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Nigeria At 62: Education system in need of total overhaul

By Adelowo Adebumiti
01 October 2022   |   2:45 am
Since its independence in 1960, education has remained one of the areas focused by the government to bring about the rapid development of the country. But before the Federal Government’s decision

Since its independence in 1960, education has remained one of the areas focused on by the government to bring about the rapid development of the country. But before the Federal Government’s decision to embrace education as a key development strategy, the defunct Western regional government had blazed the trail, ahead of other regions, with the introduction of free education in 1955.

At that time, the region was lucky to have two institutions of higher learning in its territory. These are the University College, Ibadan (UCI) established in 1948 (now University of Ibadan) and the Yaba College of Technology (formerly Yaba Technical Institute), founded in 1947.

There was also the Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology (NCAST), Ibadan, which metamorphosed into the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology (NCAST), Zaria, which is now Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

A few years after independence, the country established more universities to absorb the increasing number of Nigerians yearning for higher education.

The country also established a number of teacher training colleges. One of the very first such institutions is St Andrews College, in Oyo Town, Oyo State.

Other schools like the Kaduna Polytechnic, The Polytechnic Ibadan, Auchi Polytechnic, Institute of Management and Technology, University of Benin and the eventual establishment of the universities of Jos, Calabar, Ilorin, Sokoto, Port Harcourt, which many have dubbed the second generation universities, also came up across the country.

Beyond the establishment of schools, policies were initiated to aid the country’s educational dream. Apart from new policies, the school curriculum was overhauled. Before 1960, education at the primary and secondary levels mirrored the British system. It was the same thing in tertiary education. University College, Ibadan offered courses in liberal science and education, while medicine was removed from Yaba College to UI. It was when the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, came in 1960 that the American university education was adopted. The same for Ife, Zaria and Lagos, which considered providing manpower for the growing import substitution effort of the government.

In 1973, the curriculum was updated, with the country’s educational system now operating six years of primary, five years of secondary and two years of Advanced Level. No more Standard School or Modern School. The school calendar was also changed from January to November, to September to July. This new system was sustained till 1987 when it was reverted. However, this did not last long as it went back again in 1990-91.

In 1982, the first National Policy on Education was developed and adopted, which means six years in primary school, and three years in the junior secondary from where students can either proceed to senior secondary class or proceed to technical school. After this, students are mandated to spend four years in higher institutions.
Since this period, the educational system has undergone a lot of changes and modifications at various levels.

In response to the demand for a new thrust in education policy, the 9-3-4 system of education was introduced in 2008 under the Universal Basic Education (UBE). The UBE was intended to make basic education compulsory to give the government more direct control to address gender and regional disparity in education across the nation.

However, despite the giant strides recorded in the earlier years, Nigerian education has faced a decline. Public schools have lost their place, with only a few private schools competing with them in people’s reckoning. The peak of the government’s effort to give education a lift was the establishment of the Federal Universities of Technology (FUT) in Abeokuta, now the University of Agriculture, Owerri, Minna, Akure and other places.

Irked by the way the government is starving the sector of funds, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has continued to battle the government on the need to overhaul the sector.

Stakeholders in the sector have also stressed the need for government to overhaul it to make it globally competitive.

Education Consultant, Opara Julius, said looking at the sector from 1960 till date, there had been improvement in some areas, but education had nosedived from what it used to be in the early days.

According to him, Nigeria started by developing an education sector that could measure up with what was obtained in some of the developed countries.

“We used to have a period where foreigners came in droves to acquire education here. Do we have that today? No. What has actually gone wrong? A whole lot of things have gone wrong, starting with the curriculum. We have been using the same method, and the same curriculum ever since. That has not helped us in any way to improve the sector. The Nigerian education sector is in comatose.”

Julius lamented that ASUU has been on strike for seven months and the government has failed to come up with a solution to the industrial action.

“Currently, we have a water-down curriculum that is being used in schools. I mean a curriculum that will develop different capacities of learners. Do we have a curriculum that actually improves and impacts the various categories of learners that we have in our school system?

“Our teachers have been using the same scheme of work, the same lesson notes that they have used in the past 15 years. All they do is go back, copy and paste. How can that improve the sector?

“So many countries have moved from that pattern of education to a lifelong system that teaches students how to gain lifelong skills. We need an education sector that teaches students how to make use of technology and other innovations to improve the economy of their country.

“We have an education system that the government has been paying lip service to. Yet, so many of these leaders benefited from a stronger education system bequeathed by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Lateef Jakande, among other leaders.

“I have listened to so many of them speak and listened to the youths speak, you will see that there is a clear disintegration between their own lines of thoughts and that of our youths these days.

“Some people will argue that with the advent of technology these days, our youths are better educated than before. But the question is, how well have we used these technologies in education?” Julius asked.

According to him, Nigeria occupies a low rank among countries in the area of education.

On the way forward, Julius said there must be an improvement in the curriculum and a total overhauling of the nation’s education system.

“Look at the curriculum from primary school to the university. Overhaul the curriculum, bringing in the one that will teach our students lifelong education.

We also need to improve the quality of teachers. We must invest in training our teachers, most especially in teachers’ training education. We cannot over-emphasise the need to have qualified teachers that will improve and impact our youths. When we get that aspect right, then we would get our education system right. But when you have a situation where teaching has become an all-comers affair, what do you get? Half-baked teachers will definitely produce half-baked students.

“Another thing is to improve infrastructure in schools. We have a huge infrastructure deficit in the sector. Government should be intentional about developing the infrastructure in schools. There are still so many schools, even at the university level that basic tools such as desks to take lectures are lacking. We have primary schools in towns and villages that do not have conducive classrooms, talk more of an IT-based classroom that the rest of the world are currently using for learning. “

Julius, who craved adequate funding for the education sector, added that Nigeria must have a deliberate policy on education. “What we currently have is outdated.”

The consultant pointed to the 20 million out-of-school children in the country, particularly in the north, evidencing the fact that Nigeria is yet to get its education policy right despite offering free education at the basic level.

He also identified insecurity in the north and the enforced sit-at-home in the southeast as factors that have adversely affected education development in the country. He called for a policy that would mandate children of public officials to school only within the country.

A former Vice Chancellor, Caleb University, Prof Ayodeji Olukoju and a professor of French Language and Applied Linguistics, Remi Sonaiya scored President Muhammadu Buhari’s government low in the area of education. According to Olukoju, there has not been any significant improvement in the quality of education and the sector is still in an emergency state.

According to him, nothing significant has happened since the commencement of democratic rule till now.

“We have had labour union issues, universities have been shut down for over seven months and all that, but I have not seen any movement in any direction.

“I cannot associate the present administration 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 such children, they may become willing tools in the hands of trouble makers,” Olukoju explained.

To Sonaiya, funding of education in Nigeria has remained poor – between six and seven per cent of the yearly budget, as opposed to the recommended international benchmark of between 15 and 20 per cent.

She 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.

Education consultant, Jacqueline Samuel Odiadi, said it was quite clear that the education sector has been on a spiral decline for some time now.

“From our records and education history, it is evident that Nigeria was an education hub in the region, and indeed, the continent. In the days of apartheid and much long after, the education destination was Nigeria until recently when the education sector became open to private sector participation and was in disarray. Parents, children and wards had no choice but to seek quality education outside the shores of the country with many negative, heart-rending stories of Nigerian students in the diaspora.

“Ongoing is the prolong ASUU unrest and its attendant consequences. Unlike before, Nigeria’s private universities (no longer foreign colleges alone) are opening up their gates to those who can afford the huge financial demands.”

Odiadi, who said a state of emergency needed to be declared in the sector, noted: “A number of good policies are in place, but what is needed is the will to address governance framework to ensure implementation of these policies to achieve desired results.”