Knocks for President Buhari as underfunding, strikes continue in sector
In any part of the world, education is the primary enabling tool for individuals to rise above poverty and overcome the circumstances of their birth. It ought to serve as the lubricant for upward economic mobility. The importance of education to any nation cannot be over emphasised. It was in recognition of this that the international community and governments all over the world have made commitments for citizens to have access to education.
However, Nigeria’s educational system is in a crisis of infrastructural decay, neglect, waste of resources and sordid conditions of service. The sector has not fared any better since President Mohammadu Buhari assumed office. Between then and now, the budgetary allocation to the sector has not exceeded seven per cent of the entire budget every year.
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) benchmark for education is 26 per cent of the annual national budget and Nigeria has consistently fallen short of this requirement as it allocated 10.7 per cent in 2016; six per cent in 2017, 7.1 in 2018 ; 5.9 per cent in 2019 while 5.2 per cent of the 2020 budget has been allocated to education, of which approximately 85.2 per cent of the total allocation accounts for recurrent expenditure.
While rendering account of his first-term, President Buhari disclosed that his administration has so far invested about N1.3trn towards the development of the nation’s educational system and promised to improve on his performances in his second coming. One year down the line, has the sector fared better? Has the president been able to deliver on his promises?
The country still has over 10 million out-of-school children. That’s the highest in the world. Another 27 million children in school are performing very poorly. Millions of Nigerians are half-educated, and over 60 million – or 30 per cent are illiterates.
Nigerian children deserve better. They deserve not only the chance to go to school but also high-quality service delivery to ensure that they learn while in school. Unfortunately, the learning crisis is threatening to erase any hope of education serving as a way out of poverty.
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.
A few of the Federal Government’s parastatals have been able to keep pace with their activities, even though low-keyed.
In the area of basic education, while the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme ( NHGSFP) under the ministry of humanitarian affairs has been able to shore up schools’ enrolment, Nigeria still has the highest number of out-of-school children. The global COVID-19 pandemic resulting in schools’ closure has also exposed our unpreparedness for online teaching and learning.
Education minister, Adamu Adamu admitted that 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.
According to the UBE Act of 2004, every Nigerian child is legally entitled to nine years of uninterrupted basic education, including primary schooling and three years of junior secondary school. These out-of-school numbers, however, represent a failure of policy to deliver this entitlement to all children.
A necessary reaction to Nigeria’s out-of-school problem is to call on the government to invest more resources in the country’s education sector. Such investments might include building new schools or adding more seats to existing schools to increase enrollment. It might also mean additional financing for teacher training and making schools more accessible, through such schemes as the feeding programmes and provision of free uniforms and textbooks.
While those investments are critical, it is important to know that it is not enough to simply enrol children in school. Policies must go much further to ensure that children learn while they are in school.
There is abundant evidence showing that many Nigerian children do not learn much even when they are in school. The latest evidence comes from the recently launched World Bank Human Capital Index (HCI), which measures the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18.
According to the index, a child born in Nigeria today will acquire, on average, 8.2 years of school by the age of 18. However, when the years of school are adjusted by the quality of learning, we find that Nigerians are learning the equivalent of only 4.3 years of school.
Put in more practical terms, this implies that the average child who completes junior secondary school two would have learnt only what a primary four student is supposed to learn. The index further showed that children in Nigerian schools lag behind their African counterparts in terms of learning.
It is encouraging to note that the Universal Basic Education (UBE) road map for the 2015 – 2020 strategy period lists as a policy goal, the need to “ensure the acquisition of appropriate levels of literacy, numeracy, manipulative, communicative, and life skills needed for laying a solid foundation for life-long learning.”
One implication of this policy goal is that policymakers urgently need to deliver stronger learning outcomes for every sum that is spent on education.
Regardless of Nigeria’s preferred policy approach, it is clear that building more schools or increasing the size of the education budget alone will not solve the crisis in the sector.
In our pursuit for more investment in education, we must not neglect the importance of learning. Ending the education crisis requires creative policies and programmes that will simultaneously pursue the goals of increasing enrolment, limiting drop out rates, and more importantly, improving students’ learning outcomes.
Secondary education has also not fared better in the last one year. Although the Head of Nigeria National Office ( HNO), while giving analysis of the statistics of candidates’ performance in the examination; said a total of 3,892 (32.23%) candidates obtained credit and above in a minimum of five subjects including English Language and General Mathematics; noting that the percentage of candidates in this category in the first series of WASSCE for private candidates in 2019 was 26.08 per cent, the problems of infrastructure and qualitative teachers still persist.
Often, the biggest crisis in Nigeria’s education sector is with the tertiary system. One of the most pressing problems for the country’s higher education system remains the severe underfunding of its universities.
The Federal Government, which is responsible for sustaining public universities, has over the past decade not significantly increased the share of its budget dedicated to education, despite exploding student numbers. Due to funding constraints, most of Nigeria’s public universities are in deteriorating condition. And while efforts at increasing capacity by building new universities have generally been positive for access in absolute terms, they have also created issues related to instructional quality.
Nigeria’s institutions and lecture halls are severely overcrowded, student to teacher ratios have skyrocketed, and faculty shortages are chronic. Laboratory facilities, libraries, dormitories and other university facilities are often described as being in a state of decay. A large proportion of lecturers in our universities are assistant professors without doctoral degrees.
Reports suggested that only 43 per cent of Nigeria’s teaching staff held PhD degrees, and that the country had one of the worst lecturer-to-student ratios in the world.
Another key challenge is academic corruption and fraud. Nigeria’s education sector is particularly vulnerable to corruption. As scholar Ararat Osipitan noted, “limited access to education in Nigeria has no doubt contributed to the use of bribes and personal connections to gain coveted places at universities, with some admissions officials reportedly working with agents to obtain bribes from students.”
The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) has deemed it necessary to start using biometric fingerprint technology when admitting students for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
Education managers and stakeholders in their separate assessment of the sector’s performance in the last one year were however divided in their ratings when The Guardian sought their opinions. While some gave the administration a pass mark for policy consistency and stability, others identified the incessant strikes by the various staff unions in these institutions well as poor funding of the sector as some of the low points of Buhari’s government.
For Prof Adebayo Adeyemi, immediate past vice chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State. the last one year has been characterised majorly by industrial actions of the unions in various tertiary institutions, which is further compounded with the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted academic activities not only in the education sector but in all sectors of the economy.
Nonetheless, he said the establishment of more tertiary institutions as well as the review and partial implementation of the NHGSFP within the period are some of the high points of the present administration.
These notwithstanding, Prof Adeyemi lamented that underfunding of the sector by successive governments has remained a major challenge.
Besides, he noted that the cat and mouse relationship and distrust between government and the various staff unions in tertiary institutions have been a clog in the wheel of progress.
“I”m constrained to say that the unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic and the responses with the coping strategies should usher in a new era in our education sector. It is clear that the determination and the will to survive the pandemic lies in our corporate or individual responsibilities, determination and efforts. To me, that should be the underlying principle to move the sector forward.
To achieve a positive turnaround in the sector in the next three years, Prof Adeyemi said government must fully implement the principle of autonomy as entrenched in the article currently establishing the governing council of each institution and to decentralise the various national labour unions in our institutions, while all negotiations should begin and end with each council.
In order to implement this, there should be a convocation of all stakeholders to reach a consensus as “we have danced ‘naked’ far too long in the open market under the platform of unionism.”
“The next most important is funding, which has been the bane of the sector over the years. Government and managers of the system should arrive at a consensus as to how much it takes annually to train a student, depending on the programme, which would then determine the subvention per student to expect from government. This should form the basis for the overall annual grant that goes to an institution for teaching purposes.
“Research is an important aspect of the schedule of duties of academic staff. I doubt if there is a statutory and sustainable broad-based research policy of both previous and current governments, apart from what the various ministries consider to be their priorities.
“There must be a master research policy and plan of government that lays priority on funding of research outputs that have industrial relevance with direct positive effects on the socio-economic transformation of the country, which should attract about seventy per cent of the available funds for research.
The remaining thirty per cent should be for the funding of fundamental or basic research. Government, through any of her agency should ensure that funds are made available to support cutting edge research independent of grants to support training of students. In order to ensure this, there should be a research policy and implementation unit in the presidency to be manned by well proven researchers who shall be nominees of the President and who will advice and guide national research orientation which should be flexible and would respond to exigencies and national needs.
“An important aspect of moving the sector forward is strategic and sustainable management which calls for the appointment of proactive and knowledgeable members of councils who in turn should ensure appointments of experienced, respectable and proven core members of management
Although he said the recent directive of the federal ministry of education to schools to embrace online learning came at a wrong time, the move is a pointer to what government and institutions should ensure it’s implemented in the second year of his tenure.
“Government should see to it that funds are provided to put in place the necessary facilities not only in tertiary institutions but also in primary and secondary schools. This is a project that should cut across all segments of governance, that is federal, state and local governments.
He however suggested financial support for pupils and students from poor homes who may not be able to afford the expected cost of online teaching.
On the problems of Almajirai, Prof Adeyemi said events in the last couple of weeks have shown the urgent need and practical approach to almajiri education which has been neglected over the years.
He warned that failure to train and change the orientation of these almajirai may result in national calamity that will be a child’s play to Boko Haram.
“In essence, vocational schools, trade centres and technical colleges must be upgraded and made more functional and professional. Related to this is the nomadic education which should be resuscitated.
On his part, distinguished professor, University of Lagos Prof Ayodeji Olukoju said policy consistency has been the major hallmark of the present administration.
However, he noted that issues of school enrolment, provision of infrastructure, payment of workers wages, the integrity of public examinations and maintenance of stable academic calendars are major challenges confronting the sector.
Citing inadequate funding over the years, which has remained abysmally low, the former vice chancellor of Caleb University said successive governments have failed to give priority to education.
“Industrial relations crisis in the higher education sub-sector has not abated. Indeed, the issue of the migration of teaching and non-teaching staff of tertiary education to the IPPIS platform has led to the ongoing strike by the association of university lecturers, ASUU.
The public university system has been paralysed since the first quarter of this year. In effect, there has been an air of restiveness in the sector for the better part of the year.
Prof Olukoju added that the problem of out-of-school children constitutes the greatest challenge in recent times as exposed by the almajirai crisis.
Though school enrolment is fair in most of the southern and north-central states, he stated that the magnitude of low school enrolment in the northwest and northeast zones is a major human and social security challenge confronting the government and people of Nigeria.
For the needed change in the sector, the erudite scholar said there must be proper funding of education at all levels.
“Higher education requires special attention in terms of adequate funding, the timely release of funds, monitoring of disbursement, execution of projects, provision of infrastructure (high-speed internet service, efficient and fully subscribed e-library service, decent learning environment, etc.), enforcement of quality control in the areas of pedagogy, curriculum and staff recruitment, especially at the professorial level.
“The lockdown has exposed the inflexibility of the pedagogical system, which in most public universities, was caught unprepared for online delivery. The way forward is to develop robust and flexible online teaching and learning platforms, which can be deployed discretely or in hybrid forms.
According to the former VC, funding for the sector should be targeted at specific goals. The required infrastructure should be installed for expanding online and distance education access to anyone unable to attend formal tertiary institutions. Financial provision should also be made for the training of technical staff and specialist teachers to operate the system. Funds should be released promptly in phases and strictly monitored for efficient service delivery.
“Regular and professional audit of funds, and involvement of end users in award of contracts and validation of project deliveries will check fraud and end the phenomenon of uncompleted or poorly executed projects.”
On the almajirai crisis, Olukoju said rather than rely on the experience of Malaysia or any other Muslim majority countries, we should seek local solutions.
“ It is clear that the problem is more cultural and sociological than religious. The solution should therefore be more cultural and sociological than religious or political.
“First, the affected states have to take responsibility and devise local solutions. Second, there should be a regional approach that harmonises and disseminates local best practices. Thirdly, there should be a trans-regional solution that draws from the successful and longstanding combination of Islamic and formal education systems in the southwest, Kwara and Edo States. My humble suggestion is that the collective wisdom of selected experts, who themselves were products of the hybrid education system, from the Muslim majority communities in (Auchi in Edo State, Iwo, Ede, Ejigbo and Ilorin) be harnessed.
“That those communities got it right is indicated by the absence of the almajirai crisis in their domains as well as the high rate of formal school enrolment and the great number of accomplished Muslim scholars and professionals that they have produced.
In his contribution, Prof. Muyiwa Awodiya of Osun State University, Ikire Campus said government has not fared better in the last one year because of its failure to adequately fund the sector.
He identified some of the challenges in the sector as gross underfunding of the universities and not paying earned academic allowances for over 10 years while those in government get theirs in advance.
To move the sector forward, there must be improved fund of tertiary education system in Nigeria and infrastructural development.
For former education minister, Prof Chinwe Obaji, the sector has actually witnessed some positive developments in the last one year.
She cited the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board ( JAMB) and Tertiary Education Trust Fund ( TETFUND) as some of the agencies that have recorded positive achievements in the year under review.
“JAMB has enhanced the credibility of its examinations by increasing the strength of its question bank which has eliminated unholy practices in examinations. It has blocked the loopholes used by candidates to cheat, thereby reducing exam malpractice.
“TETFund is another parastatal of government that has done well. In the past, it just used to be putting up buildings across the institutions but in the last one year, the agency has refocused towards content-based interventions especially through the national research fund, introduced and now encouraging most of the lecturers to go into research.”