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Insecurity, strikes, underfunding bog education sector

By Iyabo Lawal
01 October 2021   |   3:06 am
For the nation’s education sector, like other sectors of the polity, this year has remained an unusual one for the delivery of teaching and learning.

[FILES] A mother hugs her daughter on July 25, 2021 after she was released together with other 27 students of the Bethel Baptist High School. – Gunmen who seized 121 students at a high school in northwestern Nigeria in early July have released 28 of them, a school official told AFP on Sunday.<br />The attackers stormed Bethel Baptist High School in northwestern Kaduna state on July 5, abducting students who were sleeping in their dorms. (Photo by – / AFP)

For the nation’s education sector, like other sectors of the polity, this year has remained an unusual one for the delivery of teaching and learning.

Smarting from the ravaging effects of COVID-19 lockdown, strike and other challenges, the sector has been under threat. Apart from the disruption in school activities, the rising level of insecurity in the country, especially in the north, has taken a toll on the sector.

With increased cases of kidnapping of school children and fears of the third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, learning has been disrupted, thus increasing the number of out-of-school children. Like in most parts of the world, schooling comes with its fair share of challenges but when students risk losing their freedom, “our tomorrow is under attack,” experts said.

According to reports, about 800 secondary school and university students have been kidnapped in coordinated attacks by terrorists and bandits in the last 10 months. In the northeast, at least 802 schools remain closed and 497 classrooms destroyed, with another 1,392 damaged but requiring huge sums to fix.

For instance, on February 17, gunmen invaded a school in Niger State and kidnapped 41 persons. The gunmen raided Government Science College, Kagara, capturing students and teachers. Less than 10 days after the bandits raided Kagara, gunmen kidnapped 317 pupils from Government Girls Science Secondary School, Jangebe, in Zamfara State.

On March 11, gunmen attacked Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi LGA, Kaduna State, and kidnapped 39 students just weeks after a similar attack in Jangebe, Zamfara State.
On April 20, about 20 students and two staff were kidnapped in Kasarami village, Chikun LGA, Kaduna State, during an attack by suspected armed bandits at Greenfield University, while on April 23, 2021, the kidnappers killed three of the students.

On May 30, 2021, an armed gang abducted dozens of students from an Islamic school in Niger State. The attackers initially took more than 100 children but later sent back those between four and 12 years old. On June 17, heavily armed bandits struck at Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Yauri Local Government Area of Kebbi State.

Already, several states are shutting down schools in violence-prone areas. This will, no doubt, add to the over 13.5 million out-of-school children in the country. According to available data, 30 per cent of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54 per cent transit to junior secondary schools. About 80 per cent of out-of-school children today are in northern Nigeria. With security systems destabilised, schools closed due to insecurity and poverty ravaging the core north, these children become targets for terrorist recruitments.

Although the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other staff unions in tertiary institutions suspended their strike last December, peace is yet to return to schools, as issues, which led to the dispute are yet to be resolved.

The welfare policies for teachers, which has been described to contain “fundamental and far-reaching changes” was announced on October 5, at the 2020 World Teachers’ Day, promising to breathe a new life into the teaching profession. The President also raised the service year for teachers from 35 to 40 years, while the retirement age was increased from 60 to 65 years.

The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, explained that the implementation of the new teachers’ salary scheme was to encourage teachers in delivering better services.

A review of teachers’ development policies, the government said, had revealed huge gaps in the quantity and quality of teachers at all levels of the nation’s education system.

The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) was also directed to fund teaching practice in universities and colleges of education, while the government also announced the following incentives to motivate and restore the lost glory of teachers: the building of low-cost houses for teachers in rural areas, sponsorship of teachers to at least one refresher training per annum, timely promotion to eliminate stagnation, provision of loan facilities, free tuition and automatic admission for biological children of teachers in their respective schools to encourage and retain them in the system. But almost one year down the line, the policy is yet to be effected.

A public analyst, Dejo Abdullahi, while reviewing the sector in the last year, said although education has undergone a lot of reforms, the nation is still not where it ought to be in terms of education advancement.

Abdullahi said while it is true that the number of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions has grown, especially with the privatisation policy, which enabled individuals and corporate bodies to establish schools, the quality of education leaves much to be desired.

He said: “The challenges facing our education system are many. They range from poor infrastructure to industrial unrest, cultism, exam malpractice, corruption and maladministration. There is no gainsaying that the sector is in a bad state and there is no other reason than lack of political will by the government to do the needful in revamping the sector.

“There is no adequate staffing of public schools from primary to tertiary level. There are many schools that depend on youth corps members to bridge the staffing gap. Yet, many of these corps members are not trained teachers and are only on the ground for one year of their service. Even in cases where Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) offered to augment the teaching staff, there is little or not much commitment from the temporary staff due to poor conditions of service.

“Lack of adequate welfare of both teaching and non-teaching staff has also impacted negatively on their productivity. Many states owe salaries and allowances. ASUU and other staff unions in the various institutions are threatening a fresh strike over the non-implementation of agreement reached with them. This industrial unrest is impacting negatively on the smooth operation of the nation’s public universities,” Abdullahi stated.

An educationist, James Ubong, said poor funding of sector by successive governments is a major challenge. He also deplored increased cases of corruption in schools.

“The greatest challenge facing our education system is the lack of adequate infrastructure. Many of the school buildings are dilapidated, while school environments are in deplorable conditions. Thus, it is education with tears in many of these schools with no good learning facilities. Many of our schools do not have good laboratories, libraries, classrooms or lecture theatres. Where they exist, they are overstretched due to the exponential increase in the students’ population.

“Although the Federal Government has set up the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) as well as Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) as interventionist agencies to support the grossly inadequate budgetary allocations to education, these agencies have not been able to provide enough financial succor to schools,” Ubong lamented.

But despite the criticisms, the Federal Government has taken stock of its achievements in the sector, scoring itself high, even as it admitted that there are still challenges.

Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said the present administration has put in place, the Better Education Service Delivery For All (BESDA) in 17 pilot states to address the problem of out-of-school children.

He added that the Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) programme is another government initiative designed to ensure that adolescent girls who are out of school or have never been in school are trained and financially empowered to enable them to live normal and quality lives.

According to him, the Federal Government has frontally approached the programme by developing a curriculum in basic literacy and numeracy in the three major Nigerian languages and English.

He disclosed that the government has also developed a code of conduct for learning centres for adults and non-formal education.

The Minister also revealed that the National Commission for Nomadic Education, (NCNE), which has developed three training manuals for the operations of nomadic education in the country has also trained 100 nomadic extension agents on nomadic extension services to ensure that children of nomads undergo some kind of learning while going about their businesses.

Similarly, Nwajiuba said the government’s engagement with the National Association of Proprietors and School Owners in Nigeria, (NAPSON), has successfully taken over one million out-of-school children off the streets by requesting that each private school sponsors at least, five pupils.

Further, the minister said the Muhammadu Buhari led administration has approved the establishment of the National Senior Secondary Education Commission (NSSEC) to regulate secondary education in the country, with the establishment of additional six unity colleges, bringing the total to 110.

On teacher quality and motivation, he said the government constituted visitation panels to federal universities, polytechnics and colleges of education to access the institutions’ activities in the last 10 years, adding that the exercise has been completed and reports ready for consideration.

In the same vein, Nwajiuba said governing councils of federal universities and inter-university centres were inaugurated and chancellors appointed, in an effort to strengthen the institutions to enhance governance for effective service delivery, national development, and global competitiveness.

He added that their administration has provided funding intervention through TETFUND for the completion of a national library, while the sum of N5b was provided to develop ICT infrastructure and support migration to e-learning, maintaining that ICT support intervention has recorded successful completion of
11 websites, upgrade of projects and training of 12,873 staff in tertiary institutions nationwide.

Yet, during the COVID-19 lockdown, public education could not rise to the occasion in terms of transferring from an in-person classroom situation to an online study, which greatly impacted the academic calendar and quality of the study. The last Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) result testifies to this.

While the government is not short of policies and ideas, in 61 years, Nigeria’s education leaves so much to be desired. The number of Nigerian students schooling abroad and the cost to the economy is massive.