Nigeria at 47: Education Sector at a Crossroad

by Bayo Olupohunda

The Nigerian education sector has undergone a lot of changes since the attainment of independence 47 years ago. The period shortly after independence marked the glorious years in the educational sector. At this time, the prevalent indices pointed to a bright future for our country which produced the brightest of manpower on which the country’s socio-economic and technological advancement depended. This period witnessed a strong public school system, adequate funding of the few secondary and post-secondary institutions, and conducive work environment for teachers and well equipped science laboratories and libraries. This was also a period of non-interference in one of the cardinal tenets of higher education- academic freedom and robust student union government blossomed during the time.

The decade that followed the first intervention of military rule signaled the beginning of the locust years in the educational sector. This period also marked one of the deciding factors that led to the destruction of the legacies of the independence years which spelt the dealt knell for our educational system at all levels. The policies and the anti-intellectualism posture of the various military regimes led to various negatives such as brain drain, decaying infrastructures, bastardization of the teaching profession, and destruction of the public school system. Strikes, cultism, frequent closures became the order of the day.

Of all the ills that was the lot of the education sector, commentators agreed that brain drain which led to hemorrhaging of our best researchers, and scientists to universities in Americas and Europe constituted one of the damaging factors to our education system. This was also a period when teachers in the primary and secondary schools went on for months without salary and their political counterpart wallow in ill-gotten wealth.

The National Policy on Education which in 1978 liberalized the ownership of primary and secondary schools did more harm than good as it gradually relieved government of its responsibility of providing basic primary education for all boys and girls of school age. The move completely led to decaying infrastructures at that level of education as even the officials saddled with the task of maintaining the public schools obtained license to operate private schools. The picture we see of our public schools today is a result of criminal neglect while the private schools enjoyed continuous patronage.

The controversial taking over of missionary schools by government deemed to be for political reasons had a lot of disadvantages as the schools taken over have also been run down. The period under review also witnessed one of the worst periods of budgetary allocations to the education sector. The UNESCO prescription of 26 percent of the allocation was never met and the rot continued so much so that the products of our educational system were referred to as ‘half baked’ and the certificates issued became worthless.

The period marking the beginning of the Obasanjo years saw the resurgence and a conscious effort by a government to address the alarming and depressing state of education in Nigeria. But recent realities have shown that most of the efforts was a case of all motion and no movement. The Universal Basic Education (UBE) policy meant to broaden access to primary education have not been seen to be any different from past policies which has been used as a corruption drain pipe. Recent allegations of corruption have continued to dog the officials of the Universal Basic Education Commission. The result is that more children of school age are still roaming the street.

An appraisal of the policy thrusts of the Obasanjo government in education revealed an attempt to increase access to education, reviving of the higher educational institutions in terms of welfare package for teachers. But how far were this successful? The privatization of the public unity schools towards the last lap of his administration and now the suspension of the policies instituted in the educational sector is a pointer to the inconsistencies in policies that has been the bane of the educational sector in the last two decades. This inconsistencies has been replayed many times in the way we have changed our system of education from the 6-3-3-4 which was adopted in 1988 and was meant to kick start the technology base of the nation. Unfortunately, most of the machinery that was imported has since rotted away in the laboratories of public secondary schools across the country. Ever since, the country has toyed with one system or the other.

The most disturbing fallout of the inconsistencies in our educational system is the absence of National Education. What is the goal of our education system? What values and national goal do we hope to achieve? What values do we also hope to inculcate in our youths through our educational system? Every nation of the world teaches the norms, history, and those traits that are inherent and the values they hold dear which they pass on from generation to generation. The values, taught early from the classroom in the public schools, will eventually foster a shared sense of nationhood which leads to an attachment to ones country. This is manifest in the unqualified sense of patriotism displayed by an average American youth. These values are taught from the public school system but can it be said that our public schools are fulfilling these goals?

Our educational system is indeed at crossroad. At the primary and secondary level, most of the public schools are bereft of the conditions that would make the simple task of teaching and learning possible. In most cases, students are made to sit on bare floor with leaking roofs. How can learning take place in that kind of environment? However, Nigerians who can afford it now send their wards to private schools where they are made to pay exorbitant tuition fees.

The confusion over the system of education to adopt has become more prevalent in the private schools across the country who now proudly displays the American flag, British Union Jack and other fags to signify their adoption of the system of education in those countries. Most of these private schools are fully owned by Nigerians with Nigerian students! We are now witnessing complete cultural imperialism of education curricula

The educational system of any country is too strategic and sensitive to be treated like any other sector. It is the future of our country. The proposed Vision 2020 will be a mirage if it is not hinged on solid educational system that will define our national goal. The current confusion and crises in the educational sector is highly unnecessary. If we hope to be among the world biggest economy in 2020, then we must begin to chart a course for the educational advancement of our country. The solution is not complicated. The public school system remains a viable way of widening access to education and increase the low literacy level. Massive investment is required at the state and local government level to provide the basic infrastructures. Why on earth should students be made to contribute money to buy chalk? When their counterparts in other countries that take education seriously now use whiteboards and other new media to enhance the teaching and learning process? What is lacking is the sincerity of purpose in executing policies that will benefit the learners. The 6-3-3-4 that was jettisoned has now launched Japan into a major technologically advanced country in the world.

The public school system is the bedrock of our educational system at all levels of education. We need a state of emergency in the educational system to bring back the glorious years of the public school system. The irony is the sad fact that most of our technocrats and our leaders today are products of the public school system. What are the local governments doing to the primary schools under their jurisdiction? A visit to Local Authority primary schools will reveal a complete rot of the primary schools under their care. The Chairmen of the Local Government Areas in the country must be told to revamp the public primary school in their area. What do they do with their monthly allocation?

Approaches to resolving the lingering crises in the educational sector has to be holistic and backed with the sincerity of purpose they require. Higher education needs to be revamped. As a first step, there is the urgent need to improve budgetary allocation to the sector. This is the only way to arrest the decaying infrastructures at all levels of the school system. The privatization of the unity schools is hardly the answer. In the run up to the privatization of the unity schools in the last administration, one argument that featured prominently is the corruption in administration of these schools. Government should set up a mechanism for accountability and the authorities in the schools must be held accountable.

Massive investment in the higher education sector is required. Long years of neglect have led to decayed infrastructures in tertiary education. The dismal performance of our universities in the recent World University Ranking is a pointer to the rot in the system. Government should honour all existing agreements with the university authorities. Incessant strikes in the last two decades have done incalculable damage to the higher education system.

As Nigeria looks to meet the growing social, political, and economic pressures of the 21st century, it needs to make major changes in its development strategy to upgrade educational institutions and infrastructure critical to harnessing the knowledge revolution,

The President Umar Musa Yar’ ardua administration must chart a new course for the educational sector. The current world universities ranking is not a good omen for our vision 2020 quest. Education is the key to any major achievement we hope to attain as a nation. All the talks of being among the worlds largest economy in the next few decades will amount to nothing if we do not strengthen our educational system at all levels of education and equip ourselves with the highly skilled and flexible human capital needed to compete effectively in today’s dynamic global markets. This will first and foremost requires the ability to produce and use knowledge which has become a major factor in development and is critical to a nation’s comparative advantage. The surging demand for secondary education in many parts of the world creates an invaluable opportunity to develop a workforce that is well-trained and capable of generating knowledge-driven economic growth need for the attainment of the proposed vision 2020 goals

An effective solution requires a national framework for knowledge-driven growth and for our education systems to impart higher-level skills, foster lifelong learning for citizens, and promote international accreditation of a country’s educational institutions. Efforts along two dimensions are needed: to provide quality and relevant education to a larger share of each new generation of young people through effective secondary and tertiary education; and to train and retrain the existing labor force to provide opportunities to those who were unable to complete secondary or enter tertiary education.

A National Innovation System in which a well-articulated network of firms, research centers, universities, and think tanks work together to take advantage of the growing stock of global knowledge, assimilate and adapt it to local needs, and create new technology is needed. Tertiary education systems figure prominently in this quest, serving not only as the backbone for high-level skills but also as the main focus of basic and applied research. This is regrettably lacking in our educational system. Research and development should be given prominence in our tertiary education system. For Nigeria to take its rightful position among the comity of nation and as we move a step ahead in our quest for nation hood, massive investment is required in the education sector at all levels. Education should be treated as a national priority by the new government in the next four years, Consistency in policy, best practices and sincerity of purpose by policy makers will be a major step in our quest to be among the world greatest economy.

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