By Maryam Garba Hassan
The appointment of Malam Ibrahim Shekarau as the new minister of education, one of the most important sectors in the country did not come to many as a surprise perhaps, because of the minister’s wealth of experience in the sector coupled with his background.
The minister who was also a class room teacher and a one time National President of Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and a unionist until his election as governor in 2002 came at a time when the sector is expanding and experiencing a lot of challenges. This has made Nigerians to hiss a sigh of relief believing that his experience in teaching profession will come to play in his quest to reposition the all important sector.
Although, experts have acknowledged that the problem in the sector is not peculiar with us. Neighboring Ghana had the same problem some years ago, but had to dig deep in thinking and planning before crossing the Rubicon with the determination of the government and the encouragement given to the Private Sector.
On assumption of duty as Minister of education on the 10th of July, 2014, Shekarau’s first meeting with the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and COEASU who had been on strike for close to a year, yielded a positive result as the unions abruptly call off the industrial action.
This feat has however, given the minister an edge over his predecessors who although tried in their ways to intervene in the feud between government and the various aggrieved academic unions but could not achieve such feat within a short period of time.
This development was described by stakeholders as “A new dawn in the sector.
However, even with such commendable efforts, the minister still has huge challenges to tackle and enormous task ahead of him as he is coming in at a time when the sector is faced with a lot of challenges both internally and externally, top among which is frequent strikes by teachers at all levels which has disrupted academic Calendars in the country.
The deteriorating quality of education in the nation also needs urgent attention if we want Nigeria as a nation to grow because no nation can grow higher than the quality of its education and teachers even as there are various intervention programmes initiated at the state, national and international levels with the aim of revamping the system and enhancing the quality of our education system.
For instance, the Almajiri integrated schools said to have been established nationwide with a little heard of the progress it is achieving since the former education Minister, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’I left office.
The alarming rate of out of school children is another challenge the new minister has to address as a matter of urgency as the nation’s current rating by the UNESCO global education monitoring revealed that the current country’s figure for out of school children is the highest in the world and stands at 10.5million and with more children facing all kinds of abuses.
The embarrassing but not far away from the true figure has been argued by education stakeholders even as the country does not have its own figure to compare with that of UNESCO to enable her challenge the figure as recently revealed by Minister of State for education, Chief Nyesom Wike, when he was asked by Pakistani Girls’ education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, on her recent visit to Nigeria.
One other challenge which is the most worrisome is insecurity in schools, particularly in three most affected states in the North eastern part of the country and rebuilding of the schools in the region.
Rebuilding the destroyed schools in the region, counseling parents of the school in Chibok where over 200 girls were abducted is the biggest task ahead of Shekarau. Reports in the media last week revealed that 900 schools were destroyed by the activities of insurgents in Maiduguri since 2010.
To address this issue, the federal government and Gordon Brown, global Education Envoy last month launched Safe School Initiative Programme and released $1.6b to ensure security in our schools nationwide and to encourage girl child education starting with the three states most affected by Boko Haram activities, which are Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
It is important to note that if the programme is implemented now, the desired result may not be achieved as the success of the programme depends on rescuing of the missing Chibok girls and their return to their homes safe and alive which will boast the confidence of parents to allow their children go back to school.
Secondly, the minister and head of all the parastatals under the ministry have to engage in rigorous and sustainable activities to create awareness on the programme in those communities for the initiative to be accepted by Nigerians and the communities mostly affected by the activities of insurgents.
Apart from securing schools, especially those in the affected regions, it will also require proper counseling of parents, particularly the abducted girls’ parents to prepare them physiologically.
There is also need for massive and serious back to school campaign and advocacy visits by government officials to such regions and to traditional leaders.
The minister also has to ensure quick implementation of the initiative for speedy pick up as soon as the girls are found as this will ensure that the programme is sustained as implementation has always been Nigeria’s problem.
He should also put in place the necessary measures to ensure the sustainability of the programme, especially now that the world has focused on Nigeria, her security and the education system.
Proper orientation should also be given to the security operatives and stiffer penalty be spelt out for those security operatives who leave their duty posts to avoid the re occurrence of Government Secondary School, Yada Buni’s children massacre in Yobe which is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians.
To save our university system from further degeneration and to curtail internal crisis, there is need for the Minister to organize a workshop for VCS, heads of higher institutions and their governing councils on the law guiding the process of selection of VCs and head of institutions and to renew the 2003 university enacted Act and university autonomy which is been violated by some selfish individuals in the academic circle to create crisis in our universities and higher institutions which has taken a new dimension particularly of recent.
A senior lecturer and former head of department of Mass communication, University of Maiduguri, Malam Mustapha Umar Mai Iyali, said his expectation from the new minister is to abide by the agreement entered between ASUU and the Federal government.
He said he has no doubt that with the minister’s excellent record he can do better than what he achieved within the three days he assumed duty as minister in the sector.
“If Shekarau failed in the education sector, he will no longer be respected even in the political circle. I will urge him to do his best for the sector and ensure that positive changes are recorded during his tenure as minister even though he is a politician who will want to retain his job to remain relevant but he should always remember that he is coming from the academic circle’, he said.
While commending the appointment of the Kano born educationist, Chairman of the Parents/Teachers Association (PTA) of the Government Secondary School, Gwagwa, Abuja, Mr. Clement Akaeme tasked the new minister on budget implementation and strengthening of the parastatals in the ministry.
According to him, “Education budget should be implemented as proposed, while a supplementary application be made, if the need arises. The new Minister should stop the present practice of arm twisting parastatals and agencies to fund the Ministry’s travels, training and other out-of station expenses. This is not right and puts a lot of pressure on the cash strapped agencies” he said.