The 20th edition of the Nigerian Economic Summit which rounded off last week opened with an admission by the federal government that the foundation which formed the bedrock of the nation’s education policy had become obsolete, and urgently requires retooling and refocusing.
Speaking on the theme of the summit, Transforming Education Through Partnership for Global Competitiveness, President Goodluck Jonathan asked the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) to come up with a framework for overhauling the country’s subsisting education policy, which was developed some 45 years ago, to meet the realities of the 21st Century.
The president went on to identify access, quality and equity as issues that must be addressed in the new policy, even as he revealed that the government had pumped about N561.9 billion into secondary and tertiary education between 2009 and 2013.
Of course, there is no arguing the fact that Nigeria’s education architecture is in dire need of total reconceptualization. For one, the existing policy appears to have sprung straight out of our colonial experience. It was a period when the possession of a secondary school certificate was considered “educated”, a period when colonial masters and companies just required basic literacy from Nigerians aspiring to take up junior and middle level positions in government and corporate enterprises. That Nigeria has continued to operate with this policy, 45 years after, means that we are marooned in the past.
But, much as over half a trillion naira committed to education in four years might sound like a lot of money, the questions we need to ask ourselves are: what percentage of our education budget is that figure and what percentage of the total annual budgets is the allocation to education? We may also want to know how this amount tallies with the 26% of annual budget minimum allocation to education recommended by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
It is also important to consider the submission by the former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, that the level of our achievement in education – vis-a-vis student performance, had tended to grow in reverse proportion to increased funding. In other words, the more money we threw at the problem, the higher the failure rate we recorded.
One clear point that emerged from the Economic Summit is that, much as funding is key to salvaging Nigeria’s education system, it is not the biggest problem. The biggest challenge is the political will to do the right thing by putting a proper and workable system in place. The problem is not only that government has shirked its responsibility of adequately funding education in Nigeria, it has also failed to create the conducive atmosphere necessary for the private sector and donor agencies to come in and assist.
But, like the NESG participants observed, there is an urgent need to retune our education to the needs of contemporary Nigeria, even as we keep in sight the need for the products of educational institutions to be able to compete effectively in the global market. It is a sad commentary on our educational institutions that companies and other employers have to spend billions of naira retraining our graduates before they can fit into the demands of the jobs for which they are supposed to have been trained in the universities and other such institutions.
Incidentally, the damage is done long before our students even get into the university. Most of our undergraduates actually started out on very defective foundations, having missed the opportunity of a solid foundation at early school years. It is on this score that we strongly commend the recommendation to shift focus to the early years of schooling, which we have hitherto not taken very seriously. The time has come for the federal government to seriously reform primary education, which is presently being managed by the local governments. This should involve ensuring proper funding and staffing at this very important foundation level.
Fortuitously, the recommendations synthesized from various presentations at the summit include the need for a new approach to curriculum development, with more emphasis on ICT and trending global skills, teacher development and training, establishment of research and development capabilities in schools, as well as a sustainable structural reform at the levels of early education and basic education.
The NESG also drew attention to the need to devolve responsibility to school authorities, insisting that the authorities cannot be held accountable if they are not given the responsibility. NESG also called for a review of the present system of testing and the traditional examination method.
It is commendable that the NESG chose to focus on the rather prostrate education sector in this 20th edition of the summit. It is even more commendable that a workable framework emerged from the sessions. What is now left is the political will to push the reforms through. For, as Ezekwesili noted, this is not the first time such brilliant proposals would be thrown up. Many of the recommendations had been articulated as far back as 2006 when she was minister of education. What has always frustrated the policy revolution is the absence of political will. But, things have now reached a point where we have no choice but to reform the foundations of our educational system. We cannot continue to grope in the dark.