WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
Discussing the current realities of the Nigerian educational system in order to proffer solutions to redeem our educational standard is very important. Over the decades, we have been battling with Universal Basic Education (UBE), resuscitating the standard from primary to the tertiary education strata, attaining necessary and acceptable level that makes Nigerian graduates competitive and employable globally.
We cannot afford to take all the aforementioned point lightly. However we view it, education remains one of the fundamental factors of state development as it has the potential of stirring people’s understanding of themselves and their environment. It does possess the capacity to improve the quality of human life and leads to broad social benefits for individuals and society at large. It has the potential to raise national productivity, innovation, creativity and promotes free enterprise and technological advancements.
Our nation cannot progress beyond the level of her education express through its human capital development and political stability. It is a result of these that the underdevelopment of Nigeria, is adduced to the failure of successive governments to invest appropriately in the education sector. Challenges ranging from poor funding regimes, poor and inadequate infrastructures, limited population of qualified and motivated workforce, examination malpractices, non-functional curricula and obsolete teaching methods, all capped by the endemic corruption that had been fully ingrained in the nation’s fabric.
After fifty-nine years of independence, it seems we are yet to evolve an acceptable and true development propelling pattern of education that can really propel the nation forward. If we must have any meaningful revival of our educational sector; it is expedient that we engage a comprehensive revamping of the sector
That Nigeria education sector need a total rejig is an understatement. But we cannot not begin proffering solutions without dissecting the sector utterly first to know where we are coming from and at what point we started getting it wrong. Up till the 1980s, Nigeria schools at all levels were beautiful and admirable. The school compounds and campuses were well organised. Conscious efforts were made to deliver quality and qualitative education; laboratories were functional with necessary equipment on ground. Teaching staff and educational administrators alike were highly motivated and committed to the job. The obvious result then was the clear cut high quality of education. Our institutions competed at par with their counterparts all over the globe. That was the period when the university campuses of Ahmadu Bello University, Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Ibadan, University of Lagos and University of Nigeria, Nsukka were inspiring and Nigerians, even the brightest of the students undergo their higher education in Nigeria and only traveled abroad for courses that are not readily available in the country.
Is the Nigerian education system beyond redemption? The answer to me is “yes” and “no”. yes, if we are sincerely ready and committed to begin afresh and do all it takes to revamp the sector; and no, if we chose to continue in our pretense that all is well with the system. If we chose the former, then we will utterly require sincerity of purpose and efforts and/or more precisely political will from our leaders and all the stakeholders in the education sector. If we are ready to do this; with sincerity of purpose and commitment (as I mentioned above), we will ultimately turn around the sector for good.
So, what exactly are the problems? The entire educational system of the country had taken a nose dive and a consistent deterioration since the 1970s but we become worse in the late 80s and early 90s when the government neglects of the sector and the regular months-long strikes finally paralyzed the public schools leading to the birth and proliferation of private schools
A pathetic development in our education structure is the accumulation of mushrooms universities across the country and in most of our neighbouring countries. There are universities in this country that would admit students with very low scores in UTME and probably with similar O-level results; all that is relevant is that the student could afford the necessary school payments. Yet, these schools do not only graduate half-baked graduates but graduate them with unbelievable grades.
But much more worrisome are the universities in our neighbouring nations; you can get in and get out of the school within a year fully decorated with a degree certificate that takes four to five years to obtain in Nigeria. So it has become a pastime for student who cannot pass Nigeria’s universities degree programs or those who are expelled from Nigerian universities to cross over to some of these universities and bag their degrees in less than a year. These people return into the country and go for NYSC and subsequently join the nation’s workforce.
The plan at the onset was to create a strong base to supply quality pool of teachers for the total education of Nigerians; we had teachers training colleges built across the country with strong and formidable structures, modules and administration and the result was marvelous, the teachers in the 70s and 80s were teachers indeed. The quality of teaching and the students turned out were testimonies of the efficiency of the system. We took out the training colleges, replaced them with colleges of education but we failed to replicate the structure and quality. Teachers’ education is unique and incomparable to all others. Our secondary school curriculum was not designed to supply prerequisite to teachers’ education like it does other disciplines; teachers’ education began with the structured outline of the Teachers Training Colleges; Today we produce a number of teachers who have nothing to offer except for a few because the institution they went through is a system that imitate what was existing but failed to equal its standardization.
The present colleges of education to a large extent lack the in-depth capacity to produce qualify teachers within the period of three years as planned. We cannot denied the fact that quality of teachers we are turning out from these schools are in no way comparable to what we had in the past. Some months ago we heard of the situation in Kaduna state where the state governor had to forcefully disengaged several teachers in the state because they could not pass basic aptitude test. There is a cogent national need to review the content and possibly the duration of attaining the teacher’s certificate via the colleges of educations and reintroducing Teachers colleges
As the teachers college was going down so were the technical colleges. The technical colleges’ policy was the ideal plan to supply a formidable and lasting technological know-how for the nation. In the 1970s, almost all the technologists and technicians working with the Ministry of Works and Housing (MOW &H) and other technology based establishments across the nation were predominantly products of the technical colleges. They are ready made and are technically efficient on the work. The technical colleges hardly exist but only in name again. We now have graduates of mechanical engineering from university who could not change car battery.
One more thing we lost out on was the effective school inspectorate system that was in place till the late 1980s. The inspectorate department of education was so functional that teachers were always on their feet to deliver. Efficiency was properly measured and appreciated. I remember the inspectors coming regularly to our schools then, watched the teachers teaching, go through their teaching plan and then checked our notes. At times they asked us questions about our classes and even about our teachers. Today, while the offices still officially exist, it doesn’t perform the same function any longer. Perhaps this is because of the dormancy of the entire system of state/local government under which they exist.
Not limited to the primary and secondary schools, private universities and polytechnics with quality as unbecoming and semi baked except for a few sprang up all over the nation, even our parasitic neighboring nations take advantage of the decay in our educational sector by setting up glorifying secondary schools as well as universities and offer our citizens easy opportunity to become an undergraduate.
The immediate consequence, we have produced millions of graduates who are equally as unuseful to themselves as they are to the country. Recently, NYSC has been complaining of corps members who could not conveniently compose a straight correct sentence. Some cannot even write their names correctly. The private sector tactically refusing them employment because they’re considered as unemployable; we have nothing to offer outside the paper certificates that are mostly bought.
This got worse to the extent that despite graduating hundreds of thousands technologists and engineers every year, we do not possess the manpower to produce basic products. Our educational systems do not prepare us to become creative thinkers nor producers, no wonder, despite our population; we import virtually every consumables and utensils.
So, where do we begin from? Is it reconsidering the moribund structure of our curriculums and standards that prioritise theoretical discussion and passing examinations as the hallmark of good education, or getting the government to consider total overhauling of the sector funding regime, infrastructural development, practical hand-on teaching and quality of lecturing staff, or to get the Universities administrators to reconsider its present position and embrace a system that allow only qualified persons become tutors, erase the popular and prevailing money and sex for mark syndrome and examinations malpractice in their domains.
Whatever attempt we make at giving the educational sector a rebirth would be fruitless if we also fail to recognize that even among the youths and the young Nigerians, the culture of learning has overwhelmingly weaned. We must engage a massive education on the relevance and need for basic education among the growing population. Our children must know that the essence of education is not the certificate. As a nation our education sector would not begin to produce desirable result until our education system disabuses the concept of certificate is prime.
The sector is not irredeemable. The problems we face today are self-inflicted and can be undo if we so wish.
Funding the sector must be conscious. If we want to become globally reckoned with, our annual budget allocations to education at the states and federal level would be the first indicator. Increasing targeted spending on all round education catering effectively and simultaneously for the technical and vocational education alongside conventional education would just do the magic.
Funding is a fundamental problem ( to a large extent) Indisputably, as a nation, compare to what is obtained in other climes where education is given serious priority, education is underfunded in Nigeria, but it is not enough to lay the funding denominator factor at the foot of the government; we must equally ask. How have the school administrators manage the current allocations to the sector overtime? The ‘little’ we got, how do we utilize it? Do we have any consideration over the year for quality and quantitative research work? Or do we literally expend all allocations to the sector on payments of overheads with little or no infrastructural development
But this would not become an issue if the governments at all levels are interested to get committed to the real development of the sector. If Nigerian government chose today to commit resources to the revamping of the sector; given concomitant political will, in a few years, we will begin to tell a new and palatable story. This commitment is beyond financial but all-round. We need a radically committed in all sectors and level of our educational system that will prioritize the effective educational system as the bedrock of national development. A leadership that will genuinely revitalize the nation’s educational policies to align with modern trends
If need be, let go all the way to reinvent the wheel. Maybe we should begin by rebuilding the primary school system; we must accessed and engage qualified, proficient and devoted teachers to teach our pupils right from the primary school level. We must turnaround and massively invest in technical education in the country; we must redefine what the objectives of our tertiary education are.
We all know that teachers are the most central factor affecting students’ learning; being responsible for their total achievement to a very large degree. It is therefore imperative that issues concerning teachers’ quality and welfare be considered highly essential as a rally point to stop the decline in our educational system and begin a new phase of educational stability. If we must do this, then we must ask the question; is the quality of the teacher training receive in our colleges of education and universities fit for purpose of producing quality tutors? After then we must review the nation plans for on-the-job training for teachers. The teachers, like operators in other professions, must be mandated to attend continuous professional development programs and conferences. The teachers must be kept updated with current realities and discoveries in their fields and in other skills necessary for total development of their students
Beyond training and retraining, developments in technology and ICT as it affect specific disciplines and general subject must be regularly absorbed by teachers at all levels of education. Every teacher must become handy in the use of the instrumentality of the ICT to improve the quality of teaching and assimilation of subject matters
I think we also need to push for vital changes and a rewiring of the Nigerian learning method, which undoubtedly only prepare students to write and pass examinations but which does not encourage or result to a smooth transition from education to employment for many graduates. It is very pathetic that every year, our tertiary institutions graduated approximately 180,000 graduates in various fields of learning, a large proportion of which are mostly unemployable as attested to by most employers of labour especially in technologically based jobs.
We must redesign our curricula to guarantee education to employment. We need to call for a conference of education policy makers to emerge policies and framework including curricula that will guarantee the much desire education-to-employability transition in Nigeria. This is about living the theories; we must get to that point when every student becomes eager to practicalise each and every class theoretical teachings. This is called innovative teaching.
We must depart the era of coping, memorizing and imitation. Our teaching methods must encourage the students to be originals; thinking of what they could do with the accumulated knowledge rather than concentrating on what others have done. Our learning environment should also become learner-centered approach instead of the traditional lecturing method). Our teaching method and learning should become active, flexible and technology inclined. There is a designed innovative pedagogy called Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Entrepreneurship Training which are education and training that provide knowledge and entrepreneurship skills for employment using formal, non-formal and informal learning for social equity, inclusion and sustainable development. This we must adopt across board
As necessary as it is that we consider very important all the raised points, if we fail to decide on what control is acceptable for the guarantee of efficiency of our tertiary institutions, then all our gains whatever they are, would be eroded by unchecked corruption in the system. Who control the administrators of our government institutions: what aspect of their operations do we oversee? Is it only academics development or inclusive of financial management and probity of the institutions?
We need to frankly ask ourselves, should the government proceed out rightly with its implementation of IPPIS for employees of government owned tertiary schools or exercise some caution. Is their likelihood of possible distortions of negative implications if the government proceeds with its decision? If the government would be made to back down, would that implies that management of the university accounts and financial management is exclusive right and function of its administrators. Does it make management sense that government funds these institutions but could not bring mechanisms to curb endemic corruption in the system?
A school of thought is of the opinion that it is the responsibility of the NUC to regulate, control, supervise and monitor the operations of the universities. Don’t we all know that as it is structured, the NUC does not possess the capacity to perform that function? NUC responsibility must be limited to regulating standard and quality; any attempt to draw the body into financial regulation of the school because we want to escape IPPIS will spell more doom for the sector beginning from the nearest future.
Financial corruption has become a fundamental problem and issue affecting virtually all sector of the nation’s development, education not exempted; so much corruption have crept in to the sector; the story of ghost workers in our institutions is not one within the precinct of the administrators to resolved because they are mostly culprit in the crime. We just heard the news of hundreds of unconfirmed professors in our universities; yet these one are being paid the wages of professors all along. The story of lecturers working simultaneously in more than one institutions and getting paid by all the schools is another we cannot overlook. We cannot supply reasons good enough to stop a process good enough to rid a sector as important as education of the malady of corruption. But in fairness to all party, Agreed, the IPPIS as currently designed might not have captured the enumerations of the academia totally; yet rejecting the scheme in its totality would still not be in the interest of the nation’s aspiration to become corruption free. I would suggest the establishment of a joint committee that would review the content of the IPPIS in such a way that would capture all due benefits of university and polytechnic lecturers and staff. We cannot consider throwing the baby away with the bath water
I will conclude on this note, Nigerians government commitment to the university education system currently must be geared up . It is not about the money budgeted for the sector but about what we want to achieve from the sector. We cannot give free education to children who would eventually be taught by non-professionals and half-baked teachers and claimed to have catered properly for the sector. The content of our education must be reviewed; we must ask ourselves what exactly we want those children to come out with; theory as usual or creative thinking minds. It is high time we decided on and agreed to what we want from the sector and begin laying a fresh foundation that would take us there.
God Bless The Federal Republic Of Nigeria!