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Burdened by poor funding, education wobbles under Buhari

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Buhari

Today, President Muhammadu Buhari begins another term of four years in office. Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal examines how he fared in the country’s education sector in the last four years spotlighting his administration’s policies, achievements and unfulfilled aspirations.

Towards the end of 2017, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, said the President Muhammadu Buhari administration needed N1 trillion annually to fulfil its campaign promises in education. 

Adamu, who repeatedly advocated the declaration of a state of emergency in the sector, maintained that all change must begin with education. He is of the view that if we get education right, other areas of our national life will be right.

“These challenges are not insurmountable. What is needed is vastly improved funding accompanied by a strong political will. The strong political will needed to do all this is present in this government. What this government must now do is to make the funds available.

Nobody has the moral and resource capacity to intervene promptly, substantially and sustainably in all areas of education provisioning better than the government. Unfortunately, from 1999 to date, the annual budgetary allocation to education has always been between four and 10 per cent.”

Education in Nigeria, at least in the public sector, is in a state of dysfunction. Its human capital is in disarray, so is its physical infrastructure. The nation’s standard of education totters as the government continues to talk more about the crises facing it rather than act on resolving them. The students are disillusioned with public education. Their teachers are frustrated in the face of poor motivation and ramshackle facilities. As the rot deepens, so does the attention paid to the sector wanes.

Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwuka


If there is one thing successive Nigerian governments have succeeded in doing, it is organising summits or conferences to consider issues that have been thoroughly analysed and solutions proffered. In Nigeria though, history is a fall guy; nobody learns from it. The repeated calls for a declaration of a state of emergency in the education system corroborate that point.

According to him, none of the E9 or D8 countries other than Nigeria allocates less than 20 per cent of its annual budget to education, adding that even among sub-Saharan African countries, Nigeria was trailing far behind smaller and less-endowed nations in terms of its investment in education.

About N727 billion had been spent by the Federal Government in the last four years on infrastructure development alone, in the nation’s tertiary institutions, according to Adamu as he attributed the poor quality of education in the country to what he referred to as “astronomical population increase”.

“Much of this funding went into the provision of hostel accommodation, classrooms, lecture theatres, and laboratories, all in a bid to have more of our young people gain admission into these institutions, thereby enhancing or expanding access to tertiary education.”

When Buhari assumed power in 2015, the total number of polytechnics, monotechnics, and innovative enterprise institutions in the county stood at 298 with a combined carrying capacity of 424,715 spaces.

To expand access to institutions, his administration established or licensed a total of 71 new similar institutions with a carrying capacity of 93,228 spaces.  Access to such institutions has, therefore, increased from 424,715 in 2014 to 517,943 in 2019.

Buhari’s four years in trying to salvage the country’s education system have not been a complete jeremiad as some university officials were arrested and are being prosecuted for misappropriating funds meant for the development of their institutions.

Also, due to the dearth of qualified teachers, the federal government struck a deal to increase the 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.

The decisions and their approval were part of a comprehensive reform of Nigeria’s tertiary education system. If actions are expedited on the plans, it means that the award of HND will be limited to only students currently admitted for the programmes in various polytechnics across the country – particularly federal government-owned polytechnics. Similarly, all the programmes run by the polytechnics, which are not technology-based, are expected to be scrapped.

There is more: just as the polytechnics are expected to become campuses of the proximate universities, the vice chancellors of those universities will be saddled with the responsibility, under the new system, to appoint provosts for the polytechnics. This appointment, according to the new policy, is subject to the ratification of the universities’ councils.

But the education minister stated that under the new reforms, licensing of private polytechnics and colleges of education for the award of qualification at ND and National Certificate in Education (NCE) levels would continue.

A few of the Federal Government’s 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, to raise more money and fight corruption inherent in the system, especially considering the scandalous news of a money-guzzling “snake” in the agency.

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 for 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 percent 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.

That allocation is lower than the 7.4 percent 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 spending 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 the closure of universities across the country.

The university teachers were protesting against poor funding of universities and the failure of the 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 a 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 25 percent of the national budget recommended by the UN.

Students at many public universities in 2016 experienced tuition increases and deterioration of basic infrastructure, including shortages in electricity and water supplies even though the government lamely spoke against the hike in school fees.

However, Adamu believes that the Buhari administration is committed to the 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.

“60 percent of the 11.4 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls. Only a fraction (17 percent) of 3.1 million nomadic children of school age has access to basic education despite decades of intervention. Similarly, only a small proportion of the ministry’s 2010 estimate of 9.5 million almajiri children have access to any basic education and an increasing number of displaced children (about one million) are being forced out of school in the insurgency-stricken states,” Adamu said.

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, the government is expected to provide an 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 400,000 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.

In 2015, matching and non-conditional grants disbursements to 15 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory amounted to N68.4 billion while in 2016, grants disbursements to 29 states and the FCT amounted to N77 billion.

In 2017, the Federal Government provided a total of N95 billion to 24 states and the FCT and another N109 billion to 20 states and the FCT. Adamu further lamented that despite all grants and special funds provided things have continued to fall apart in trying to keep children in school. He blamed the state governments.  

“Having come to this painful conclusion, the Federal Government decided to deduct from source, part of the last tranche of the Paris Club refund from all the states that have not been able to access their monies from (UBEC).

“If this attitude of deliberate refusal on the part of states to provide counterpart funding for basic education continues, then the Federal Government will have no choice than to sustain its strategy of deducting counterpart funding of states percentage from source,” the unhappy minister added.

According to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), 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 overburden the system capacity to deliver quality education. In the northern part of Nigeria, almost two-thirds of students are “functionally illiterate”.

In Yobe State, at least 110 schoolgirls were abducted from their school, only 105 made it back alive. Between 2016 and 2017, there was a rash of the kidnappings of schoolchildren in Lagos State, exposing the insecure circumstances under which Nigerian youths learn. In 2018, Zamfara (28), Taraba (95), and Kebbi (50) states had the lowest enrolment for the national common entrance examination.

The states of Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, and Sokoto have shown commitment to improving their education systems, but they face severe challenges including high poverty levels, low enrolment, gender disparities, poor quality and relevance, poor infrastructure, and learning conditions. An additional challenge is the direct threat to schooling, especially for girls, emanating from political insecurity through insurgent activities, and attacks on schools.

To mark the 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 percent and 17.13 percent candidates passed with five credits including Mathematics and English respectively; while the remaining over 70 percent of 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 for the examination, obtaining minimum credits and above in five subjects, including English and Mathematics.

A mass failure was recorded in the 2017 WAEC examinations. 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.

The success rate of students who sat for the 2009 and 2010 WAEC-organised examinations had only 25.99 and 24.94 per cent respectively, passed with five credits including Mathematics and English, while the remaining others constituting 70 percent failed.

In 2011 May/June WAEC, only 86,612 out of the 1,540,250 candidates that participated in the examinations got credit in Mathematics and English.

In 2012 May/June WAEC, only 649,159 out of 1,672,224 candidates that sat for the examination, which represent just 38.81 per cent got five credits and above including in the core subjects of Mathematics and English. In 2013 WAEC, only 29.17 per cent of candidates actually passed the November-December WAEC examinations while 70 per cent failed.

In the 2017 and 2018 January/February private examinations, only 26.01 per cent and 17.13 per cent candidates had passed with five credits including Mathematics and English respectively, while the remaining over 70 per cent candidates failed.

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 due to 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 under the age of 24. Similarly, the 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 for the country’s national entrance examination 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 percent 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 the 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 the 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 the 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. This was illustrated with the story of three ESUT graduates whose certificates were withdrawn from them because they were deemed as good as being illiterate.

There was also the scrapping of the post-UTME in 2016 but only to be re-introduced in 2017. Parents and guardians have long considered the entrance examination as extortion and students have often found it as an unending cycle of academic torture filled with intrigues and uncertainties.

Education managers and stakeholders in their separate assessment of the sector’s performance scored the present administration low, urging it to do more in the next four years.

Former vice chancellor, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof Oye Ibidapo Obe, Distinguished Professor Ayodeji Olukoju, a Professor of French Language and Applied Linguistics, Prof Remi Sonaiya all scored the Buhari’s government low.

According to Ibidapo-Obe, there has not been any significant improvement in the quality of education; the sector is still in an emergency state and there is the need for a radical change.

In the new dispensation, the former vice chancellor said the sector should be managed by only educators.

For Prof Olukoju, nothing seems to have happened in the last four years. “We have had labour union issues and managed to resolve them, universities have been shut down for sometime and all that but I have not seen any movement in any direction. He could have done better in the area of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) because I believe that conventional universities may not be the future of Nigeria.

“I cannot associate the minister with any singular achievement, it is just business as usual, no policy initiative. Look at the issue of almajiris, he could have designed a policy that could have taken those children off the streets and averted the looming crisis that we are facing now because where we have children like that, they might be willing tools in the hands of trouble makers.

For Prof. Sonaiya, funding of education has remained poor – between six and seven per cent of the annual budget, as opposed to the recommended international benchmark of between 15 and 20 per cent.

She however lauded the school feeding programme of the Buhari administration but expressed regrets that the initiative alone can never deliver quality education – with poor quality of teachers, outmoded textbooks and teaching methods as well as dilapidated infrastructure.

“Honestly, our government obviously does not think much of education. After all, what is the educational qualification that the president himself has? Yet, he became our president! There were photographs of jubilation when a WAEC certificate was being presented to him. This is in the 21st century, where standards are getting so high. Poor funding is also a low point. And then, the application of federal character in education is another low one for me.

Imagine, a child who scored maybe 10 per cent in the common entrance examination is qualified to attend a unity school and be in the same class with another who scored 90 per cent.

Even at the university level, this whole issue of educationally disadvantaged states does not make sense. Why do some states continue to be educationally disadvantaged? What is keeping them from spending their money to train their children so they can compete well with others? It is a matter of priorities. But they don’t prioritise education because they know that our system is not merit-based. Federal character will ensure that they get their own slots in the government institutions. We are not ready yet for development. If we were, we would recognise that it is education that determines a nation’s development.”
 
As he begins another four years, the erudite scholar tasked him on the need to educate his own mind and his team.

“Let them ask probing questions: What are the other nations doing to ensure that they keep developing and are able to improve the standard of living of their citizens? Why is China able to lift so many millions out of poverty in such a short time? What is the United Arab Emirates doing well? They would find that prioritising education is a key factor. “

But a former vice chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Prof. Adebayo Adeyemi said the Buhari administration has done fairly well when one considers the challenges over the years as have been addressed by previous governments.

Adeyemi noted that while funding and budget for education have not improved, the contributions of TETFUND to infrastructural development and human capital development have slightly improved. 

He said: “The high point, especially at state levels is the setting up of education trust fund and involvement of stakeholders, especially old students association and alumni in the improvement of facilities in schools. Some states, like Oyo State have put in place governing boards for secondary schools to include representatives of parents, old students association and government representatives. It is my belief that such an approach will yield fruitful results if such a policy is maintained.

“One of the high points is the occasional dialogue and disposition of the minister of education to challenges in the sector and interactions through workshops and seminars.

“Major low points are the increasing costs of education and relatively low level of education funding which must be addressed in the second term of this government, especially at the federal level,” Prof. Adeyemi stated.


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