Education in Nigeria: The Return of Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai as Minister

by Sadiq A. Abdullahi

The return of Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai as minister of education will signal a shift and a renewed commitment to education as President Goodluck Jonathan continues to demonstrate transformational leadership and his vision for education.

When President Jonathan announced that three professors in the Diaspora will be leading three of the newly formed Nigeria Universities, Nigerians in the Diaspora welcomed the news with mixed feelings, but generally applauded the move. All of the three Diaspora VCs represent reputable higher institutions in the United States.Minister Rufai has resolved to experiment with them to form the nucleus of the reform team as the VCs begin their job in August 2011. By infusing the knowledge and expertise of these VCs, President Jonathan has again demonstrated that he is listening to the people in and outside Nigeria. I have argued that the problem facing the nation, particularly in education, is not the lack of technical know-how, workable and well-intentioned national policy on education nor the lack of capital to adequately fund education and other sectors, but the main problems are the failure of governance and the failure to implement a clearly defined and clearly articulated vision and goals of education, and the reluctance by our leadership at all levels to hold individuals accountable for their actions .

When Minister Rufai took over the ministry roughly 18 months or so ago, she quickly identified four areas of focus: (1) access and equity, (2) standards and quality assurance, (3) technical and vocational education and teacher training, and (4) funding and resource utilization as part of her plan to reform the education sector. Professor Rufai has strategically aligned herself with state commissioners of education and selected board members of the National Universities Commission (NUC), particularly Chris Okojie and others in the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) to reconceptualize the tertiary education or higher education. The strategy is now paying dividend as fidelity in compliance and rigor in action returns to the federal ministry of education.

One of the challenges for Minister Rufai would be how to provide the necessary and appropriate incentives for teachers and those individuals dealing with students at the state and local levels. In order to change the mindset of mediocrity and apathy and to meet the objectives of the MDGs and the race to 2015, Professor Rufai should make teacher training her top priority in the next four years. This should be the focal point of her new administration. The federal government parastatal in-charge of teacher training, including all federal teacher colleges and universities, is the National Teachers Institute (NTI) founded in 1978 and based in Kaduna state. The purpose of NTI is to conduct programs that would upgrade teacher qualifications to the National Certificate of Education (NCE) level. The NTI has carried out most of its training through the distance learning, but it is generally believed that it is working below par.

Another challenge for the Minister would be in the monitoring of the implementation of goals and objectives through the efforts of the task force. She will now need to shift her attention on building working relationships with state and local governments, Nigerians and Nigerian educational organizations in the Diaspora, international donor organizations, and local educational agencies in Nigeria. Other challenges include increasing the literacy rate. To achieve this, she must work with the state and local governments as well as the private sector to improve the reading culture of Nigerians by equipping the libraries in the country with books and encouraging e-learning. The poor performance of students in the last Senior School Certificate Examinations, conducted by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO) should be of concern to her. The recent results from NECO that only two percent of candidates that sat for the November/December 2009 SSCE passed are a gloomy one. As a consequence, many people have asked for a reexamination of all educational agencies. These are the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and their counterpart in Colleges of Education, ASUP and COEASU, the Senior Staff Association of Universities (SSANU) and those of polytechnics and colleges namely SSANIP and COESS as well as NASU in all the institutions.

Finally, President Jonathan and Minister Rufai should immediately put a Task Force on Sports in Secondary Schools to explore the return of competitive sports in schools as a vehicle for bringing back the glory days. The federal universities, federal colleges of education, federal higher institutions, and federal secondary schools should provide the platform for the transformation. This will be consistent with their visionary and transformational leadership. The biggest challenge and perhaps a legacy for Minister Rufai would be to merge sports and education in schools. State and local governments should do their part by renewing their commitments and play a significant role to sustaining youth sports through education. All youths and grassroots sports development programs are inherently distinct and local. To take sport to its youths, we must work collaboratively to overcome the challenges of maladministration, poverty, corruption, and lack of quality teacher preparedness and delivery of instruction. She has shown that she is aware of the internal politics as well as the myriad of problems facing Nigerian schools. She seemed to be steadfast on her vision as she shifted emphasis to implementation, monitoring, visionary leadership and good governance.

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