Education is at a crossroads in Nigeria. But it is a notorious fact that it only gets haphazard remedies from various stakeholders. In line with the practice of virtually every administration since 1999, the Federal Government says the sector would get a state of emergency treatment in April. The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who gave this indication recently, said the policy action would be made to trickle down to the states.
However, the minister did not give details, beyond the proposal to meet with governors to demand that they “give special emphasis to address the problem of low standard of education, especially at primary level.” Indeed, as the foundation of learning, it is where the gangrene begins and spreads to secondary and tertiary levels.
But the problems bedevilling education in the country are so gargantuan that mere posturing will not provide the needed solution. Emergency declaration connotes a Marshall Plan. For it to work, we believe, it should be preceded by an all-stakeholders summit, where all the problems would be stated, well defined, analysed and decisions taken on practical steps to reverse the debilities. Without a scientific problem-solving approach to the challenges, Adamu’s declaration may well end up as yet another banality.
For some analysts, education is an architecture that has crumbled with manpower, equipment, classrooms and funding grossly inadequate. Besides, close supervision by school heads and the inspectorate division from Ministries of Education, which made the system to function optimally in the remote past, has deserted the system. The morale of teachers has taken flight because of a reward system that pauperises them, and teaching profession relegated to the background.
At the tertiary level, there are 86 public universities – 40 federal and 46 states-owned – that are chronically underfunded. Even the existing 74 privately-owned universities have greater challenges. Additionally, hundreds of colleges of education and polytechnics exist. Many of the former have become affiliates of universities for degree programmes to take care of the exponential growth of candidates seeking admission annually.
The Governor of Nasarawa State, Tanko al-Makura, while confirming the minister’s anxiety about low quality of education, said research revealed that most teachers in the state in both primary and secondary schools had no business being in the classroom. It is a nationwide trend, thus raising a big question mark over the quality of the National Certificate of Education – the minimum qualification for anybody to be allowed to teach.
A Federal Government survey in 2010 had triggered a similar alarm bell with its revelation that that 207,818 unqualified teachers were in primary schools. The North-East zone had the highest figure of 57.7 per cent; North-West (46.8 per cent); North-Central (38 per cent); South-South (19.2 per cent); South-East (16.7 per cent); and South-West (6.7 per cent). Two years later, a former Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission, Mohammed Moddibo, stated that more than 50 per cent of the teachers in Sokoto State could not read books supplied to schools by his agency.
This paradox may have worsened in some of the six regions since then. Obviously, this was why the UNESCO Director in Nigeria, Hassana Alidou, in 2014, said the country led 37 countries with a system where “education without learning,” flourished.
A degeneration of this is not unlikely with salary arrears of teachers in 13 states, ranging from one to 28 months, according to the President of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Michael Olukoya. He hinted of an imminent strike as a result. Where teachers are owed for 28, 26, 25, 12, six and seven months in some states, as alleged, the commitment to work will be vacuous.
Corruption and wrong priorities in governance are at the heart of this crisis. Some of the governors undertake grandiose projects such as building airports; having two state universities, multiple colleges of education and polytechnics, even when their annual internally generated revenue cannot take care of one month wage bill. This is sheer irresponsibility at work.
Questions must be asked: why interventions from UBEC, Education Trust Fund and Petroleum Technology Development Fund are being abused by governors, university administrators and scholars without sanctions. One of the charges against some ex-governors being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is the embezzlement of UBEC funds and teachers salaries.
At the tertiary level, the 2012 NEEDS Assessment Report decried lack of basic facilities like water, electricity, bathrooms, hotels infested with rodents and common rooms turned into living rooms by students and manpower shortages. These shortcomings remain. For these reasons, our universities are lowly ranked in Africa and globally.
Ultimately, the country has to choose between the present system that has abysmally failed and a new pragmatic education linked to economic development. This means our curriculums should be overhauled for emphasis on productive knowledge. Without investment in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the foundation of the jet/computer age, it is not just the future of pupils that is in jeopardy, but that of the country. These fields are the fountains of wealth creation and national wellbeing of countries in Europe, Asia and North America.
Make no mistake about it: Devoting the entire current $42 billion in the Foreign Reserves to education is not the remedy, as funding is only but a fraction of the rot. Even greater are lack of proper planning and implementation strategies, which truncated the 6-3-3-4 system that harped on technical education; and recognition of the primacy of teacher – continuous training and motivation in the entire equation.
These indices make the difference in education in Norway, Finland and Switzerland, ranked as global leaders in human development last year, whereas Nigeria was ranked 114th out of 130 countries, according to the World Economic Forum. So, Adamu’s emergency compass should be well-defined and profound.