Beyond distribution of free textbooks

The fresh decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria to distribute textbooks and other instructional materials to students in public schools and colleges across the country could not have come at a much better time than now, at least against the backdrop of the wobbly fortunes of the all-important education industry in Nigeria in recent times.

It is, of course, an understatement to posit that education must be a significant component of the current Administration’s published Transformation Agenda: without an enlightened citizenry, expecting any real transformation in all sectors of the nation’s economy is only tantamount to building castles in the air. That is the elemental reason the Government and other stakeholders in the education sector necessarily need to go the extra mile in ensuring the ultimate success of this potentially exquisite endeavour.

On the underlying principle behind the mass production and distribution of textbooks to students in primary and early secondary schools, the Federal Government reportedly has stated the supply of the education materials is part of the Government’s four-year strategic plan “aimed at improving quality of education under the FG-Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme.” The scheme is said to be a collaborative effort between the Federal Ministry of Education, UBE Commission and its counterparts in the 36 States, including Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Among the subject books to be distributed to all pupils of Primary One and Two include English Language, Mathematics, Social Studies and Basic Science and Technology, as well as Library Resources Materials for Junior Secondary Schools nationwide, to advance basic education to the Nigerian child.

Earlier at the inaugural ceremony held at the Model Primary School, Maitama, Abuja, Vice-President Namadi Sambo, who represented President Goodluck Jonathan at the occasion while emphasising the need for equitable distribution and effective application and use of the learning materials said, “We must do all we can to ensure that textbooks and instructional materials bring added value to our education process.”

Vice-President Sambo added that a three-dimension strategy -quality production; equitable distribution; and effective application- are fundamental and commensurate measures that need to be applied for the realisation of the inherent gains of the comparatively huge investment in quality education for Nigerians.

Nonetheless, as lofty as this lofty proposal appears to be, it is consequential that the Government, its education ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) as well as other stakeholders actually understand the indisputable relationship among these three frontline components. This is to ensure the achievement of the intended goals of the education scheme.

In the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a former United States (US) President, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” This assertion certainly, is germane to the Nigerian circumstances in its education system as of now. Over time, persistent clamours by Nigerians and foreigners alike, that the “standard of education” in the country is waning, have dominated public discourse.

However, one begs to differ on this widespread viewpoint. It is not the “standard of education” that is ebbing but the “learning outcomes” or “performances” by the students. The fact remains that in certain good, credible public schools, colleges and universities across the country today, the standard of education at each level yet remains much up there. Arguably, what has happened is that many of these learners are pretty unable to attain this time-honoured standard of education as it is obtainable in other climes due to a number of factors, including poor reading culture among most learners.

Pathetically, issues of poor funding, inadequate teaching and learning materials, collapsed education infrastructure, warped societal value system, laziness, misplaced priorities, lack of motivation cum low morale of teachers and general aura of hopelessness among many have all conspired to elevate the apparent pitiable reading culture among students.

The Government further can record marked headway in this renewed effort at enhancing literacy and reviving reading culture among the students by embarking on holistic training and retraining of teachers for outstanding pedagogy and good quality scholarship in the nation’s schools and colleges. Provision of requisite, supporting infrastructure such as well-equipped modern libraries, application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools for new teaching and learning experiences, and national re-orientation on the value of hard work, dignity of labour and integrity, is a critical success factor in accomplishing the objectives of the free textbook production and distribution initiative.

The Ministry of Education at all levels of governance must strength the National Read Campaign project, in partnership with other stakeholders in the private sector of the economy so that these textbooks can be read for desired good effects on the students. Book publishers contracted to mass- produce these millions of volumes for the public schools must be tasked to produce the books to approved quality standards so as to justify the Government’s investment in the sector.

As the Government continues to make improved investment in the essential education industry, learners themselves urgently need to realise that without sound education resulting from good reading habit and committed learning, surviving in today’s fast-paced world, irrespective of one’s field of human endeavour, is longer a tea party. Devoted reading of these free textbooks coupled with other instructional materials sure will enhance their thinking ability, academic performance, and overall development of their total beings.

The Government officials, particularly the UBEC officers who perhaps are supposed to coordinate the production and distribution of the books, should shun corruptive tendencies by ensuring that specified number of copies of textbooks gets to each student-beneficiary across the country. Only faithful, effective, equitable and timely distribution of these books by the Government, and diligent reading of the books and application of other instructional materials provided can assure the success of the noble scheme.

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