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Why Buhari must end the rot now

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President Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: BAYO OMOBORIOWO

The news from our education sector keeps getting cheerless. Last year, the West African Examinations Council reported mass failures in the West African Senior Certificate examination.

Of the 131,485 candidates who took the examination, only 34,664 or 26.01 per cent obtained credits in five subjects, including English language and mathematics.

Last week, the World Bank released its world development report 2018. More bad news? You got it. The bank reported that only some 20 per cent of our young adults who have completed primary school could read. Hardly surprising.

The World Bank report made three important points about the current state of our education that our leaders may wish to ignore at the peril of the Nigerian state.

One, the bank warns that “a learning crisis looms” in the country because “schooling without learning (is) not just a wasted development opportunity but also a great injustice to children and young people.”

Two, the victims of learning without education “face the prospect of lost opportunity and lower wages in life because their primary and secondary schools are failing to educate them to succeed in life.”

The report notes, quite correctly, that children who cannot read or write or do simple mathematics, are denied the tools that would make them useful to themselves and the country later in life. In plain English, our public schools are not producing future leaders but future labourers.

Three, the bank notes that in the 70s and 80s many state governments encouraged mass education by instituting free education at all levels. That too has become an albatross on our educational development because of poor implementation.

Free education in itself, the bank argues, cannot guarantee education for all. The children of the poor would abandon school to take up menial jobs to support their parents.

The challenge that faces the Nigerian state here is how to break this vicious circle through a policy that successfully marries education and learning.

At the launch of the report in Abuja on March 6, the minister of education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, said the Buhari government had developed a road map in the education sector known as “Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan.”

Under it, there is the N-Power programme and the home-grown school feeding programme. But as the report noted, the minister failed to tell the audience that these programmes were merely at the pilot stage and do not represent “massive programmes that can lead to a significant change in the current situation.” We are used to such cosmetic approaches to our national problems.

Newswatch magazine published a cover story on the steadily deteriorating state of our education in its issue of December 12, 1994. I reproduce here the editorial of the magazine. It remains relevant in every particular.
End the rot now

It is utterly wrong, silly even, to suggest that Nigerian governments do not understand the importance of education in human progress and national development.

A nation which funds some 34,240 primary schools with an enrolment of 11,540,178 pupils and has 3,105,239 secondary school students and some 50 tertiary institutions certainly cannot be accused of ignorance about education.

Some caution is advised in using those figures to make any but elementary points about the commitment of federal, state and local governments to the nation’s educational development.

Statistics mislead, obsolete statistics mislead absolutely. The cold, numbing but hardly shocking fact, is that education in our country has crumbled. Even in this age of informed innocence, it is not possible to pretend that all is well with our education any more.

Does anyone remember what session the universities are running? Does anyone remember the last time our schools – from primary to tertiary institutions – ran a full, nine-month academic session without crude dislocations in their academic programmes?

Does anyone remember the last time academic year session ran from September to June? A four-year university course? Forget it.

The rot in our education has gone too far. We fail to arrest it at the peril of the future of our country. Nigeria cannot afford to regress into the age of darkness in the age of enlightenment.

Our country is lagging behind some relatively poorer African countries in education. Nigeria commits only 1.4 per cent of its gross national product to education. Compare that with Ghana’s 3.4 per cent, Gabon’s seven per cent, Cote d’Ivoire’s 6.9 per cent and Kenya’s seven per cent.

Tunisia spends 6.3 per cent and Libya 10.1 per cent of their GNP respectively on education. These investments are reflected in their literacy rate. Nigeria can boast of 51 per cent. That is to say, about half of its 88.5 million people can’t read or write. Some boast.

Compare that with Ghana’s literacy rate of 60 per cent, Kenya’s 69 per cent; Gabon’s 61 per cent; Cote d’Ivoire’s 54 per cent; Lesotho’s 59 per cent or Libya’s 64 per cent. Apartheid did not blind South Africa to the need to its citizens. Evidence? 76 per cent literacy rate.

Almost everyone in Japan is literate. It has 99 per cent literacy rate. Jamaica, a third world country which exports only sugar cane, spends 5.2 per cent of its GNP on education. Its literacy rate is 98 per cent. Sri Lanka has 86 per cent and Haiti, yes Haiti, 53 per cent. Shouldn’t these figures make Nigerians bury their heads in shame?

The giant of Africa, the most populous black nation in the world and an oil-rich nation to boot, has been left clutching at its sore feet in a race it is running half-heatedly.

Time to wake up to the simple, if agonizing fact, that the way we are going, we are shutting the door of progress and modern development in our own face.

We can apportion blame from here all the way back to our colonial past. But the search for scapegoats won’t take us anywhere. What will take us forward is to face the fact that the rot must be arrested. We must put our children back to school again.

We must show greater commitment to the national educational development once again. And we must rescue education from the grip of politics and the high mortality rate of our public policies.

Yes, we made mistakes in the past. Those mistakes now haunt and hobble the nation’s educational development. With a can-do belief, successive federal governments since the Gowon administration has taken on a lot more than it can chew in education. The federal government controls nearly all the universities in the country.

If the Abacha accedes to requests to establish federal presence in states that do not yet have them, we will see more universities. It won’t matter, as it did not in the past, that none of the universities, federal or state-owned, is properly equipped or funded to carry out its primary responsibility of imparting knowledge to the future leaders of this country.

An educational institution is a federal goody, a piece of national cake, to which every state feels entitled. Sensible educational policies have been invariably ruined with the government paying more attention to political exigencies and less to informed pragmatism.

The takeover of schools from voluntary agencies, for instance, whatever informed the government decision, simply threw on state governments a burden they were ill-prepared to bear.

The UPE scheme, as sensible as any educational policy anywhere in the world, suffered the same fate. The nation took one step forward only to take two backward.

The nation was too ambitious for its own good. Now, federal and state governments cannot cope with the elementary demands of education.

The result is chaos and the dark clouds over the glory of our educational development. Teachers in primary and secondary schools are almost permanently on strike usually over non-payment of their salaries. In all cases, the pupils and students suffer. Their young, formative years are wasted in frustration.

Products of our universities are now treated with utter disdain in foreign countries. Those of them who seek admission for graduate studies are subjected to the humiliation of a compulsory one-year remedial course in American and European colleges to qualify for admission.

It is a national shame. We can’t go on like this. Enough damage has been done already. Greater damage can still be prevented.

The Abacha administration must accept the challenge of ending the rot in education. The situation calls for more pragmatism than politics. Or a rescue operation. We have too many universities and post-secondary institutions.

This country cannot afford them. We do better with a fewer number. The institutions lack basic teaching aids and research equipment because the bulk of their budget is spent on recurrent expenditure.

ASUU has repeatedly called its members out on strike to press for better funding and better equipment. And for better pay and condition of service.

The current strike, essentially over political demands was an attempt by the university teachers to be politically relevant, if not correct.

It has gone on for too long with the government creating the unfortunate impression it cannot be bothered. And how nice of the government that it pays the teachers for doing no work. Even the teachers can do without this generosity.

Newswatch says to Abacha today as the late President John Kennedy said to the Americans on the decline in their standard of education: “Let us join the human race.”


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