A kaleidoscope of Buhari’s performance in education sector
As President Muhammadu Buhari celebrated his third year in office and Democracy Day on May 29, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL examines the action and inaction of his administration, policies and other intriguing developments in the education sector
Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world. From an estimated 42.5 million people in 1960, Nigeria’s population has more than quadrupled to almost 200 million people in 2018.
According to the United Nations’ projections the country will become the third largest country in the world by 2050 with 399 million people. At the moment that is not good news for the education sector in Nigeria. Severe cuts in financial allocation to the sector have done more damage than good.
To illustrate: in the proposed budget presented to the National Assembly, President Buhari allocated only 7.04 per cent of the N8.6 trillion 2018 budget to education.
The total amount allocated to the sector is N605.8 billion with N435.1 billion for recurrent expenditure, N61.73 billion for capital expenditure and N109.06 billion for the Universal Basic Education Commission ( UBEC).
That allocation is lower than the 7.4 per cent the government earmarked for education in the N7.4 trillion 2017 budget.
The breakdown of the N550 billion allocated in 2017 was N398 billion for recurrent expenditure, N56 billion for capital expenditure and N95 billion to UBEC.
Experts have noted that even though the N605 billion appropriated for the sector in 2018 is higher –in naira terms – than the N550 billion appropriated for it in 2017, a percentage decrease is evident.
Yet, the federal government committed to spend more money on tertiary education following the impasse between it and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in the aftermath of a strike that lasted more than a month resulting in closure of universities across the country.
The university teachers were protesting poor funding of tertiary institutions and the failure of government to implement an agreement it signed in 2009 with them to upgrade infrastructures on campuses and improve staff welfare.
Following that, the non-teaching staff of the universities went on another wave of strikes that crippled academic activities for couple of weeks.
These developments have worsened the already bad education system.
Austerity measures adopted by the federal government in the wake of the current economic crisis further slashed education budgets just as the sector received much lower than the 26 per cent of national budget recommended by the UN.
Students at many public universities in 2016 experienced tuition increases and a deterioration of basic infrastructure, including shortages in electricity and water supplies even though the government lamely spoke against the hike in school fees.
However, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, believes that the Buhari administration is committed to promotion of education, research and development, pointing to the ‘Education for change: A ministerial strategic plan (2015-2019)’ blueprint of the government.
The document, according to the minister, is concerned about the issue of out-of-school children, basic education, teacher education, adult literacy, curriculum and policy matters on basic and secondary education, technical and vocational education, education data planning, library services, information and communication technology, and tertiary education.
In the document, the federal government had proposed strategies for engaging with state governments in addressing the problems of out-of-school children.
It also planned to raise the national Net Enrolment Rate (NET) by enrolling 2,875,000 pupils annually for the next four years as well as renovate schools destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents and construct additional 71, 874 classrooms annually.
In addition, government is expected to provide additional 71, 875 qualified teachers through the deployment of 14 per cent of the new teachers to be recruited annually (by 2050, Nigeria will need to recruit 400,00 teachers just as Liberia is begging the country to loan it 6,000 teachers) and raise the enrolment of girls in basic education schools by 1.5 million annually for the next four years.
Concerning basic education, the minister admitted that 15 years after the launch of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, pupils’ learning data remain unsatisfactory and mean scores in English, Mathematics, and life skills are very low and generally not up to standard. But almost two years after, there is no sign that implementation has commenced on the document.
According to the Global Partnership for Education, Nigeria has approximately 20 per cent of the total out–of-school children population in the world.
Adding to this challenge is the demographic pressure with about 11,000 newborns every day that overburdens the system capacity to deliver quality education.
In the northern part of Nigeria, almost two-thirds of students are “functionally illiterate”.
To mark 2018 global action week for education, Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA) and other NGOs have called on federal and state governments in Nigeria to keep pledges made to fund SDG 4 at an event held in Abuja.
Nigeria signed into the global commitment of ensuring 12 years free, qualitative, compulsory and inclusive education for all by 2030, but this commitment cannot be achieved without adequate infrastructures in schools and trained teachers.
Forty per cent of Nigerian children aged six to11 do not attend any primary school with the northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country, particularly for girls.
Despite a significant increase in net enrolment rates in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.
Increased enrolment rates have also created challenges in ensuring quality education and satisfactory learning achievement as resources are spread more thinly across a growing number of students.
It is not rare to see cases of 100 pupils per teacher or students sitting under trees outside the school building because of the lack of classrooms.
Secondary education has not fared better under the Buhari administration.
In both 2017 and 2018’s January/February private examinations, only 26.01 per cent and 17.13 per cent candidates passed with five credits including Mathematics and English respectively; while the remaining over 70 per cent candidates failed.
On the other hand, in March, WAEC had released the result of the newly-introduced February diet for private candidates with only 1,937 out of 11,727 candidates who sat the exam, obtaining minimum credits and above in five subjects, including English and Mathematics.
A mass failure was recorded in the 2017 WAEC exams. At the release of the general results during the 55th Annual Meeting of the Nigeria National Committee, only 34,664 out of 131,485 had five credits including English and Mathematics.
Also, the percentage of candidates in WASSCE, for private candidates, in 2015 and 2016 was 28.58 per cent and 38.50 per cent, respectively.
Often, the biggest crisis in Nigeria’s education sector is with the tertiary system. According to the World Education Service (WES), there will likely remain a dynamic growth market for international students.
This is largely because of the overwhelming and unmet demand among college-age Nigerians.
Nigeria’s higher education sector has been overburdened by strong population growth and a significant ‘youth bulge’ with more than 60 per cent of the country’s population being under the age of 24.
Similarly, rapid expansion of the nation’s higher education sector in recent decades has failed to deliver the resources or seats to accommodate demand.
A substantial number of would-be college and university students are turned away from the system. About two thirds of applicants who sat the country’s national entrance exam in 2015 could not get admission into a university.
According to data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), the number of Nigerian students abroad increased by 164 per cent in the decade between 2005 and 2015 alone, from 26,997 to 71,351.
The reason is apparent: it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a Nigerian student to gain admission into a university in the country leading to proliferation of illegal universities (the NUC recently published a list of 58 fake universities).
At other times, Nigerian youths are forced to seek university in countries like Republic of Benin, Togo, Ghana and even Chad.
According to the statistics JAMB provides on its website, a total of 1.579,027 students sat for the UTME exam in 2016.
69.6 per cent of university applications were made to federal universities, 27.5 per cent to state universities, and less than one per cent to private universities.
The number of applicants currently exceeds the number of available university seats by a ratio of two to one. In 2015, only 415,500 out of 1,428,379 applicants were admitted to university.
The litany of challenges becomes complicated when those who managed to graduate are considered unfit for employment.
In 2016, it was reported that a staggering 47 per cent of the graduates were without employment, based on a survey of 90,000 Nigerians. Little wonder the federal government is toying with a proposal for Nigerian students to spend an extra year in specialised institutions after graduation from the university and upon completion of the National Youth Service Corps ((NYSC).
This was illustrated with story of three ESUT graduates whose certificates were withdrawn from them because they were deemed as good as being illiterate.
However, Buhari’s three years have not been a total jeremiad as some university officials were arrested and are being prosecuted for misappropriating funds meant for development of their institutions.
Also, due to the dearth of qualified teachers, the federal government struck a deal to increase retirement age of teachers to 65 and 70 for polytechnics and universities respectively, last year.
The dichotomy between HND and BSc was also addressed by the government to the delight of many. A few of the parastatals have been able to keep pace with their activities, even though low-keyed.
Examples of such agencies are the National Universities Commission (NUC); Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) and the money-spinning Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) which have brought fresh verve into the conduct of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), using the computer based test (CBT).
JAMB has also been able to, under the leadership of Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, raise more money and fight corruption inherent in the system, especially considering the scandalous news of a money-guzzling snake in the agency.
All in all, stakeholders and education experts believe that the successes are few and far apart, noting that things have fallen apart in the education sector and the present administration’s efforts have not had impact on a system long left to rot.
Perhaps, by the time politicians and government officials stop playing politics with education, every effort made to save the sector will count. But until then, education will continue to worsen as it is doing currently.
National President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof Biodun Ogunyemi said the present administration has not done enough to lift the sector and put it on the true path of development.
Ogunyemi lamented that successive governments since the advent of democratic rule have failed o adequately fund the sector and President Buhari has not fared better in this regard.
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