Let me begin by saluting the sagacity and bold initiative of the Governor Kayode Fayemi administration in convening this meeting of perhaps the most cerebral in our beloved state to rub minds with a view to elaborating a road map for recovering the lost heritage of Ekiti people in education. For if truth be told, it smacks very much of a paradox that the acclaimed Fountain of Knowledge, Land of Honour and Dignity is today bedeviled with arrested growth and development in various facets of human endeavour, not least, human capital development where it is barely managing to keep its head above water.
Of course, it is no surprise that the Ekiti State Government, suffused as it is by able and well-honed intellectuals, discerned early in its existence the need for well thought-out solutions to the multifarious problems confronting our dear state. In today's world, it is simply dysfunctional and counter-productive to enunciate policies and programmes not grounded in dispassionate and scientific analyses of antecedent factors that brought about contemporary difficulties. The marriage of theory and practice is well-known as the panacea to problems of socio-economic and political transformation. Where and when there is a disconnect between theory and practice, the result, more often than not, is hare-brained, casuistic and generally discordant policies which, in the final analysis, would be ephemeral and of marginal heuristic and utilitarian value.
It is not enough to bemoan our niggardly position in the scheme of things, especially in relation to the state's monthly receipts from the Federation Account. Nor should we continue to indulge in the belief that Ekiti's endemic poverty and general underdevelopment are matters which defy human solution. To every problem, there is a solution if only we try hard enough and are ready and willing to adopt thorough study and understanding of same. Providence has endowed us with brains and the capacity to think out solutions to our existential situation. All that is needed is a tenacious and dogged will to succeed.
What then are the urgent tasks that confront us in the education sector in Ekiti? What did we do or fail to do in the past that has led us to the sorry pass in which we have now found ourselves? What is to be done in order to emerge from the present nadir and actualize the dreams and aspirations of our people?
Answers to these and related questions, I believe, form the task before this august assembly. However, before envisaging the possible solutions to the quest for enhancement of functional and sustainable education in Ekiti State, it seems apposite to re-examine the position of education generally in the scheme of things and then consider the critical choices that lie before policy-makers and stakeholders in the education sector, all in the effort to ensure life more abundant for our longsuffering people.
The Pre-eminence of Education in the Scheme of Things
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's riposte to those anxious to find out the three priorities of his newly-elected Labour government as education, education and education had a ricochet around the world. If an advanced, industrialized nation like Britain, even in the late 1990's, could still acknowledge the pre-eminence of education in the scheme of things, it goes without saying that other countries, especially in the so-called Third World, should take similar positions or be condemned to exist in the fringes of modern-day civilization.
In a setting such as Ekiti's, it perhaps amounts to preaching to the converted by declaring education as being of topmost priority. A homestead of Nigeria's first holder of a doctorate degree, the country's pioneer professors in fields as diverse as mathematics, computer science, electrical and electronic engineering, plastic surgery, meteorology and petroleum engineering, national laureates in disciplines as varied as medicine and history, perhaps Africa's largest aggregation of professors per capita or square meter, hardly warrants convincing regarding the prime location of education in a people's scale of values.
Admittedly, Ekiti is very much part of the old Western Region and a notable beneficiary of Chief Awolowo's far-sighted free education initiative which had given the people of the area and the entire old Western Region a head-start in enlightenment, the creation of a viable middle class as well as very bright potential for rapid socio-economic transformation. More important, however, most, if not all of Ekiti's success stories in the educational realm in earlier times were products of parental and/or communal material input and sacrifice, nurtured at a period of minimal or almost non-existent national or state sponsorship in the production of high-level manpower. While the contribution of religious bodies and missionary agencies in the grooming of the Omojola Agbebis, Olubunmos, Ade Ajayis, D.F. Ojos, Kayode Oshuntokuns, Afolabi Ojos and Sam Alukos must be gratefully acknowledged, the fact bears re-stating that our forefathers apprehended the vital role which education plays in the growth and development of a people and, therefore, made critical efforts to establish the pre-conditions for the enviable position which Ekiti used to enjoy as far as educational pursuits were concerned. That we continue to relish the general belief that the Ekiti are among the most well-educated people on the African continent is an apt commentary on how much the past could loom large in the consciousness of the present and effect an overarching influence on contemporary thought processes. That within two or three generations, the Ekiti were able to transcend the fringes of ignorance and locate themselves in the vantage position of enlightenment, hope and self-confidence is a matter of great pride and a worthy example to others still mired in the labyrinths of ignorance, despair and hopelessness.
It is, therefore, a matter of great regret and stupefying embarrassment that in consequence of nonchalance, policy failure, neglect and misplaced priorities by previous administrations, Ekiti is today deprived of the wherewithal to guarantee the reproduction of these education avatars of the past. To the extent that education is the transmission in a sustained manner of the values of one generation to the next, to that extent should genuine patriots worry about the present state of affairs in the education sector of our beloved homestead.
A situation where in the recent past, many of our children have been deprived of the opportunity of undergoing primary, secondary or university education on account of lack of means is clearly unacceptable and needs to be immediately redressed. That the quality of pedagogy prevalent in most of our schools ensures that performance in school leaving examinations has been of the same level as that of pupils from the most backward and educationally disadvantaged states in the country is, quite frankly, despicable and untenable for a state whose sole claim to fame has, perhaps, hitherto been its educational prowess.
Nevertheless, it is imperative that we come to grips with the causative factors of our contemporary predicament in the education industry if we are to correctly apprehend the salient aspects of the sector and be in a position to map out the strategies and tactics of emerging out of the doldrums. Luckily, the current leadership in Ekiti State has recognized the necessity to elaborate a blueprint for socio-economic and political transformation, otherwise known as the Eight-Point Agenda. It is believed that a holistic appraisal of our present travails constitutes a conditio sine qua non for the much needed transformation of Ekiti state and its people.
Accordingly, it becomes imperative to dilate on the special delivery vehicle for the realization of the goals and aspirations of Governor Fayemi's Collective Rescue Mission.
The Place of Education in the Eight-Point Agenda
As is well-known, the cardinal points of Governor Fayemi's Eight-Point Agenda are the following:
2. Infrastructural Development;
3. Modernizing Agriculture;
4. Education and Human Capital Development;
5.Health Care Services;
6. Industrial Development;
7. Tourism; and,
8. Women Empowerment.
That the administration saw the wisdom in articulating a compass for its plans policies and programmes is not totally unexpected on account of the intellectual depth, global experience and world-view of its leadership. However, what is, perhaps, somewhat surprising is that education was not placed right at the top of the entire construct. Nevertheless, I am sure the government would not want that to be interpreted as relegating education to an ancillary position in the actualization of its programmes, plans and policies.
It needs be stated that on the face of it, none of the other seven points of the Agenda can or would be facilitated without education. In fact, education is, and remains pre-requisite and key to their actualization, be it governance, development of infrastructure, agriculture, industrial development or improvement of health care delivery. Accordingly, it becomes inevitable to give education pride of place in the scheme of things if attainment of all the other points on the administration's Agenda is to be guaranteed. Pursuant to these laudable objectives, therefore, it would be both necessary and desirable to interrogate the critical choices confronting the state in the effort to raise the ante of education and social well-being in the state.
Critical Choices Facing Ekiti State in the Optimization of Education
One of the most important issues that has to be confronted is the cost of education and who has to bear that cost. Slowly but surely, the reality is dawning on all and sundry that there is nothing like a free lunch anywhere in the world. Despite the allure of free education in the consciousness of our people, it should be brought home to them that, in the final analysis, somebody has to pay for it. In other words, if the government has to bear the cost of educating our children, that would surely be at the expense of other social services such as water, roads, hospitals or housing.
While the slashing of tuition fees in tertiary institutions at the inception of the Kayode Fayemi administration was widely hailed, the people have to realize that in the modern world, manna does not fall from heaven. Anyone still seeking a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow needs to realize the limits of chimerical desires. There is now a felt need for accepting the notion of shared cost in education just as in other social amenities. Subsidy is, of course, a matter of consideration under a wise, caring governmental policy but a totally state-provided scheme of amenities such as education is not only unrealistic in today's world but might jolly well be opportunistic, if not downright fraudulent and dysfunctional. Parents and guardians must be prepared to bear some of the cost of educating their children and wards in other to release funds for the provision of competing social services.
The fact of the matter is that education is more than just tuition. Included in the cost of education are items such as physical structures, teachers' wages and salaries, books and journals, teaching aids, consumables and ancillary services which all go into rolling back the frontiers of ignorance. A pie-in-the-sky mentality is apt to be counter-productive in a matter as crucial as education and is, therefore, to be dismissed off-hand. Furthermore, a variable that needs to be factored into the equation is the quality of education being offered. In a highly competitive world, we have always to be cognizant of a cost-benefit analysis as well as input-output assessment of the end-product in order to ensure that good money is not thrown down the drain.
It might also be worthwhile to re-consider the syllabuses of our educational institutions in order to ensure more utilitarian goals and objectives. A situation in which the products of our schools and higher educational institutions are bereft of entrepreneurial knowledge and know-how and perpetually seeking vanishing or non-existent white-collar jobs could well become inimical to social peace and national cohesion. While there is a surfeit of graduates in education and the humanities, it is a notorious fact that we have not been able to meet society's needs in the professional and technical areas. Accordingly, it seems that part of the charge of this gathering is to contemplate ways and means of re-configuring the education being provided in our institutions and, in fact, consider the necessity for some form of rationalization in quest of optimization of existing resources and the desire of meeting our core manpower needs. The lesson to be learnt from other countries and climes is that there must be constant dialogue between and among policy-makers and stakeholders regarding both content and delivery of knowledge in or schools and higher educational institutions.
This is one of the lessons we must learn from the success of the Asian tigers in moving their economies from the Third to the First World within a few generations. The US is today lamenting the lack of interest among its young in mathematics and the sciences in the face of competition and its imminent overtaking by China. Realizing that education is the most critical variable in societal growth and development, the leading countries of the world have had to put tremendous stock in research and development as well as pedagogy in order to maintain their position and relevance in a rapidly changing world. Here in the developing world, we have to double our speed of growth and development in order to make advancement in our position in a world where only bones are left for late-comers. Thus, constant revision of both content and form of offerings in our educational institutions becomes de rigeur if we are to improve in our current situation of mass ignorance, want and squalor.
Admittedly Ekiti functions in a constellation of states with which it shares monthly allocation of oil-derived funds. This, inevitably, puts certain constraints on the policy options available to the government. Nevertheless, government as the driver of the state's development is still well-placed to re-prioritize and accord education pride of place in the scheme of things. Accordingly, the government has to effect a hard-nosed analysis regarding whether it is cost-efficient to retain the present number and nature of the present universities in Ekiti, especially bearing in mind the needs of an agrarian, civil service economy that currently characterizes the state. Furthermore, there is a felt need for a utilitarian approach in appraising the education sector in the state in relation to the theme of this summit. Functionality and sustainability would seem to suggest the need for optimization of resources in the education sector, both human and material.
Accordingly, there should be an audit of the education sector in order to remove areas of wastage and misallocation of resources and ensure that the state gets value for money. The antediluvian school buildings that dot Ekiti towns and villages, while generally not out of sync with the surrounding landscape are hardly inspiring or conducive to pedagogy or the requirements of the 21st century. We need to start thinking of refurbishing and modernizing the environments where succeeding generations of scholars and scientists are being nurtured. Thus, our schools should become centres of enlightenment and sophisticated learning and culture in the nooks and crannies of the state in a bid to properly socialize our young ones and prepare them for life in the knowledge economy. While a start has been made in the area of information communication technology through distribution of computers and software to our schools, there needs to be a sustained effort to wean the young from ignorance and superstition by inculcating rationality in our young minds by revamping the school syllabus through introducing them to subjects like astronomy, technical drawing, logic, book-keeping, ecology, civics and other prerequisites of modern-day existence.
Of course, this warrants re-training of our teachers since no-one can give what he does not have. It is, therefore, suggested that any financial outlay for adding value to the academic make-up of our teachers would indeed be money well-spent. In tandem with refurbishment of pedagogy, the lot of our teachers would have to improve. As is commonly said, no society can rise beyond the level of its teachers. Since re-training presupposes increased productivity, it is a foregone conclusion that the social and financial status of our new-age teachers would have to be reflected in enhanced emoluments and prospects for advancement.
The situation in our higher educational institutions across the country beggars description. With no Nigerian university, for instance, numbering among the first 200 universities in the world as a result of a plethora of factors, it would seem Ekiti state has its job cut out for it in the area of higher education which, as we all know, is capital-intensive. It is strongly believed that if the state intends to have a functional and sustainable higher education, then we would have to re-think the aims and objectives of tertiary education in Ekiti. The assumptions which informed the establishment of Ekiti's higher educational institutions in the state would have to be reviewed in light of today's realities and policy goals and aspirations of the government. This necessitates re-consideration of the thrust and production targets of these institutions.
It is doubtful if in the tertiary sector there is actually strength in numbers. A few high quality educational institutions might be preferable to innumerable, lackluster, mediocre manpower mills. Accordingly, the state might need to rationalize and prune the number of existing institutions with a view to enhancing standards and ensuring quality of their graduates. Like in the rest of the country, where there is serious rethinking regarding the quality of the certificates being brandished by graduates, the necessity for quality assurance and minimization of waste compels a revamping of the higher education sector in Ekiti. What is entailed in the scenario being painted is the need for a broad policy restatement on the aims and objectives of higher education in the state in order to have a cost-efficient and streamlined process of human capital development at the tertiary level.
The need to equip our tertiary institutions with quality library resources, laboratories, teaching aids and consumables as well as highly motivated lecturers, technical, administrative and ancillary staff is self-evident if they are to fulfill their mission of producing competent and articulate men and women of great learning and highest moral fibre.
As we all know, nothing good comes cheap. Accordingly, the government must be ready and willing to subsidize the cost of high-level manpower development in order not to lose out in the competition among states of the Federation to produce the best and brightest in an increasingly challenging economy. How many of our graduates are able to secure admission and successfully complete to graduate programmes elsewhere could well be an index for measuring the quality of offerings in our higher educational institutions.
Admittedly a university is not measured by the beauty of its buildings but it helps if you have structures that would look impressive on postcards. The buildings of the most prestigious universities in the world are not rickety structures struggling to be recognized as portals of great learning. Thus, it is being suggested that we should now move away from match-box structures bereft of any aesthetic values, all put in a hurry and on account of lack of financial resources. The hood does, in fact, make the monk and anything worth doing at all is worth doing well. Universities everywhere are costly propositions and if we are not ready to have them, it is better to scrap them instead of having caricatures that give no other impression than that of over-grown rural high schools, masquerading as a university, polytechnic or college of education, belittling the very idea of a citadel of learning and doing little or no honour to the hapless young men and women compelled to undertake tutelage in a less than ennobling or conducive environment.
Beyond Functional and Sustainable Education in Ekiti
Since we are, generally speaking, a well-educated people, no-one need remind us that ignorance was more expensive than education. Nevertheless, at the end of it all, it is all about cost and priorities. An enlightened government the like of which is currently in place in Ekiti needs no preachment regarding the imperative of having educated citizens who would be much easier to lead but definitely more difficult to oppress, as we were once taught in high school.
The Ekiti have historically invested heavily in the education of their children and wards. Despite enjoying the years of the heavily subsidized education programme of the Action Group under the incomparable leadership of Chief Awolowo, they saw the need in supplementing whatever the government of the day was ready to offer towards the education of their children. Undoubtedly, they would again be ready and willing to share the cost of educating their wards with the government if only they are properly briefed and informed of the necessity for their input.
Today, Ekiti state is at a crossroads in terms of ensuring high quality education at an affordable cost. Our policy-makers need to put on their thinking caps in order to ensure that we again assume our rightful place in the education sector. Luckily, we are highly blessed with the requisite knowledge and know-how to proffer solutions to most, if not all of the existential problems confronting us as a people.
I honestly believe, therefore, that at the end of deliberations of this summit, Ekiti state would be presented with solutions to the multifarious problems afflicting our education sector. The sheer array of high caliber intellectuals here gathered is sufficient to justify my optimism. We surely would not and, I daresay, cannot fail.
I thank you so much for your attention.