The development of any modern society or nation is primarily hinged on the functionality of its education system. There is no developed nation in the world today, which does not owe its advancement to quality and qualitative education.
In fact, education is the bedrock of any society that hopes to be numbered among the developed economies in the world. Nigeria, as a nation, has made continual efforts to assume its rightful place in education on the African continent, but has not been quite lucky. The introduction of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme by the then General Olusegun Obasanjo government in 1976 was mainly directed at building a solid foundation for education in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the system could not attain the desired goals due to identifiable problems such as bureaucracy, poor planning and politicization.
Indeed the admixture of politics and other subterranean factors have accounted for the intractability of some of the problems of our national development. Again, the introduction of the national quota system and geographical spread in the admission of students into unity schools and tertiary institutions have its own share in the overall snag that our educational system has suffered. Unfortunately, what we have had over the years is much motion, less movement despite the huge investments by government in education.
It is abundantly evident, even in the national budget, that government has been consistent in the funding of education and research. But sadly, no tangible result has come out of these huge investments. It is painful, therefore, that as more investments are made the more the quality of education degenerates. That has left parents and the administrators of education in the country wondering what has actually gone wrong. Government even went as far as introducing the 6-3-3-4 system to drive the sector and boost the quality of products from our school system – to no avail. It has since kept remodelling the curriculum with the intention of making education the pride of the nation.
Worried by the poor state of the sector past governments were moved to set up several panels of investigation, with tons of reports submitted thereafter. Nevertheless, almost all the reports have found a resting place in file cabinets and shelves in ministries and government establishments. The quarantining of the reports was traceable to the fact that many of them were not favourable to government one way or another.
The rot in our educational system was further exposed last week when Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole took a bold measure to identify the root cause of the falling standards of education in his state. He was reported to have encountered a teacher who could not read the text in an affidavit claimed to have been written by her. According to the report, everybody at the venue of the encounter was shaken to the marrow by the raw illiteracy exhibited by somebody who had claimed to possess the wherewithal to impart knowledge to young, impressionable children. Broken by the sad incident, the state branch of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) vowed to cooperate with the government to flush out unqualified teachers and ensure that the dwindling fortunes of education in the state were arrested.
This was not the first time such an unfortunate and heart-rending incident had occurred. It happened in Ekiti State when the governor took the bull by the horns to confront the principals in the state to find out how suitable or qualified they were to head their schools. The exercise led to many startling revelations. The most disheartening was the revelation that some of the principals could not defend the certificates they laid claim to. More unfortunate was the fact that many of them failed the simple test given to ascertain their proficiency and suitability.
The performance of students in public examinations in the past 10 years has been abysmal. The failure rate has continued to soar. The worst performance in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) was recorded in 2012 when the failure rate jumped to over 70 per cent, forcing the Federal Government to intervene. Safe from declaring emergency in the educational sector the government introduced far-reaching measures to attenuate the dwindling fortunes in these public examinations.
Some of the new measures have started bearing quality fruit. Just two weeks ago, news broke out that over 70 per cent of candidates that sat for the 2013 WASSCE passed. This is a complete reversal of what had obtained in the past 10 years. However, many people have called to question the credibility of the entire result. Their argument is that the performance is too impressive to believe, considering that just last year the same percentage (70 per cent of) candidates failed in the same examination.
In my assessment, the fuss over the result is uncalled for. What is important is that government is working assiduously to address the problems in the educational sector as a way of transforming the society for greater development. Instead of chastising the government or its agencies what the critics should do is to continue to advise the government on the way forward. To me, the 70 per cent pass mark in WASSCE is not a big deal when we juxtapose it with the huge investments the government has made in the sector.
The poor performance by students in public examinations mirrors the rot in the wider society. Therefore, the sudden reversal is something that calls for jubilation and not criticism. I think what has happened has a link to the massive campaign by the Federal Ministry of Education to do everything possible to reverse the ugly trend, which led to the sensitization of principals and other stakeholders in the sector to be more alive to their responsibilities. Probably, what the critics did not consider is the dynamics in the sector. There is nothing extraordinary in the impressive performance of students in this year’s WASSCE. It has, rather, proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the sector can be redeemed and that the problems in the sector can, after all, be tackled if we developed the right attitude.
In Africa, Nigeria ranks among the most developed – not minding its pitiable position in the global rating as a developing nation. What has snagged development in Nigeria all these years is corruption. Corruption is the chief culprit among the many factors that militate against its development. I believe that if the huge investments in education and other sectors are judiciously deployed Nigeria would be better for it.
It is sad that many of our teachers lack the basic knowledge to manage the young children placed under their care. I wonder how a teacher can impart knowledge he does not possess in the first place. A few years ago, heads of schools did not possess a certificate in education management. How did anybody expect them to perform optimally? To deal with this situation the Federal Government has made it compulsory for them to upgrade or ship out. This has forced many of them to embark on post graduate studies to acquire a degree in education management. The insistence on upgrading has created a new impetus that has indirectly imparted the sector, leading to the encouraging result recorded in this year’s WASSCE.
My fear, nonetheless, is that this beautiful performance might not be sustained. As is traditional with our country, good things don’t last. It is likely that the managers of our educational system may go to sleep after this impressive outing, instead of building on the achievements recorded.
This calls to mind the need to design an action plan that will make Nigeria one of the most literate countries in the world. Available records show that the percentage of literacy among Nigerians is very low compared to our large population. In fact, most of those in the rural areas are not literate. Even the cities have been taken over by able-bodied youth who hawk for survival. Those of them who cannot hawk nor do other lowly-paid jobs for livelihood take to crime. This is what is responsible for the large army of unemployed youth that engage in anti-social activities.
I was interacting with a professor from one of the top universities in the country last week in the United States and he raised the issue of funding for Nigerian universities. I was shocked by the revelations he made. He told me point-blank that many of the students in our tertiary institutions are not teachable. He described such students as ‘deadwood’. When I asked him what could be responsible for this sordid development his answer hit me like a bullet from an AK 47. Hear him:”The foundation laid for them at the primary school level was not solid enough to bear the heavy burden of acquiring tertiary education.” Before we went our separate ways he threw another bombshell:”Your Excellency, the only way out is to build a new generation of students and teachers that will develop an entirely new attitude to education with focus on technological advancement of the country toward the 22nd Century. As for this generation, it is all over.”
As much as I agree with some of the remarks made by the erudite scholar, I beg to defer in the last position, where he sounded too pessimistic. I agree that many of our students are not teachable, but who should be blamed? Is it the students or the teachers? There is no doubt whatsoever that the degeneration of education into its present awful state was caused by environmental factors, top of which is corruption, as I indicated earlier. Corruption could be blamed for the lack of trained teachers, adequate teaching aids, functional libraries and laboratories, infrastructure, and other things needed to drive the system. What does anybody expect would happen when money appropriated for education is mismanaged? Every year government makes huge budgetary allocations to education with nothing to show for it.
A trip round the schools across the country shows massive decay and dilapidation. You can hardly find any of the schools in quality condition. What greets you is blown-out roofs, cracked walls, and broken floors. Many of the schools lack toilet and boarding facilities; not to talk of electricity and other necessities. These are the facilities needed for a child to learn. Schooling in Nigeria is like hell. How can anything good come out of hell?
What of the teachers? They are not properly trained, and are poorly remunerated. When a teacher is not sufficiently motivated what comes out of him is also unimpressive. The era when teachers were motivated by simply telling them that their reward was in heaven had gone. We are in a modern era where what counts is what one gets. The teachers believe that, as purveyors of knowledge, they should be paid higher than other categories of workers. I think they are somewhat right. But they should bear in mind that their vocation is a humanitarian one. The joy that they are co-imparters of knowledge with God is sufficient to catalyze them. However, this does not mean that government should not make life meaningful for them. After all, schools are one of the socializing agents which contribute to the systematic transformation of the child. Just as the homes, schools help in the moulding of the character of a child and place it on a steady pedestal for the challenges of the future.
On the issue of funding, I also agree with the professor to some degree. Let me ask: What happened to the billions of naira government appropriated for education over the years? The truth is that the money was misappropriated by those entrusted with its management. I have always believed that if the billions had been judiciously managed we would, at least, have something to show for it. What the government should do is to declare an emergency in the educational sector and through the process sanitize it.
The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Fund should be overhauled to make it more accessible and accountable. I learnt of recent that there is billions of naira lying idle in the fund with many of the beneficiaries not coming forward to claim it. My mind tells me that there is something repulsive about the fund that makes the beneficiaries shun it. This is something the government should look into immediately and find a solution.
On the submission by the professor that our generation is gone, I beg to defer. There is still hope for this generation. This position was strengthened by the result of the 2013 WASSCE, in which a majority of the candidates passed. The indispensable fact remains that we should do what is needful to move our education to a new realistic level – far away from the present state of hopelessness. Every Nigerian should see the crisis in the educational sector as a personal one, not of the government alone. We should come together, design new ways of doing things and do what we should to clean up the mess in the sector. The current practice of doling out money to jobless youth in the name of empowerment is counterproductive. What the youth need most is functional education, good jobs and secure environment to lead their lives. These are all we need to make Nigeria a new place.
If we continue to live the way we do it will not be long before we sing the nunc dimittis for education in Nigeria. Everything put together, there is light at the end of the tunnel and we must ensure the light is not quenched by our mistake of omission or commission.