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How to revamp tertiary education system, by ex-UNESCO chief

By Iyabo Lawal
09 December 2021   |   3:25 am
Former permanent delegate and ambassador of Nigeria to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Prof Michael Omolewa, has lamented that 61 years after independence...

Michael Omolewa

Former permanent delegate and ambassador of Nigeria to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Prof Michael Omolewa, has lamented that 61 years after independence, the nation’s tertiary education sub-sector is still at infancy stage.

The Professor of Adult Education, who cited countries like Malaysia, India and Singapore, said these nations, which came under colonial administration have fully liberated themselves and currently competing with their erstwhile colonial powers.

The former UNESCO chief pointed out that many other nations have invested in education as an instrument for welding diverse peoples together under a shared vision of greatness and stability and wondered why successive governments in Nigeria have failed in doing same.

He expressed concern that in the Nigerian context, educational expansion is seen in terms of the number of institutions, rather than quality of education being offered.

Omolewa, in his convocation lecture at Ajayi Crowther University (ACU) Oyo, said issues of insecurity and COVID-19 pandemic have further affected the fortunes of the nation’s tertiary education sub-sector.

In the lecture titled: “Issues of national security, unity and cohesion and effect on tertiary education since Nigeria’s Fourth Republic,” Omolewa noted that the new situation brought by insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic should be used to explore innovative methods and practices, while conducting research on emergence of the new normal educational practice.

“It means that historians of education should review features of the school curriculum and identify appropriate new methods to conduct research that would produce top quality publication.”

Regrettably, Omolewa noted that educational institutions have not been spared from the challenges posed by cases of national security, unity, and coherence. He cited the many cases of kidnapping of school children and students from hostels and schools, exodus of many students outside the country, which has robbed the nation of its bright students.

The professor of adult education further noted that the insecurity challenge has led to disruptions in learning. “For example, Nigerian students admitted abroad had to pay and stay behind to process visas, as many missions had the embassies closed. Some were requested to adopt online teaching and learning, while many later left to join their colleagues abroad to continue their programmes.

“However, several students were irritated by the unusual development and lost interest in learning. There are also cases of dropped out students who have to leave school early and consequently, have developed low esteem and loss of interests in classroom learning and other school activities. This has resulted in poor level of retention in such students. The result has also been the transition to the adoption of out-of-school, remedial status of learning with little support or encouragement from government or private sector including parents,” Omolewa stated.

He added that parents are also not excluded from experiencing the consequences of the general insecurity and COVID-19 pandemic.

“They are also affected by the development resulting in harsh economic clime where families are faced with reduced income and are, therefore, no longer able to adequately feed their children with the rise in costs of foodstuff. The funding base of parents and many schools have been affected largely, especially the private institutions, which have no access to public funds. Consequently, parents and guardians, whose businesses had been affected adversely, are unable to pay the fees of their children.

Prof Omolewa said teachers are also affected as salaries are delayed or reduced, due to revenue drop. Apart from poor funding, which has affected qualitative education, Omolewa said the waves of industrial action, which have led to disruption of academic calendar of tertiary institutions, has turned youths against the pursuit of their research in the country, opting for the safe terrain and environment overseas.

To address the challenges in tertiary education sub-sector, Omolewa said government at all levels must make learning a priority.

“History has drawn attention to the value of investment in education to produce the necessary human resources for the nation. This would mean spending more on education than perhaps on administration and governance.

According to the professor of adult education, what we need is not necessarily the return of History to school curriculum, but restoration of appropriate content, which will encourage the promotion of unity and coherence and remind learners of the past efforts of unsung heroes.

Besides, he noted that quality education should be uniformly made imperative, through continuous teachers’ training, while the curriculum in all disciplines should be overhauled to ensure that relevance and suitability are guaranteed.

We are warned that that the new digital revolution in learning is capable of further dividing the world of learners into haves and have-nots, the rich who can afford the gadgets, and the poor who will remain handicapped and unable to access them. At the global level, two worlds are also being established, namely the technologically advanced world where computers are introduced very early to the learner, and technologically dependent world where there is hardly any knowledge of computer and where there is reliance by the computer literate, on the imported Zoom, Google classroom and other means of learning.

“The new facility, therefore, has further established a divide, which must be bridged by extra effort of the developing world. Indeed, digital literacy must be made to respond to the demand for cultural literacy and establish some respect for learners who speak and would, therefore, learn to communicate in a diversity of languages.

Prof Omolewa also stressed the need to encourage universities and research institutes to explore through research, how the poor will be empowered to have access to the increasingly expensive data and how to learn without frustration. “We must find out how small-scale businesses can spring up in all parts of the country in fields related to the application of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to learning. Entrepreneurships must therefore spring forth and COVID-19 is seen as a God-sent opportunity for Africans to also respond to the new reality and contribute to global learning within the context of lifelong learning.

“In all cities and villages across the country, learning must be seen as a tool for nation building, income generation, and people must take ownership of technology, which must be made friendly and helpful, not intimidating, and complex.”