent pass, the best in more than a decade, it is not the case with the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) where candidates recorded poor performance with only 168,613 candidates scored above 200 out of the available 400 marks. Meanwhile, the Federal Government through WAEC has announced the compulsory use of the National Identification Numbers (NIN) for candidates registering for WASSCE next year.

To improve the ranking of the Nigerian universities globally, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund between November 22 and 23, 2021 organised a workshop on Requirements for Strengthening Nigerian Universities for Higher Global Ranking.”

The workshop, which attracted university eggheads and professionals, according to the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro, was to reposition the university system for cutting-edge research and improved feasibility globally. Apart from the workshop, the agency increased Research Proposal Grant Cycle from N6.4 billion in 2020 to N8.5 billion in 2021 to support research projects, as well as enhance research profile in the system. Appraising the sector, the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), Prof. Josiah Ajiboye, however, said the nation’s education in 2021 had been largely dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic like all other facets of nation’s lives. According to him, the sector has been trying to navigate through the pandemic using a lot of combined strategies, especially as it concerns training and retraining of teachers to cope with the challenges of the pandemic.

“The pandemic has thrown up challenges and new opportunities for our teachers and school leaders,” he noted, saying that as part of the coping strategies in view of the challenges posed by the pandemic, the agency embraced digital learning as the major way to go. He recalled that a series of digital literacy training programmes were organised for teachers at the level of federal and state governments, saying that the TRCN, under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Education through the Global Partnership for Education organised a digital literacy and online teaching training programme for Master teachers across 16 states of the federation.

Besides, he said that beginning from January 2022, the agency under the programme, would commence the training of another 30,000 teachers in the selected 16 states of the federation. Apart from this training programme, Ajiboye noted that agency had also organised digital literacy training for selected teachers in the South- West and the North-East, while the mandatory continuing professional development training in Mathematics and English language was also organised for teachers in the South-East geo-political zone of the federation. As part of strategies to rid the teaching profession of unqualified teachers, the Registrar pointed out that one major positive effect of all the training on teachers is the excellent performance of Nigerian students in the May/ June Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).

He said: “For the first time in more than a decade, Nigerian students recorded outstanding performance in this year’s examination. This is a major positive highlight for education in Nigeria in 2021. This noble achievement could be attributed to the combined efforts of the federal and state governments and their various parastatals, especially the efforts of the TRCN in repositioning the teaching profession. These efforts will begin to yield positive results gradually. “From this, it is very clear that promotion of teacher professionalism and welfare is the right way to go. We look forward to more robust positive activities in 2022 to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in Nigeria schools.

The TRCN is poised more than ever before to eliminate quackery from teaching and make it solely a professional affair.” Meanwhile, a don at the Lagos State University (LASU) and former Dean School of Transport and Logistics, Prof. Samuel Odewumi, said nothing really had changed in the sector, except for the worrisome insecurity situation that has devastated the school system and pushed the out-of-school children figure to the highest level ever.

“It is agonising to watch schools being shut down due to kidnappings, abductions and mindless slaughter of students by bandits and the terrorist Boko Haram sect,” he lamented, saying definitely education appears not to be on the priority list of the Nigerian government at all levels. “When you add the ravaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in epileptic school calendar since last year, the negative effects have continued to take its heavy toll on the sector that will take some years to correct even in the best of climes,” the don added.

On its part, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities wondered that the year 2021 has not been particularly exciting as far as the university sub-sector was concerned. Its National Vice President, Dr. Abdussobur Olayiwola Salaam, said that the year 2021, like other years in the recent past, had continued to witness industrial action or threats of strikes by the various staff unions in the subsector. According to him, close scrutiny of these agitations were a product of breaches of agreements entered into by the Federal Government with the unions.

He blamed the government for displaying lack of commitment towards implementing the various Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) and agreements reached over the issues of the enrollment of members of the union into the IPPIS despite its negative fallouts. He listed the payment of Earned Allowances owed members, the renegotiation of the SSANU/FGN 2009 Agreement, poor funding of public universities, especially state-owned universities, and the University Staff Schools issues, among others, as some of the contending issues with the government. Salaam, who noted that the absence of good faith on the part of the government in dealing with the unions greatly affected industrial peace in 2021, further added that the agitations for the payment of arrears of new National Minimum Wage and others are highly predictable in the 2022, if care is not taken as the regime of industrial agitations will continue.

As a way out of the imbroglio, the union leader, called for a holistic review of the governance structure and laws setting up public universities in the country, even as he regretted that the poor governance system as enshrined in the faulty University Laws is what led to the various discomfitures witnessed in the sector in 2021. Among such embarrassments, to him, are the protracted and controversial succession processes for appointment of substantive Vice-Chancellor for Lagos State University, University of Port Harcourt and Osun State University, among others.

“The defective corporate governance system evidenced in 2021 has strengthened the need for a holistic review of the university laws,” Salaam said, saying one major concern in the year 2021 was the creeping of insecurity into citadels of learning. He regretted that the insecurity led to the invasion of the University of Abuja by armed criminals who kidnapped workers of the institution and members of their family, as well as other attacks and abduction of students across schools in the country.

The union, therefore, called for more attention to be paid to schools, which it said had become soft targets for armed criminals, saying there was the need to review the outsourcing policy of the government with respect to security units in the university system. Meanwhile, Salaam, who also hinted that the outsourcing policy, especially in educational institutions is not in conformity with the security realities of today, noted that there had been calls to arm university security personnel to enable them to defend the communities effectively.

 

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