Fixing Nigeria’s education for global competitiveness

Education

BEDEVILLED by many woes, the education sector, like a few others sectors in Nigeria has suffered bouts of inconsistencies in policy implementation and a myriad of other problems over the years.

This, of course, has grossly affected our drive for national progress. That we have 10 million children out of school in 2013; that no Nigerian university made the list of 100 Universities in the World in the 2015 ranking are both worrisome and disturbing discoveries. Thus, the government must realise the urgency of finding workable means of fixing the nation’s failing education sector in order to help reposition it compete globally.

Fixing the educational sector demands a pragmatic approach and a new thinking as it has become imperative that the old order must give way. The Adamu Adamu-led Ministry of Education must come to terms with the realities of these times in bringing to life policies and frameworks that would take the country out of this conundrum.

The appointments of Adamu Adamu and Anthony Onwuka, who themselves are seasoned educationist and administrator as the Minister of Education and Minister of State for Education respectively seem to have rekindled hopes in many Nigerians yearning for change in the sector. Adamu and Onwuka must be told that fixing the now collapsing sector would, as a matter of necessity require making some tough choices.

From what was termed a glorious beginning, the sector is now witnessing an unprecedented decline in fortunes, because administrators derailed and failed to do the right things. Perhaps, going down the memory lane would suffice. The 1965 National Curriculum Conference was called owing to the show of dissatisfaction from various quarters at the kind of education bequeathed to us by the colonial masters, which of course was grossly inadequate and irrelevant to our national needs, aspirations and goals.

After consultations with various stakeholders and many seminars a meeting was called to draft the National Policy on Education in 1977. Since then the policy document has undergone a number of reviews in 1981, 1998 and 2004.

Education was then seen (and is still considered) as an instrument for effective national development and with a philosophy based on the development of the individual into a sound and effective citizen and the provision of equal educational opportunities for all citizens at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. In those glorious old days, education is given a prime of place in the order of things, where a Nigerian graduate from the then University College, Ibadan or the University of Nigeria, Nsukka or any of the first generation tertiary institutions can hold his own and compete favourably with peers from other climes.

That we have failed to build on the foundation is not in doubt. Or what better explanation could one advance for the different ministers-different policy syndrome that has now taken over in our educational sector, resulting in policy inconsistencies and lack of continuity in our educational programs.

The sector almost became a place of showmanship by our various ministers. Instead of understudying what worked in previous administrations and build on same, it is fast becoming a culture that a new minister wants to discredit and discard the programmes on ground and push his own his own ideas at the detriment of the sector.

An example is in the scrapping of the Teachers Grade Two Certificate without corresponding upgrade of the NCE Curriculum. Unlike the NCE, the TC II prepares teachers for the role of teaching foundational education. The NCE only prepares graduates who are at most specialised in two subject areas. How can they then be asked to teach more than 10 subjects in a primary school setting, whereas they only specialised in two? What of acute underfunding and the dearth of facilities, also there are the problems of quality and accessibility. How can we drive development in the sector with the current paltry budgetary allocation of eight percent?

The current budgetary allocation cannot drive development. Singapore budgets 20 per cent of its National Expenditure for Education, whereas, Nigeria budgets eight percent for same, no wonder our national prosperity is crumbling while the likes of Singapore continue to be on the rise. How many Nigerians are in other continents and even neighbouring countries South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, Togo in search of knowledge, paying billions of dollars in fees and tuitions that ought to be used to develop our schools. What of the monumental decay that set into the system due to incompetent and poor teachers and teaching methods. Libraries are either poorly equipped or are stuffed with obsolete books and reading materials. They are nothing short of archival materials.

Reading culture has greatly gone down. Students now prefer surfing the Internet for entertainment purposes to studying books. Widespread corruption and examination malpractice have taken firm root as ‘special centres’ (for cheating purposes) have now become a thriving part of our educational system. Indeed the sector has suffered utter neglect. This is exemplified in the quality of our graduates. How does one reconcile the fact that a University of Education is offering courses in Computer and Electronics Engineering?

Thus, the starting point for the Buhari administration is to give utmost attention to education and immediately fulfil its campaign promise of increasing the current budgetary allocation to the sector. As the 2016 budget is being discussed, we need to see a commitment on the part of government. Even if the current economic situation cannot cater for a 26 per cent allocation for education, the UNESCO benchmark, we can get it closer. Doing this would arrest the infrastructural decay that has greeted our educational institutions from the primary to tertiary levels. While there is a place for innovations and creativity, we need to revisit the past and see what works and under what circumstances they did or did not. Academic pursuits should go side-by-side with our yearnings, needs and aspirations as a nation.

The prioritisation of the educational sector, should, of course, be followed by improvement in quality and access to education. The government should improve the number and quality of teachers, improve the conditions of teacher training institutions and review the curricula of teacher education.

In the Philippines, only Masters degree holders are allowed to teach; in the United States for example, only the best brains go into the primary education because they understand that level as the foundation. I dare say that the proposed First Degree Minimum Teaching qualification for Basic Education is a step in the right direction; it only needs a gradual process of implementation.

There is nothing wrong in us as a nation trying to aspire to work towards this, if more qualified people teach, the quality of output should also improve. We need to encourage and provide incentives for young people to see teaching as a viable career choice. The rewards of teachers should not anymore be in the ‘heavens’. When the foundations are right, everything will as a matter of principle fall in place.

Beyond these, for Nigeria to fix its education to compete globally, there is the need to combat and arrest the widespread corruption that is fast killing the education sector. Agencies such as the National Universities Commission, National Board for Technical Education, and National Commission for Colleges of Education and all other regulatory agencies must be seen to do their work, specialised institutions such as Universities of Education should be made to focus on core courses and leave engineering courses to universities of technologies or the Polytechnics.

We need to return to the compulsory free education days. If it can currently work in Imo State, where Governor Rochas Okorocha has successfully implemented the free education system, then it can work in every state. Since 1986, the Chinese government has passed and enforced a compulsory education law. We can do same.

Nigeria is blessed with vast potentials and huge human resources. The job before the government is to harness that potential to its benefit. To compete favourably in a global setting, the government must create an enabling environment to recapture and surpass the level that once brought the glory to the education sector.

• Odu-Onikosi, who is a Leadership, Transformation and Project Management Specialist and the Principal Consultant, Accelerate Consulting, lives in Lagos ([email protected]).

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