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Funding education for global competitiveness

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The Harvard professor identified lack of basic learning tools and conducive environment as the underlying factors, adding that the students are not effectively engaged with the practices that are considered to be global.

A revelation by an expert on education the other day that Nigerian students have become globally less competitive should be of great concern to the government and indeed people of Nigeria generally regarded as the most populous black nation on earth.

The lamentation on declining quality in education came through a professor of African Religious Traditions at the Harvard University, Jacob Kehinde Olupona, who decried the inability of Nigerian students to compete globally with their colleagues. Coincidentally, the observation was reported when again lecturers in the countries’ universities downed tools to press home their demand for improved funding of tertiary institutions.

While noting that the country’s culture of learning is inappropriate to what is obtainable across the world, the scholar said university teachers in the country lack the needed resources to teach the students effectively. This is not new. This newspaper has repeated this point on education several times even this year.

The Harvard professor identified lack of basic learning tools and conducive environment as the underlying factors, adding that the students are not effectively engaged with the practices that are considered to be global.

It is therefore unfortunate that this newspaper has to agree with the scholar’s comment that Nigerian students have indeed become globally less competitive. He should know, coming from a background of working in the education system of the United States. The teacher, a Nigerian, is well aware that one critical factor that has sustained the greatness and exceptionalism of the U.S. and indeed all great nations is the quality and the availability of quality education to citizens who desire to have it.

Central to the professor’s lamentation is the low quality of education in this country. It is no exaggeration to say that by every criterion applied, the learning culture let alone character has virtually collapsed under the weight of neglect. Leaders have come into government, underfunded education and gone out to set up their own schools and universities that they consider better than the public’s they were elected to improve.

As Professor Olupona noted, “there is a serious problem with education.” That is correct. There is a terrible, even terrifying, problem with the education system in the land. Most of this has got to do with the governance system in education some will call educational management issues. Take the challenge of wages: With a take-home pay that hardly ‘takes him home’, how does anyone honestly expect a perennially disgruntled, poorly motivated teacher at not only the tertiary but also at critical foundational primary and secondary levels, to teach with competence, confidence and enthusiasm? In most states in Nigeria where poor revenue has become an issue, teachers bear the brunt, as they are most often, the last to be paid salaries.

In the world of work in modern times, money may not answer all things, despite its influence. There are other issues that are weightier than money including the environment of work. Indeed, people start out by working to earn a living but grow beyond the bread and butter factor to keep them on the job. That is so much exemplified by Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’. Work environment and other conditions of service matter too. Attention to the all-important teacher is worth considering too. The teacher is arguably one of the most important factors in an education system. A competent, motivated teacher may not necessarily be the highest paid person, but his or her infectious enthusiasm to teach and to improvise where necessary encourages the students to learn. It is reported that in Finland that has ranked very high in the quality of education in the global context, only the best graduates are recruited into the profession (teaching). And they are remunerated like other very valuable, senior public officers and top professionals. But that is how it should be for there can be no good doctors, engineers, lawyers and journalists without good teachers.

That is why, at all times, the teaching and learning environment must be conducive for teachers and students. If to offer globally competitive quality education to students is really the overarching goal of education, Nigerian leaders and education policy officials at all levels should put education on their priority list. Leaders should not be too busy to supervise facilities that they have funded well in all schools. It boggles the mind that children have to sit on mats under trees to study in a 21st century Nigeria. This is insufferable! Is it not tragic that pupils are reportedly chased out of their classrooms by rampaging cows of herdsmen on a rainy day? It happens in Nigeria and no one has been punished for this sacrilege.

Besides, in most public schools in the country, post-primary and tertiary institutions lack laboratories for science, computer, and language studies respectively. What is worse, it is hard to come by well-equipped schools let alone worthy public libraries. And so when deprivation or poverty of teachers meets paucity or absence of facilities in a decrepit school environment, teaching and learning are markedly impaired.

The consequence is that aggrieved teachers constantly resort to industrial actions and disrupt the school calendar all the time. The costs of this action to the nation are usually very high and unquantifiable.

Even at the tertiary level with research orientation, how can research be carried out in this prevailing condition? We mean here research that can develop new products or advance the frontier of knowledge. This cannot happen. Besides, the knowledge gap, the skills gap, and the employability gap between products of Nigerian schools and those from other lands will continue to widen.

Section 18 of the 1999 constitution as amended stipulates that ‘‘Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels’’ are provided. Only leaders who know the value of education would be worried about the non-justiciability of this provision.

This is no time for any blame game. All of us as stakeholders should accept responsibility for this tragedy that has diminished all us. The Oluponas and other experts of Nigerian extraction abroad including the only Nobel laureate and other laureates in the country began their education in Nigeria that had produced some of the best universities and teaching hospitals before the rot set in. What is needed now is not lamentation. We need to move form rhetoric to actionable policies for the revival of education. Yes, education that can trigger country and global competitiveness.

In the first place, we do not need a UNESCO to tell us that we should earmark more than 26 per cent of our budgets from federal to local governments for education. The Western Regional/State Governments once voted more than 50 per cent on education. And that is why today they have this competitive advantage within the context of federalism that worked then and even now. Remarkably, there are many Oluponas who are products of this system that once worked in the South West of Nigeria. That is what we need to borrow from instead of reading daily from the book of lamentation on education.

It is our consistency in this funding and discipline of implementation that will deliver to us students and graduates that are globally competitive because they have acquired employable skills needed in this digital age that social technologies disrupt daily in pursuit of innovation. There is, therefore no question, education quality is the only known tool of global or country competitiveness.



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