Nigerian Universities Strike: To Redress Or Regret Past Neglect?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

After 1960; following Nigeria’s independence, there was an urge to train Nigerians into skilled labour to take over from colonial expatriates. This quest induced the establishment Universities to meet this needs. From 1948, the University College Ibadan was established. Following Oil-boom of 1970’s, it becomes a belief that every Nigerian, regardless of tribe or class or economic status, is entitled to a fair chance into education and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost.

This promise means that all Nigerian children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself. Tertiary education was expanded to reach every sub-region of Nigeria. The Federal Government and the State Governments were previously the only bodies licensed to operate Universities in Nigeria. Recently, The National Universities Commission (NUC) granted licenses to individuals, corporate bodies and religious bodies to establish private universities in Nigeria. Such approval give Nigeria a total number of ninety one (91) universities made up of Federal – 27, State – 30, Private – 34.

But by the 1990s it was apparent that there were profound problems in the Nigeria Universities, particularly in public-owned. The Nigeria4betterrule inquiry quoted above was the beginning of serious attempts at reform and improvement. It is now close to twenty years later and the public universities continue to be the focus of criticism for poor outcomes. There is widespread pressure for further reform of instruction, and for new approaches in Nigerian universities organization. There are learning problems and behavior problems in the public universities nationwide: Abysmal ‘reading at grade’ performance ,Catastrophic dropout rates, especially among some minority groups ,Declining performance on standardized tests ,Drug use and violence ,Disruptive or inattentive classroom behaviour And school systems are failing, with Crumbling or inadequate infrastructure ,Besieged administrations ,Calcified and centralized authority ,Many poorly-qualified Lecturers, Good Lecturers with low morale ,Pressure to provide social services as well as to educate.

If Nigerian society is truly egalitarian, university education should be a part of the larger effort for the society to be inclusive. The university building structures today are checkered with government negligent, the lecturers are scuffed from years of deserted attention and many student hostels are in dire need of a paint job. If we are indeed committed to social justice, then universities education must be part of the effort to redress past inequity. The purpose of universities education, in this egalitarian view, is: To educate the young according to broadly accepted pedagogic principles, to mix diverse economic, ethnic and religious groups, for a stronger community, to educate and Nigerianize the children of immigrants, To provide a model for civic engagement, To provide a next generation of parents who value education.

The UN Millennium project argues that it is the poverty trap of poor health, poor education and poor infrastructure reinforcing each other rather than bad planning, corruption, and ineffective execution that is hindering development of poor countries. The idea is that underdeveloped nations can be saved through more outside assistance and by expanding existing programs that are run mostly by governments. Those who support this notion want the World Bank and other international agencies and donors to make increased contributions to supplement domestic government resources. But there is very little evidence that foreign assistance has made much difference in overcoming the poverty trap in Nigerian education sector.

This ideal of Nigerian universities education serves the larger Nigerian ideal of equality of opportunity as a matter of basic fairness for the pragmatic benefit to society that will come from nurturing talent and intelligence wherever it arises to enable each individual to maximize his potential to make economic success through education available to all. Nigerian universities education has always been a social experiment. The attempt to use universities schooling in Nigeria to redress economic disparity began with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and continues, among many efforts, with Head Start and with affirmative action programs. For over 40 years, there have been attempts to provide fairer access to education.

Globally, education is the road out of poverty and oppression, but Nigeria has the reverse. Mass education in England, for example, was constructed to serve the aim, formulated by Lord Macaulay as “we must educate our masters”, i.e. the working people, prior to giving them the vote. This aim structures the lasting particularities of English schools, such as the stress placed on group ethic, the emphasis on reasoned debate, the liberal arts and so forth. In Germany and Russia, the overriding aim – Germany’s under Bismarck, Russia’s under Stalin – was to catch up militarily with the more advanced countries. Hence, mass education was constructed so as to produce the engineers and organizers, needed for rapid re-armament, industrialization and war.

Education was not about skills, but about political liberation and was therefore a huge national movement, conducted with tremendous enthusiasm. By 1967, there were schools in 105 Nigerian towns and villages, a considerable achievement for a system based on voluntary effort and community funding outside the state. Standards were enforced by elected School Boards, while curriculum was set by an annual Teachers’ Convention. Once the system was up and running, however, its political aims were not enough to provide it with an efficient structure. A “model” of education system had to be chosen. The choice was more difficult than it seems, because it went to the very heart of the debate about national identity. Was Nigeria to become like “the West”, and therefore follow a “Western” model of schooling? Or was it to find its identity in “Slavdom” and therefore become like Russia?

The awareness that something was terribly wrong with Nigerian education came only in the 1990s, by a decade of military tyranny and in the face of consequences, which could not be easily explained away. There is a large gap in achievement between Nigerian politicians’ children and underprivileged Nigerian citizens. The poorest-performing students and those most likely to turn off or disrupt or drop-out, are children from handicapped parents and the wayward, particularly boys. These poor outcomes clearly reflect deeper issues in society, of poverty and low expectations. Factors outside the classroom which make it difficult for the schools to be effective include Poverty and malnutrition, Disruptive / non-supportive homes, Peer pressure against academic achievement, Low expectations from society, Lack of mentors and examples of success through education.

Nigerian education policy has revolved in fits and starts, with successive presidents and governors offering their own reforms because of a political focus on “short-term solutions that would satisfy the demands of policymakers and the voting public for immediate action. The process of identifying promising educational practices, rigorously testing their effectiveness in model programs, and then trying them out in different settings often can take 15 to 20 years. Yet since ‘UBE’ enactment, few in federal policymaking—and perhaps just as few in 1-7 Basic schools—have demonstrated the patience for rigorous and sustained efforts at finding solutions. There are other groups of students whose educational needs will not be met in a homogenizing regime: The very bright, those with unor

thodox abilities or special talents and those with special needs Because these kids will not thrive in a standard classroom, most Nigerian universities systems strive to provide enrichment for the gifted and separate facilities for the very slow or disruptive.

It is considered to be unfair to the gifted to be held down by a curriculum geared to the average. And unfair to the general population of students to be held hostage by the others. Providing these special services takes resources away from the main educational effort. Resources–money, facilities and highly qualified Lecturers–are in limited supply. The diversion of resources means there is less available for the main group of students. There is a chorus of complaint about the poor product of Nigerian universities from the business community. Large sums are wasted on the search for competent employees, and further large sums spent on remediation or functional education that could have taken place before people hit the labor market.

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