Education

Nigeria at 61: Education still at crossroads

MIXED GRILL

There is no doubt that the Nigeria’s education sector in 61 years of nationhood is still a far cry from the dream of the people

 

  • ˜NANS set to convene all-inclusive national summit

 

  • ˜Don: Military incursion stifles education growth

 

Nigeria is 61 years as a nation, but with little to cheer from its wobbling education sector.

 

The sector is faced with the problems of neglect, lack of proper attention and the right political will on the part of successive governments to reposition the ailing sector.

 

Over the years, crises of inadequate funding, disruption of school activities due to incessant strikes by staff unions, human capital flight, limited admission spaces in university system, dearth of facilities and laboratory equipment, disappearance of libraries, high tuition fees, shortage of infrastructure, low research output, policy summersault, ineffective curriculum, upsurge in insecurity in school (abduction and kidnapping of students), among others, have remained consistent challenges stagnating the sector.

 

Today, many public schools across the country are bedeviled by dilapidated structures, leaking roofs, collapsed walls, damaged window planes, while some states students still sit and learn under sheds and dust infested floors, without qualified teachers.

 

But, appraising the sector, key stakeholders, including scholars, policy makers, students, parents have expressed dismay and consternation over the state of education, saying it is still a long way to go. In his appraisal of the sector, the Registrar/Chief Executive of Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), Prof. Josiah Ajiboye, bemoaned the abysmally low funding of the sector over the years.

 

According to him, the annual budgetary allocations to education compare to other developing countries, including those in Africa is embarrassingly poor.

 

Going by the UNESCO benchmark recommendation of not less than 20 per cent of annual budget allocations to education by developing countries, Nigeria is far away from that goal,” he stated.

 

But, he pointed out that a lifeline for education was recently declared by President Muhammadu Buhari at the just concluded Global Partnership for Education Summit in the United Kingdom, where he said the country would focus more on increasing budgetary allocations to education for the next two years.

 

On the quality of teachers, he said the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria had brought about significant changes to teacher recruitment, training and professionalism, while he insisted “we still have a long way to go.”

 

He noted that currently about 83 per cent of teachers in public schools are well qualified and certificated by the Council, but also regretted that a large percentage of teachers in private schools are not qualified to be in the classrooms, talk less of been registered by TRCN.

 

On teacher continuing professional development, which he said had not also been well-funded by the government, Ajiboye reiterated that teachers need training and retraining for effective and efficient delivery.

 

As a challenge, he noted that some teachers had not attended in-service training since their employment, insisting that teachers need to keep abreast of current developments in their cognitive area and pedagogy. “We need massive funding for teacher mandatory continuing professional education. Only a few states in Nigeria are  investing in this.

 

The TRCN needs a lot of funding to deliver on this mandate to ensure quality teachers in our school system,” the Registrar added. But, to the Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Demola Dasylva, the initial promises shown by the nation’s education sector had waned over time.

 

Tracing the trajectory of the sector since the 60s, the don, a Professor of African Literature, said the apparent initial vision and enthusiasm of the country’s leadership that led to the founding of premier University (College) of Ibadan, and other such as ABU (Zaria), UNN (Nsukka), Unife (now OAU), UNILAG, and later UNIBEN, UNIJOS seemed to have long died with their respective visionary leaders.

 

Lamenting the sorry state of Nigerian universities today, he said those universities then were priorities of those leaders, and as such the institution were well-funded. He said: “The academic programmes, scholars, students and infrastructure ranked among the very best universities across the world.

 

Unfortunately, the incursion of the military adventurists into politics did not only stifle the growth of genuine education, it also dismantled the brilliant legacies that the founding fathers and pioneer education experts, and great Nigerian scholars had sacrificially established as the recipe for a great nation.

 

“The successive civilian governments that have since come after the military, merely capitalised on the mess they met on grounded and simply abused the already troubled university system and compounded it the more.

 

The military regime, particularly under the General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) had regarded the university in Nigeria, as a potent enemy of the military government that must be “conquered,” annihilated, humiliated and brought to its knees.

 

“His regime deliberately starved the university with funds; and infrastructural decay began to set in. Besides, most privileges for staff and students were also withdrawn from, or denied them, culminating in untold administrative hardship, among others.”

 

Dasylva described the annihilation visited on Nigeria university system by military and civilian administrations as height of provocation, desecration of the intelligentsia, recalling how Gowon regime ordered Professors out of the campuses for having the effrontery to embark on a strike to protest against his government’s poor funding of the university system.

 

“In the critical aspect of our history, it was the military that first successfully launched a full blown war against the Nigerian University System and initiated the rot that has become the reality it has to contend with today.

 

The oil boom experienced by Nigeria destroyed any value for merit and hard work, killed innovativeness and requisite recipe for a truly progressive  government of development. Explaining further that no government at federal and state levels had taken adequate funding of the public universities serious, the don regretted that the budget has always been a far cry from 26 per cent benchmark recommended by UNESCO.

 

According to him, the education sector suffered more retrogression during General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida’s military regimes that finally nailed the coffin of the Nigerian University system, when what then remained of the students’ privileges, like subsidised feeding, the cafeteria system, the Federal loans for indigent students, and bursaries were removed, as well as ensured that the university system remained underfunded.

 

“Between 1999 and now, the country has witnessed an unprecedented increase in the number of public universities even when it is obvious that the government has continuously failed to adequately fund existing ones,” he lamented, saying university has become political hampers handed to communities for political patronage, existing as “glorified secondary schools.”

 

On the quality of graduates, Dasylva, who said that products of Nigerian university are making waves in virtually all the disciplines; in the field of Medicine, as Nigerian doctors are rated among the best across the globe, ditto in the humanities, arts, science, and technology, insisted that they could stand with their heads high anywhere in the world.

 

“Of course, itcouldnothavebeen an easy task; it means concerted efforts on the part of students and the academic staff,” he added.

But, on the way forward, he said as the nation celebrates 61st Independence anniversary, the Nigerian government should be genuinely sincere and concerned about education development.

 

According to him, there is the need to take a holistic and not piecemeal view of all the challenges confronting the education, health, infrastructure, security, power, commerce, industry, agriculture and transportation, among other sectors.

 

So, the issue of the education sector will have been taken care of. Failure to confront these challenges in a more realistic manner as suggested, will sentence the country to eternal gyration, as it were, on the same orbit without making any progress,” he stressed.

 

Meanwhile, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in a statement, tagged: “Nigeria at 61: A Reflections on Our Potentials and Our Realities,” signed by its President, Sunday Asefon on Independence Day celebration, said it is looking for a better alternative and desperate for a system that works, a system that provides equal opportunity, a system that places competence above mediocrity, a system that makes our school and campuses a place to acquire knowledge and skills that could solve the real societal problems and provides an opportunity for a better life.

 

At 61 of independence, NANS lamented that nation’s schools are not doing better; curriculum not solving real societal problems; the schools are no longer safe for children, while infrastructure on campuses not in total crisis and research at low ebb.

 

While asking whether the nation’s education still provides the opportunities offered 61years ago, Asefon, who hinted that these and more questions are begging for answers, however, noted that the decadence in the system, especially the education system did not happen today and hence would take a process for a sustainable rebuilding process.

 

NANS in its assessment, however, called on all stakeholders to be committed to the rebuilding process in terms of infrastructure, quality curriculum, quality of pedagogy, learning outcomes, innovations, technology, where they country is lagging behind.

The association called on policymakers to make concerted and conscious efforts in addressing the decay in the sector, saying the swing towards total privatisation of education is cancerous to national development.

 

Apart from ensuring huge investment in the education sector, NANS also urged the government at all levels focus attention on investment in technology and innovation to address Nigeria’s challenges.

 

“Our school and campuses must be equipped with the 21st-century infrastructure and facilities to aid contemporary learning and ensure that learning outcome meets the knowledge deficit needed to bridge the gap between our potential and reality,” NANS added.

 

The association, which expressed deep concerns over the spate of insecurity in schools and campuses, said it was set to convene an all-inclusive Students National Security Summit, billed for November 4, 2021 to discuss and agree on modalities to improving campus security by the students in partnership with security agencies.

 

The national students’ education summit, Asefon noted, would recalibrate education infrastructure, curriculum, innovations, and learningoutcomethatiscompetitive with what is required in meeting peculiar societal challenges.

 

The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) through its Vice-President (South- West), Abdussobor Salaam, bemoaned the situation of the nation’s education sector, which it attributed to sheer neglect, abuse and the placing of quantity over quality by the government.

 

“At 61, policymakers have relegated or reduced the status of educational institution in Nigeria to only political tools and not medium of enlightenment and liberation of the people,” he said.

 

Salaam, who said that these are the bane of the nation’s education system, recalled that at the time of flagpole of independence the number of primary, secondary schools and tertiary institutions were very few, but the quality and standards were of high rating globally.

 

He said: “Then graduates of high schools, colleges or tertiary institutions were at par with their counterparts in any part of the world. Institutions were wellfunded, facilities adequately provided, teachers and workers were well remunerated and the environment was conducive for education development in all ramifications.

 

“Today, our institutions are seriously underfunded and the evidences abound. The premium placed on workers in educational institutions is so low, leading to incessant industrial actions by unions.

 

The disrespect for agreements duly signed with the unions has also had debilitating effects on morale and passion for service by workers. The situation is indeed pathetic. As at today, we have so many secondary schools, colleges of education, polytechnics and universities but the standards have crashed.

 

Using the University system as a case in point, our political class has turned universities into constituency projects. “Today, almost all members of the ruling class, including the President are making the establishment of universities a major project in their localities, thereby making a mockery of what the university system is supposed to be.

 

We have a sad development of proliferation of universities, which they do not patronise or send their children because of their standards and self-inflicted incessant strikes.”

 

On poor funding of the system, Salaam, who expressed worry that apart from insufficient allocations to the system, there is the problem of non-judicious use of the funds allocated owing to waste and seep seated corruption in the educational system.

 

Describing the situation of the nation’s education system as bleak, given the lackadaisical attitude of the government at all levels and managers of the system, SSANU insisted that there was the need for comprehensive education summit, where the parlous situation would be x-rayed and solutions proffered.

 

Also, in his appraisal of the sector, former Governor of Oyo State, Senator Rasidi Ladoja, who spoke through his Media Assistant, Lanre Latinwo, said: “There is no doubt that standard of education has gone down in Nigeria.

 

This is due to the fact that many things have gone wrong in the sector.”

 

Senator Ladoja listed those things that brought about the poor quality of education to include poor infrastructure, lack of conducive classroom environment, dearth of quality and qualified teachers, high cost and shortage of writing materials and relevant textbooks, as well as poor remuneration and lack of incentivesforteachersat all levels.

 

“We must make sure that those to occupy positions of authority in the sector should be those who know the value of education.

 

This will lead them in taking right decisions when making allocations to the education sector. In short, adequate funds must be allocated to the sector to cater for the decay,” he said.

 

 

A human rights activist, Mr. Femi Aborisade, however, lamented the state of the education sector, which he said, is in shambles, stressing that the sector has been criminally neglected, deprioritised and starved of required funding

 

The underfunding and neglect of the sector, according to him, had resulted in grossly inadequate infrastructural facilities in schools, lack of classrooms with students and pupils siting on bare floors in some states, dearth of libraries and laboratories, among others.

 

He said: “Our schools are no better than pigsty. Academic and the non-academic staff members are demotivated, while salaries and other entitlements have remained unpaid. Collective agreements are observed only in the breach, and thus, workers’ strikes have become a permanent feature of the education system, almost at all levels.

 

“Today, Nigeria’s educational system is stressed by insecurity due to attacks and kidnapping of school children by bandits and terrorists, which occur on a daily basis.”

 

To address these shortcomings, Aborisade said that education ought to be given appropriate priority and properly funded by the government, while schools and institutions should be upgraded to cope with online learning. “Education should be properly funded and declared free, from cradle to grave as provided for in the Constitution.

 

This is because no society can develop beyond the level of development of its education system,” he added.

 

This is as a university lecturer, Dr. Supo Ijabadeniyi expressed regrets that the nation’s education sector, 61 years after independence has not made any tangible progress. Ijababadeniyi, a don at the Facility of Law at Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), who canvassed that state of emergency should be declared in education to resuscitate the ailing sector, however, described the current pitiable and worrisome state of the education sector as quite unfortunate, saying this sloppiness is not unconnected with lack of commitment on the part of the government to put in place viable policies that would transform the sector.

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