It is a greater work to educate a child, in the true and larger sense of the word, than to rule a state. (William Ellery Channing)
This week the Nigerian University Commission announced that due to the falling standards in Nigeria universities, first degree will become a requirement to study professional courses. The professions included in this category are engineering, medicine, law and accountancy among others. This policy is not only wrong headed; it is obvious that the federal government is unable to grasp the real problems of Nigeria’s higher education in particular and the education sector in general. The helmsmen (woman) at the Ministry of Education and her boss are basically lacking in ideas and have instead decided to embark on chasing shadows. The three main problems of Nigerian education system are as follows: poor funding, poor administration and a lack of focus that have placed emphasis of certificates instead of people i.e. our own dear children that will go through this forsaken system!
It is my opinion that this policy is just one of the many cosmetic methods that this administration is using to throw impediments in the path of Nigerian students – making an already bitter experience worse! For example the recent direction that universities should revalidate JAMB results and so called post-JAMB screening is one of such ‘good policies’ that have been used severally by the education ministry to temper the thirst of Nigerian students for education. While the policies may be well meaning, their method of implementation just adds to the layers of rules, bureaucracy and tortuous road to education that have made Nigeria one of the worst country to obtain an ordinary basic education up till the ninth level. This new layer will only increase inefficiencies, increase desperation and consequently the corruption of the Nigerian educational system. Already, less than 20% of students that seek admission to the universities are shutout anyway, in a country with little opportunities, what are they suppose to do?
If the Nigerian government is serious about reforming the education sector certain steps need to be taken from the basic level, to the intermediate and higher education sectors. These reforms should be holistic – the piece meal approach has failed before and it will fail again. Some of the suggested approaches in this article are aimed at doing three things: Increase the quality of Nigerian graduates, remove the present impediments that have unnecessarily stifled Nigerian students and to continuously guarantee the provision of a well suited workforce for the development needs of Nigeria. It is my desire to deal with the various levels of education to simplify my ideas and I hope additional suggestions and refinement by readers will go a long way in providing a future blue print for our national desire for a sector we can be truly be proud of.
These reforms will no doubt require some level of financial support, and it is my recommendation that a little less that a sixth of the amount being used to pay off these Paris Club Shylock can restore the glory days of Nigeria education – at least in the short term. Indeed, the money saved from the yearly debt servicing now eliminated should be clearly budgeted for the next twenty years in a National Education Endowment Fund that will invest and use proceeds from such investments to finance a turn around program for our education sector. A federally mandated minimum of 10% of budget spending on education will also help this faltering sector- instead of using federally mandated polices with no funding essentially not putting our money where our mouth is.
The basic education sector includes the primary school and Junior Secondary schools. This sector as it currently stands is virtually moribund. The Nigerian parents have realized they cannot trust government with the first nine years of their offspring educational development. For a system that has produced the brightest and best of Nigerian minds even in the colonial era, it is a shame! This sector is presently privately driven and I don’t have any problem with that. But for the millions of indigent Nigerians students should they be sentenced to nine years of hell studying in sub-standard environments and readily relegated to the lower rungs of the educational ladder by a government that don’t care?
First, the administration of this sector should be turned over to local school boards. These school boards should be responsible for the hiring and firing of teachers, setting of curriculum, capital projects and development of infrastructure, determination of class size, management of the local library and long term development goals of the schools under the guardianship. It will be suggested that the lines of the Local Schools Boards should be drawn along the lines of existing local governments. Indeed, the determination of the pay scale of teachers should continue to be determined at the state level, but the size of the workforce should continue to be the responsibility of local authorities not the mafia at the state capital or Abuja!
The local schools boards should have one representative of stakeholders in this sector which are – Local Government, State Government, Teachers, Parents and three elected representatives on zero party basis from the local government. These elected representatives should be retired teachers or civil servants ordinarily domiciled in the community and everyone should serve on the board with no pay! The local schools board should be an ultimate sacrifice in national service- serving our young children with fear or favor. The current local government bureaucracy will serve as a secretariat to implement the decisions of the board and monitor schools; manned by true and tested management ‘professionals’ or school administrators not political jobbers and quacks. Gone are the glory days of school superintendents!
The boards should be independent and should be funded by grants at a pre-determined formula from the federal, state and local governments based on spending per student head, developmental needs and performance. These grants get to the local boards by way of annually advanced grants to prevent the unnecessary wait for funds that have crippled the current system. Three services should not elude our students at this level. These services are school bus program that should convey our children to school without threat of kidnap or suffering, a strong local library and Internet Infrastructure and a school feeding program that has just been recently introduced. This is the least these poor kids deserve and there is no reason Nigeria can’t do it for them!
It is my belief that if we get this sector right, then we will get everything else right. There
is need for us to go back to basics, and the current Universal Basic Education is a sham that has put emphasis on quantity instead of quality. There is a real need to restore dignity to teaching and learning, the only way to do so is to give powers to our local authorities. Big government is not the solution to our problems and there is need to review the charade called education that is going on at our various primary and junior secondary schools. If Obasanjo needs a legacy, the easiest way to leave it is to restore dignity, pride and respect to the education sector and he doesn’t have time on his side!
Last LineIf a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and will never be.