Education is the foundation of sustainable development for any nation. It is the fulcrum upon which every other form of development rests. This is perhaps the reason the United Nations promotes education through its United Nation Academic Impact program, and aims to improve universal basic education across the world 100%. This is particularly necessary as the ICT revolution has strongly promoted knowledge driven economies.
The BRIC nation-Brazil, Russia, India and China are benefitting from years of promoting quality education as the emerging economies become the focus of many multinational businesses. It is imperative for any nation who aspires to achieve comparative advantage to aggressively drive resources towards developing its intellectual capacity. This is the only guarantee it can effectively compete with other nations in a constantly evolving world covered in the webs of globalization and glocalization.
Collapsed Primary Education in Nigeria
It is absolutely unacceptable for Nigeria to still be battling with poor education. The 6-3-3-4 system of education was designed to combat the palpable cataclysmic level of illiteracy across the country. Primary education, intended to last six years, has suffered serious setbacks with unchecked proliferation of private public schools in every nook and cranny of the country; some people even use their living room as schools! What quality will such an environment guarantee? The culture of citizenship and social support promoted in public schools has subtly vanished without trace as primary school teachers take up ancillary jobs to make ends meet.
The primary school is the responsibility of local governments. The deadly apathy of the Nigerian populace towards local government has promoted incompetence in this tier of this government; this is pellucid in the deplorable state of primary schools across the country. The disparity in illiteracy between the North and the South is huge: some religious and cultural aversion to Western education in the North may be responsible for this disparity, as girls are not allowed to go while most boys become Almajiris with little or no source of basic education.
The Obasanjo administration was applauded for its introduction of compulsory universal basic primary education which has increased primary school enrolment by a significant percentage. It is good that President Goodluck has commenced building of Islamic schools to address the peculiar challenges of the North. Primary education is the foundation. It is the basis. If this foundation is collapsed, can the building stand?
Mass Failure in Secondary School Exams
Perhaps the best measure of the quality of education received in secondary schools is the pass-rate at the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO) exams and Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). In the last three years, the average success rate in these exams has been less than 25%. Less than a quarter of students who sit for these exams have credit in at least five subjects including English Language and Mathematics. What is worrisome is that this percentage has consistently been reducing.
The implication of this is that over 70% of secondary school leavers are probably not capable of undergraduate education at their exit from this stage of education. Many a time, these school leavers even engage in cheating or 'employ' mercenaries to pass exams. Here is where the seed of corruption is sown. There is no doubt that the educational sector needs serious reforms.
University Education and ASUU strike
The culture of strikes in Nigerian universities dates back to 1970s when ASUU embarked on nationwide strike to demand better welfare package and improved funding of education. It continues to advocate that the UNESCO standard of 25% against the preposterous average of 4% the sector gets since 1999. In the last two decades, ASUU strikes have amounted to over 2 years. It should be borne in mind that some public universities also press their internal demands through strikes which further elongates this calendar. I spent about 8-9 years instead of 6 years to study Medicine in Great Ife without any resit or repeat; my senior colleagues spent more. A similar scenario happens across the country.
ASUU claims the only language the Federal Government understands is strike, and has ceaselessly used this weapon to get national attention for its demands. The intellectual loss during every strike action cannot be quantified. The gap in education created by the strike is filled with antisocial activities (kidnapping, prostitution, Internet fraud, political thugs and even armed robbery) perpetuated by idle students. Most Nigerian students would have attained a 'Methuselah' age for the job market at the time of university graduation. They are older than what employers are looking for. At this time, they are typically unemployable with poor communication and career skills.
Private Universities and the Palava of the Poor
The gross dissatisfaction with the 'menace' of ceaseless strikes and poor facilities in public schools is enormous. The first effect is the astronomical increase in private tertiary centres. According to the National Universities Commission, there are 124 universities in Nigeria for over 140million people: 37 Federal Universities, 37 State Universities and 50 Private Universities. On the hand, private universities meet the growing demand for tertiary education in the country. Over a million candidates write the JAMB exams since 2009. Less than 20% get be enrolled into existing overstretched and underfunded public institutions where students sits on floors to receive lectures! Private schools fill this gap.
On the other hand, the exorbitant fees charged by the schools drive away many wards of low and middle income earners who form a chunk of the country. If over 70% of the population live below $1 (N160) a day, how can they afford university education of over $5,000 annually? How can the poor man redeem his fortune without education? The rich alongside politicians send their wards to private schools in Nigeria and neighboring countries particularly Ghana, United States and Europe. The children bag their degrees as teenagers or young adults and are readily available to pursue higher degrees or enter the highly competitive job market.
The scenario of the ward of the poor man is worrisome. He starts primary school late. He attempts the WAEC/NECO/JAMB exams two or more times before meeting admission requirements. He defers admission to raise funds. He is delayed by several ASUU strike. He graduates without entrepreneur skills and barely fit for the market. He joins the bandwagon of millions of unemployed graduates rooming the street or surfing the internet in search of jobs (Jobberman.com has made the latter easier). His dependents (parents and wards) make demands. He gets a job, and is underpaid. And the pressure of poverty continues...
Attempts at Restoration
The current state of Nigeria's education system is simply despicable. Every generation has its share of life's challenges. It is incumbent on the living to tackle these challenges for the benefit of all. A restoration of this decadent educational system is inevitable to reverse the dangerous trend of dwindling nationhood. This requires responsive government and willing citizenry. I believe there is need for a stakeholders’ forum to evaluate these challenges and create pragmatic
Nyesom Wike, Nigeria's Minister of State for Education asserts that 'only the implementation of new strategies would lay the foundation for a strong basic education that will put the sector out of its present state of rot'. He identifies 'lack of basic infrastructure and qualified teachers, absence of reading culture and poor parental roles' as the causes of the rot.
The Federal Government approved N6.6billion for purchase of textbooks to primary schools and library resource materials in 34 states of the Federation at its Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Nov. 30th, 2011. This is commendable but action is what we want not intentions. The recommendations of the Oronsaye-led committee should be implemented.
The British Council launched School Leadership project for Nigerian teachers in 2006. It is intended to raise educational standard through sharing experiences in school leadership and contemporary approach to leading educational change. Pamela Wright, the head of the project, argues that when there was a similar problem of mass failure in UK, the country's educational stakeholders worked on implementing consistent teachers’ evaluation and weekly continuous assessments for pupils, adding that parents and guardians are keys to the success of such a program. This program should be expanded, duly implemented and constantly reviewed as the need arises.
There have been attempts at reversing this ugly trend of decadence. Ayobami Ikuemonisan's Glimmers of Hope Foundation (GLOHF) renews hope in education among Nigerian students. Education Rights Campaign (ERC) led by HT Soweto promotes right to free education. XCEL foundation, my project, rewards academic excellence among secondary school students. Light-world International, founded by Olaobaju Seyi, institutes reading clubs in secondary schools. Project 4 is another venture developed by Olufunbi Falayi, to engage and invest in capacity development of young secondary school students in Lagos State. The Leadership, Ethics and Civics (LEC) program of LEAP Africa has the capacity to push education in the right direction. Igbekele Tope initiated Students Economic Development Initiatives to create a platform for the students of higher learning in Nigeria and beyond to take part in the economic development and transformation of their state.
There are many other organizations working hard to raise the standards of education in the country.
There are pockets of social ventures by the private sector and civil society to improve education. Many committee recommendations are also available with the government. The situation may not change significantly if things continue as they are. Government must implementation existing recommendable as a matter of national emergency. Stakeholders in all tiers of government and all levels of education must come together to develop a meaningful blueprint with actionable plans to raise Nigeria out of its educational quagmire to global relevance. This is indeed inevitable as Nigeria emerges as a leading economy in Africa and the world at large. The time for the restoration is now.