As presidential and governorship candidates mount the soapbox for the 2019 elections, Nigerians should seize the opportunity to engage them on pragmatic plans for a sea change in the education sector if elected. Political leaders have for long been sleepwalking with our education, a reckless and self-defeating development that mortgages the country’s future.
The system is in abject ruins. Evidence is provided in the ongoing strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities over funding inadequacies – reports of pupils sitting on the bare floor to learn across the states; primary school teachers who are unable to read instructional materials they are supposed to teach with; teachers failing English and Arithmetic tests meant for primary four pupils and the 2014 UNESCO observation that Nigeria led 37 countries globally with the oxymoronic system of “education without learning.”
Some of the presidential candidates have promised to initiate skills-based education; turn it into “the new oil”; and remodel 10,000 schools every year. With primary and secondary education under states’ control, it behoves the electorate in each of the 36 states to put every governorship candidate on the spot on his education road map.
After much hedging, the Federal Government recently declared emergency powers to deal with education at the basic level. However, the magic wand does not lie in such policy posturing, but in the political will and implementation strategy, which have always been the country’s Achilles’ heel. These deficiencies explain why the 6-3-3-4 system of education, geared towards entrenching technical education in the curriculum, crashed. The Universal Basic Education launched in 2004 to address some of the challenges at that level is also headed for the precipice following the compromise of its objectives.
Funds released for fixing basic schools are either misappropriated or embezzled by some governors and civil servants, while counterpart funding, a condition for accessing the grant, has often not been met. It is only governors without any road map for education that could be so recklessly negligent.
Education has gone beyond the trivium – grammar, logic and rhetoric; and quadrivium – arithmetic, astronomy, music and geometry of the medieval scholasticism – to becoming a body of empirical knowledge that acts as a vehicle for the development of nations and wealth creation.
A total of N605.8 billion is in the 2018 budget for education at the federal level. This does not scratch the surface of the challenges bedevilling the sector, expressed in the N200 billion the 43 federally-owned universities need annually in line with the 2013 ASUU-FG renegotiated pact. Its breach is why ASUU is on strike. Polytechnics, colleges of education and other allied institutions are also in moribund shape.
However, the government seems to have been jolted by the realities on the ground, going by the state of emergency it declared in education last month. This will ensure 15 per cent budgetary provision for education. A special task force will be set up to manage the funds at all levels of government and also to oversee infrastructure revamp in select schools. The primary level is the target of this renaissance, which will leverage the strategic action plan already designed by the Federal Ministry of Education. The government reasons that if basic education is addressed and the foundation well laid, the problems in the secondary and tertiary education would have been half mitigated.
Accordingly, focus will be on out-of-school children, put at 13.5 million; adult literacy and physically challenged; science, technology and mathematics; technical and vocational; teacher education; quality and access to tertiary education; ICT in education and improved library services. Indeed, these are critical areas in laying the foundation for skills-based education. Lack of it is why the national policy that skewed university admission in favour of science, 60 per cent, and arts, 40 per cent, has floundered.
Europe, America and some parts of Asia, which have reached stratospheric levels in their economic growth, did so through human capital development. In spite of this, they are never complacent. Periodically, curriculum reviews are undertaken to further improve their system. This ultimately sustains their giant economic strides. For instance, Barack Obama, as the United States President, was ill at ease in 2009 with the discovery that American students’ performance in science and mathematics was in decline. Globally, they were ranked 21st and 25th respectively. He stressed that the situation would undermine the country in medicine, energy and security.
He was envious of the cognitive quotient of students from the Asian Tigers and the OECD in these subjects. In response, he launched “education to innovate” campaign. The White House also initiated an annual science fair. “It is an undeniable fact that countries who (which) out-educate us today, are going to out-compete us tomorrow,” he warned in 2012.
This is the leadership mentality Nigeria is lacking at both the centre and the states. But the situation has to change to give education the needed shot in the arm. Without it, the status quo of having 43 federal, 47 states-owned dysfunctional universities and the urge to establish more will remain the farcical orientation of tertiary education here. There are also 28 state-owned polytechnics, 89 colleges of education owned by the Federal Government, all denied proper funding that has eroded quality from their activities.
Therefore, the recent proposal to establish 80 more tertiary institutions, 27 of which are universities, amid gross deficiencies of basic facilities in existing ones such as electricity, potable water, internet, laboratory, up-to-date libraries, hostels, classrooms, conveniences and qualified teachers, must be seen as the height of irresponsibility; a self-serving venture by the masterminds of the project. This should not be allowed to sail through. Consequently, Nigeria has to appreciate the United Nations wisdom of “education first,” to change its infamous badge of a Third World giant now serving as home to the world’s poorest.