By Sule Ya’u Sule
Can the authorities and school administrators sustain the visible gains made in education in the past few years? The year 2015 will be decisive for the sector which had suffered neglect and disruptions in the past, not just because it is an election year but more so because of the new wave of optimism ruling the country’s education sector. Many educationists who have reviewed the progress made in implementing the Federal Government’s twin policy objectives of increasing access and improving quality are going beyond commending Government’s commitment to suggest ways the progress can be sustained in 2015.
There were no strikes in the universities in 2014, thanks partly to the N200billion intervention funds released by the Federal Government. Education Minister, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, the former classroom teacher, school principal and worker-friendly former two-time governor of Kano state, has pledged that there would be no strikes under his watch. The minister demonstrated his seriousness with the no-strike resolve by personally intervening to end the protracted industrial action embarked upon on October 4, 2013, by teachers in polytechnics and colleges of education, within 48 hours of his being sworn in. Can Shekarau bring his standing as a negotiator to calm the turbulence and help Nigeria avoid strikes in 2015?
At a recent education forum in Abuja, many speakers agreed that negotiating an end to the Polytechnics strike was a clear indication that the Hon minister understood his mission. Should 2015 end without a strike by teachers or workers at any level of the country’s educational system, Malam Shekarau, who gained national reputation during his time as state governor by discharging Kano’s accumulated pension and gratuity liabilities and who never faulted in paying the salary and benefits of his workers, would have set the stage for the restoration of the lost glory of Nigeria’s education.
“The minister doesn’t need to do more than keep his promise, keep the communication line open, and should not despair in dialoguing with the unions. The prospect of no-strike is a welcome development and must be supported by all stakeholders. Strikes, more than underfunding, damage the stability and credibility of the nation’s education sector”, according to Mr. Godswill Nkanga, a school administrator, based in Mararaba, near Abuja.
Indeed, most of the issues which led the polytechnic teachers to abandon the classroom are broad and wide-ranging. While some have lingered for decades, others require action by the National Assembly. Take for instance the long standing agitation to end the dichotomy between university and polytechnic graduates, as a legitimate demand which has curricular, legal and labour implications, but which requires an enabling legislation by the National Assembly. Other outstanding issues like the establishment of a National Polytechnic Commission, release of White Paper of the visitations to Federal Polytechnics, inadequate funding and the appointment of unqualified persons as rectors, are matter that can be resolved through dialogue, which should not trigger industrial action by teachers.
The minister spoke of his determination to nip in the bud the cancer of incessant strike actions by unions whose ulterior motives many are now questioning. “On assuming office, we started engaging ourselves, my office and stakeholders, we agreed there are problems, and that these problems are carryover problems, but let us sit down and see how we can solve them.
“We can keep boxing ourselves to a corner over the challenges but let teaching and learning continues. If we stop teaching for one minute, we would have failed. We are now making progress “, the minister said at an interactive session with journalists.
Mr. Nkanga, argued that the no-strike regime might be the beginning of a new lease of life for the nation’s education sector had posers for the unions and those who glorify strikes as a weapon of industrial negotiation. “Can issues ever be resolved in our school system without the unions resorting to industrial action? There is a growing suspicion that there are radical elements inside ASUU, ASUP and others who consider and embrace strikes as a punitive instrument of blackmail and through which they consolidate their own power base. But it is time for stakeholders to checkmate these radicals and reclaim our educational system. Strikes inflict untold hardship on students, parents, the community and the system and destabilize the very institutions the strikers claim to be fighting for. We have tried the strike option and seen the consequences. Time to try the dialogue approach”.
While analysts contend that the issues bedevilling the sector are gargantuan, dating back to years of official neglect and insider negligence with no quick-fix, there is a new wave of vibrant, positive developments sweeping through the sector which can no longer be ignored by any serious commentator. Whether this bounce of optimism can be sustained through the coming year will provide talking points in the weeks and months to come. the news that bold and decisive policy approaches by a determined Federal Government is beginning to impact, especially in the tertiary institutions, must be unsettling for a few, in a sector where cynicism and disdain for official activism have become a way of life. But for the majority of Nigerians who have longed for better funding and committed response to correcting the ills retarding the nation’s quest for quality education, the visible efforts of the present administration portend good news from any angle you see it.
According to the minister, the Goodluck Jonathan administration placed premium on two policy fronts – increasing access and improving quality of education, policies it has pursued and implemented with unmatched passion, with results to show. Against the backdrop of inadequate opportunities in the tertiary institutions for students who successfully completed their secondary and vocational education, the administration established 12 new federal universities, four new polytechnics and three new colleges of education, and in the process ensuring that every state in the federation has a university. The Federal Government also established 127 new Tsangaya (modernized Islamiyya schools) to integrate the Islamic pupils into formal educations at the primary level. A total of 49 boarding schools, especially for girls, have also been established. The minister pledged to prioritize teachers’ welfare, a strategy he adopted during his eight-year tenure in Kano which yielded many positive results. “Under my leadership, teacher-education will be accorded full priority, in line with the Transformation Agenda of President Good luck Jonathan”, he said.
To improve quality, the Jonathan administration has set aside N1.3trillion to be released to the universities during a five-year period on their NEEDS assessment, carried out by a special committee which partnered with members of the university community. That huge sum, much of which has yet to be drawn down, the President approved N220b to be disbursed to the tertiary institutions, with Federal Universities each getting N910m, Federal Polytechnics N650m each and Federal Colleges of Education received N550m each.
Sule Ya’u Sule, can be reached on email@example.com