As the Federal Government rolls out the drums to celebrate the 60th Independence Anniversary of the country, stakeholders are not happy with the sliding fortune of the education sector, 60 years of nationhood. KAYODE OLANREWAJU examines the sectoral strides in the last six decades
- SSANU: Sector most backward, least developed
- Don: Education, an emergency to be tackled
- Stakeholders: There’s need for a way forward
The Nigeria’s education sector has come a long way, but in the last 60 years, the sector which today is awash with bad narrative, is confronted with numerous challenges due to the failure of successive governments at all levels to evolve a virile education system that would revolutionise the country.
The sector, a supposed fulcrum of socio-economic, technological and industrial emancipation of the country, as well as the overall national development, like many other sectors of the economy, is not immune to the various challenges besetting the country, 60 years after independence.
Apart from the paucity of funds confronting education, the sector is also bedeviled by acute shortage of facilities; dearth of infrastructure; poor curriculum development; overcrowded classrooms at primary and secondary school level; rising figure of out-of-school children, which today stands at over 14 million children; and the Almajiri problem in the North, while many pupils in some states are still sitting on dust infested floors or under trees/sheds to learn.
Beyond these, policy summersault and inconsistency have been one of the major bane of the sector, and this is followed by the failure of the Federal Government to address the numerous crises stagnating the sector, and the inability to muster the right political will 60 years after independence to foster a deliberate funding policy for the sector.
As the country rolled out the drums on October 1 to celebrate its 60th Independence Anniversary of nationhood, critical stakeholders in the education sector, are not only worried about the declining fortune of education at all levels, but also expressed mixed-feelings and dismay that between 1960 and 2020, the country’s search to evolve a virile education sector that would transform the country, is still a far cry.
According to them, the numerous challenges confronting the sector in the last six decades, especially from early 70s till date, have continued to taunt the sector, given little attention, particularly from the Federal Government to pull the sector from its imminent precipice. Since independence till date, there is still a growing financial squeeze on the entire national education system.
Prior to independence of the country in 1960, the nation had witnessed some major education leaps starting for the 1882 Education Ordinance by the colonial government, which resulted in the establishment of the first secondary school.
The others are the 1948 Education Ordinance, which not only decentralised education administration in the country, but also stands as the first educational legislation that covered the entire country; the 1952 Education Ordinance that also empowered each of the regional governments to develop its educational policies and systems; and the 1955 Education Law of the Western Region ; the Education Laws of 1956 in the Eastern and Northern Regions as well as the Lagos Education Ordinance of 1957 respectively.
Another significant leap that shaped the nation’s education in the pre-independence era was the Sir Eric Ashby Commission, set up in 1959 by the Federal Government to identify the future high-level manpower needs of the country for the next 20 years, which also examined higher education structure in terms of the needs of the country.
The 1969 National Curriculum Conference, which reviewed the education system and its goals, and determined the future and direction of education in the country. In1976, following the oil boom, the Federal Government introduced the Universal Free Primary Education (UPE) programme, which made universal free primary education compulsory for all children of school age.
This did not only resulted in rapid increase in primary school enrolments, the period also witnessed the takeover of schools from the missionaries by the government, as well as the introduction of a unified education system tagged the 7-5-2-3 educational policy.
Another attempt to bolster the nation’s education in the post-independence era came with the 1977 National Policy on Education that was geared towards addressing the relevance of education to the needs and aspirations of the country, in promoting national unity as well as laying the foundation for national integration.
The National Policy on Education, however, midwifed the introduction of the 6-3-3-4 educational system model of six-year of primary education, threeyear of junior secondary school, threeyear of senior secondary school, and four-year of university education.
But, the policy, despite several millions of naira equipment and tools installed in schools across the federation for technical, vocational and skill training, failed due to poor implementation on the part of the government.
The National Policy on Education was revised in 1998 and 2004 respectively to make it more relevant to the developmental needs of the country, but the policy based on the current school curriculum has been widely criticised.
More recently, in 1999, the Federal Government-led by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, flagged-off the UBE programme, which prescribed a compulsory primary education. Following the various education development policies, the first higher education institution, the Yaba Higher College, now Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) was established in 1948, and in the same year the University College of Ibadan, as a college of the University of London was also established, as the first university in Nigeria, which attained fully fledged status as the University of Ibadan in 1963.
This was followed by rapid development in higher education development based on the Ashby Commission’s recommendation with the establishment in 1962 of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (North); the University of Lagos; and the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University); having established the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in 1960.
Consequently, other universities were established under the Third National Development Plan (1975-1980) put in place by the Federal Military Government. With 13 members of staff and 104 students that took off in Yaba Higher College in January 1948, the country has today produced several millions of graduates across all fields of endeavour.
Presently, the country has about 174 universities (44 federal, 48 state and 82 private universities); over 120 public and private polytechnics and monotechnics; and about 100 colleges of education across the federation, which are currently insufficient to meet the educational needs of about 200 million Nigerian people.
The establishment of private universities as a recent development began under President Shehu Shagari administration between 1979 and 1983, and the second phase under President Obasanjo’s administration in 1999 and till date under President Muhammadu Buhari.
But, with over 37 Ministers and Ministers of States for Education between 1960 and 2020, stakeholders regretted that the sector is hamstrung with problems of inconsistent or policy summersault, brain drain, acute underfunding with less than 12 per cent of the nation’s total fiscal budget voted to the sector in the last 10 years, as a far cry from the lion’s share of the budget allocated to education by the regional government.
However, it is worrisome that with about N6 trillion said to have voted for the sector in the last 12 years, there has not been commensurate improvement in the sector in the last two decades.
Towards providing quality education, the Federal Government had in the last few years embarked on establishment of more public and private higher institutions, set up of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and NEEDS Assessment geared towards providing funding intervention for the sector, and the Treasury Single Account (TSA) to ensure financial transparency especially in higher institutions.
It also established the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN); introduced the Federal Government Reading Campaign and the Federal Government Home Grown School Feeding Programme under President Buhari’s administration in which over N500 billion under the Social Investment Programme (SIP) was appropriated between 2016 and 2017; and the most recent is the Integrated Payroll and personnel Information System (IPPIS) introduced in 2019 to ensure accountability and transparency in the payment in all public institutions.
Under the Home Grown School Feeding programme that continued to boost enrolment and retention of pupils in primary schools across the federation, about 50 million school children across the 36 states of the federation, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, were said to have so far benefited from the policy. Meanwhile, the crisis of Almajiri children has continued to pose a great danger to the country with its attendant problem, while Boko Haram terrorism has unleashed monumental crisis on the country.
The outbreak of the global Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic that hit Nigeria in February, like other countries of the world, has made the year 2020 the most turbulent and difficult year for education in the country.
The outbreak of the virus led to forceful closure of all educational institutions in the country from primary school to university since March to contain the spread of the virus, while the school calendar was distorted. While some states have announced reopening of their schools in phases, several other states and indeed, the Federal Government are yet to announce the reopening of their schools eight months after closure.
Through closure of schools, several education programmes and activities at all levels of education is were cancelled, prominent among this was the shift of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) earlier scheduled for April to August/September; the delay in admission process into higher institution and conduct of common entrance examinations into secondary schools, as well as cancellation of third term and automatic promotion of students to next the class in primary and secondary schools the new 2020/2021 school year as directed by the government. Another major challenge of the sector over the years is the incessant strikes by workers especially by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), ASUU and other staff unions in the higher institutions, which has consistently bogged down the system.
Currently, ASUU, which has been on strike since March, had in the last 20 years closed down the university system for over 36 months. But, while reviewing the education sector in the last 60 year, stakeholders insisted that there was the urgent need for collective effort to seek the way forward.
This is as the stakeholders, including the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and other policy makers, have consistently expressed anxiety over the sloppiness in the education sector, and the failure to reinvent the wheel of the sector as the nation’s education has continued to nosedive despite all the efforts and agitations by various concerned citizens.
They, however, lamented that 60 years after independence many incurable challenges have continued unresolved to poke the sector. These, according to them, include gross inadequate funding, incessant strikes by staff unions, high tuition fees, brain drain syndrome, poor facilities, inadequate qualified teachers, shortage of classroom facilities, ineffective curriculum, mass failure in the school system, especially in the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO); insufficient admission space, especially in universities, where less than 500,000 of the over two million candidates seeking admission yearly are admitted due to limited space in the institutions.
However, in his appraisal of the sector, former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Peter Okebukola, however, traced some achievements of the sector in the period under review.
According to him, the nationally literacy rate (15 years and older) made gains over the years estimated at about 67.3 per cent in 1960 has grown to 75.03 per cent in 2019; primary gross enrolment ratio also improved from estimated 69.2 per cent to 84.73 per cent in 2019; secondary gross enrolment ratio increased from estimated 36 per cent to 42 percent; and tertiary gross enrolment also increased from estimated 6.3 per cent in 1960 to 18.16 per cent in 2019.
“On the quality front as measured by the percentage pass in public examinations, there has been notable improvement in the senior school certificate examination (SSCE) results conducted by WAEC and NECO.
Within the last 10 years, and as reported by NUC Digest of Statistics, the universities recorded an 18 per cent increase in the number of graduates who made first class. The number of academic programmes that earned NUC’s full accreditation status increased by 10.8 per cent in 2018. Quite striking also, in 2017 and 2018, JAMB processed within a month, admission into the Nigerian higher education system of about 1.7 million candidates compared to 1.6 million in 2016. This is the highest in over 40 years and with a model of efficiency and transparency in conducting public examinations,” he noted.
But, despite the gains, Okebukola, who also said that there were areas of failure, noted that going beyond 60th anniversary, the government and other stakeholders should put hands on the plough to re-prioritise education in the bid to draw from the power of education for faster development.
According to him, the Federal Government working with state and local government actors should vigorously implement a scheme for balancing quality with quantity in delivering education.
He suggested: “The rate of expansion in enrolment should match the rate of provision of facilities and human resources. We need to reduce financial leakages and profligate spending by political and other office holders so as to free funds for better funding of our schools. In the light of the COVID-19 experience, we need to strengthen the system to put technology to better use through open and distance learning (ODL) platforms. Teachers have to be trained in ODL.
Adaptable and cheap technology need to be in place and a lasting solution should be urgently sought to abate the spate of strikes which is destabilising the education calendar.
Federal and state government should urgently provide funds for implementing the Rasheed Revitalisation Plan for the Nigerian university system if the goal is to produce the best quality graduates in Africa for driving Nigeria’s economy from 2023.”
Also, a don at the Department of Linguistics and African Languages, University of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Demola Dasylva, however, expressed regret that the three levels of education system had been on the decline and in a tragic regression since independence.
He said: “If the scale was 80 at independence in terms of funding, infrastructure, programme and teaching personnel, it is below 30 currently, and this calls for urgent attention to salvage and necessitate a holistic infrastructural reform and recalibration of the programme content, among other things.”
But, as a way forward, the don advised that experts and skilled minds, who really understand what education is meant to achieve, and respect the teachers that drive education, with the main purpose of putting it back on track should be called to undertake the reform.
On ranking of universities, Dasylva, who recalled how early into the country’s independence the University of Ibadan (UI), ABU, and UNN, University of Ibadan ranked among the best 20 in the world, lamented that today with over 170 public and private universities, UI which ranks first in Nigeria and West Africa is number 440 currently on the world ranking table, saying with this the country is celebrating.
The don added: “Tell me what we are celebrating, when indeed we should be sorry for being ridiculed by such a poor ranking. I expect all the stakeholders to see it as an emergency situation that must be taken up as a serious challenge and tackled headlong, if Nigeria’s universities must be locally relevant and globally competitive.
ASUU since the 1980s has serially been on strike, usually to draw Federal Government’s attention to the appalling state of the universities, hardly to any avail. Right now,
According to him, the 60 years of independence provides an opportunity for a serious or sober reflection to identify where the country got it all wrong, and sincerely listen to experts for enduring solutions.
“This is what I believe ASUU is capable of providing if the government will let it. I remember it was ASUU that came up with the idea of Value Added Tax (VAT) and Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), now TETFund) to fund education, when the Federal Government kept complaining that there was no money to fund education,” Dasylva added.
On its part, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), said though the country’s 60th anniversary is flagpole independence, the performance index of the education sector revealed that it is not one of the sectors that successive governments have made much strides.
The association’s Public Relations Officer, Abdussobur Salaam, who regretted that the sector is one of the most backward and least developed, and still keeps getting worse by the day, insisted that successive governments merely paid lip service to the education sector, saying that this has resulted to the meagre allocations to the sector.
“On the whole, Nigeria at 60, the status of our education system is bleak. The education system has moved on a fast slope of decline and things are getting worse by the day.
We need a focused government that would place a premium on education to begin by holding an education summit where all stakeholders can chart a proper course of action which will be truly and judiciously followed to salvage what is left of the wreckage of the system,” he stressed.
While decrying the poor funding of the sector, SSANU added: “We keep talking about UNESCO benchmarks for funding of education and till date, what we see as funding of the sector is a far cry from the stipulations of the international agency.
“SSANU has been in the vanguard against the proliferation of universities. We have many mushroom and poorly funded tertiary institutions in Nigeria. These institutions suffer the dearth of facilities and infrastructure which make them very unsuitable for learning.”
The Dean, School of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi, in his assessment of the sector, recalled that the biggest success factor in education sector was the establishment of the Universal Basic Education (UBEC) and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) intervention agencies.
According to him, most of the schools, if not for the inputs of the two agencies, would have been in total state of disrepair, given the fact that the federal and state government had abandoned the institutions as far as training, research and infrastructure development are concerned. He blamed the failure of the sector on what he described as policy inconsistencies, where policies are announced and jettisoned at the fancy of the next minister, commissioner or governor is worrisome.
He recalled how the 6-3-3-4 policy of education, which would have transformed the nation, was botched due to lack of political will on the part of the government to implement it fully, saying poor attention paid to the technical and vocational education sub-sector has continued to taunt the sector. As part of the way forward,
Odewumi, who said that polytechnics and colleges of education shouldbestrengthenedandwell-funded to promote academic, research and cutting-edge skills acquisition, said the crazy fad of establishing more mushroom tertiary institutions and gross neglect of the existing ones, should stop. Besides, he sought the reintroduction of the Higher School Certificate (HSC), saying that level should have served as a waiting room for those that could not secure admission into tertiary institutions.