Is the Nigerian education sector sick?

Education is usually described as the process of acculturating the young members of a society to understand the values and ideals of and become competent members who could make meaningful contributions to the development of their immediate community.

However, in recent years, things seem to have fallen apart at all levels of this once thriving industry, beacon of glittering optimism and reliable plank for capacity-building in the country, as the fortune of this key industry continues to experience a free fall.

For instance, year-on-year results of public school examinations such as the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), National Examinations Council (NECO) and Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) among others, and comparative quality of graduates being churned out of the tertiary institutions of learning among others have been dismally poor compared to what obtained in the past.

Of course, a number of factors have been advanced as the causes of the dwindling fortune of the all-important yet beleaguered sector of the nation’s economy. Among such other reasons adduced for the dismal performance of the education industry include lack of needed teaching and learning facilities, shortage of trained teachers for the teaching subjects, frequent strikes occasionally and largely instigated by unpaid staff salaries and allowances.

Other factors include corruption, gradual relapse into mediocrity rather than meritocracy, students’ lack of concentration due to negative social influences, exam malpractices, and society’s undue emphasis on paper qualifications to mention but a few.

In underscoring the extent of the consistent rot in the educational system while announcing the release of the 2010 WAEC results in Lagos recently, Dr. Iyi Uwadiae, Head of Nigerian National Office of WAEC in company with other key officials, said out of a total of 1,351,557 candidates that wrote the Council’s examinations this year, only “candidates representing 24.94 per cent obtained three Credits in English Language, Mathematics and at least three other subjects.” This year’s students’ performance, Uwadiae added, represented a 1.5 per cent drop from the 2009 results.

Piqued by the bizarre developments in the sector in recent times, including examination malpractices, the WAEC boss however, differed on the Minister for Education’s reported directive to “release all the examination candidates’ results 100 per cent”, good or bad. He reportedly responded thus: “I don’t know if a child that does not know how to write his name properly or shade (objective answer sheets) deserves to be certified as having passed an examination.”

Uwadiae one bit was not ready to accept the blame being heaped on his Council as having been responsible for the declining fortune at the secondary school level in Nigeria. He stoutly defended WAEC’s efforts at doing the right thing this way: “So it is not our fault but the fault of some schools that do not provide the necessary materials, the teachers that do not teach well and even some parents that would not buy books for their children.”

At the tertiary level of the country’s educational system, the objectionable development affecting the sector is simply the same, if not worse than what obtains at the lower levels of education. No wonder then, that Dora Akunyili, a distinguished scholar, professor of pharmacology and Honourable Minister for Information and Communications, did not hide her distaste for the continual decay in virtually all the core values which Nigerians once held sacred and dear to their hearts during her recent appearance at her alma mater, the University of Nigeria (UNN).

In her incisive, timely presentation on: “Rebranding Nigerian Universities”, a theme similar to her Rebranding Nigeria Project, at the University’s 30th Convocation Lecture, Prof. Akunyili, while recalling with nostalgia the good old time in her university days at the UNN, was somewhat unsparing in dissecting the vagaries of problems bedevilling the nation’s education industry, saying “there are impunity and decay in virtually all core values that we once held very sacred in this country. The Nigerian educational system and the universities are no exceptions.”

The minister as well pointed out that all the nation’s educational institutions are affected by the bug of corruption. But how does this social malaise manifest itself in institutions of learning in Nigeria? Akunyili provides an answer: “The corruption comes in the form of compulsory levies, sale of handouts, poor project conception and execution, ‘sorting’ –payment of money by students to obtain marks.”

To underscore her obvious concern for the sector, it’s regrettable to recall the live video clips of a bizarre incident posted on Facebook on the Internet in July 2010. The scandal purportedly involved certain Engr. (Dr.) Peter Otubu of the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, who was caught pants down and disgraced by students of the institution while trying to have an immoral sexual relationship with one of her female students right in her apartment, following amorous text messages he had earlier sent to her demanding sex in exchange for marks.

Possibly ignorant of the fact that the global world had already watched the embarrassing video clip on the Internet moments after Otubu was caught in the act, sadly, the University’s authority in a query issued to the concerned lady and published in a Nigerian newspaper rather accused her of “assault, humiliation and debasement of a lecturer”. The letter partly read: “This act of yours to a University lecturer (your lecturer) constitutes an act of misconduct and breach of Matriculation Oath.”

Akunyili nevertheless suggested that all should make conscious efforts at rebranding the nation’s University system by looking at “indices that make a good university in the ideal university community and the intangible elements of scholarship and administration”, towards building a system that is “well-positioned to contribute actively to national development”.

The stakeholders in the education sector, including the Government at all levels, private individuals, associations and groups, must make increased meaningful investment in the industry, engage in training and re-training of teachers and instructors, pay staff salaries as and when due, provide suitable teaching and learning materials, revive the school inspectorate unit in the Education Ministry, encourage scholarship and healthy competition among students through reward system, building and stocking more libraries with relevant and current books. Quality education yet remains the bedrock of any sustainable national, professional and personal development in the modern world.

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