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Proposed extra year as short-term cure for long-term headache

By Iyabo Lawal
14 June 2018   |   4:21 am
Everybody is concerned about the quality of graduates Nigerian tertiary institutions are churning out. Employers are worried and parents are not proud. The Federal Government now wants parents and their wards...

Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu

Everybody is concerned about the quality of graduates Nigerian tertiary institutions are churning out. Employers are worried and parents are not proud. The Federal Government now wants parents and their wards to pay for its ineptitude and that of the education system. Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL examines the intriguing proposal of the Federal Ministry of Education to add one more year, post-National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) to the time Nigerian youths will spend to acquire academic excellence.

In the recent past, some have called for the scrapping of the National Youth Service Corps. Its critics said the programme had outlived its usefulness. Despite various attacks against the programme, the Federal Government has continued to fund it.

The jury is still out how much of unity it has achieved and what practical impacts the scheme has had on the majority of those that went through the orientation programme.

While the public and the government are divided on the usefulness and appropriateness of the scheme, the education system has taken a big hit so much so that policymakers in the federal government are thinking of tinkering with the national policy on education to add what will likely be regarded as a miserable year to the academic calendar of students at tertiary institutions of learning.

The never-before-imagined idea was the product of some brainstorming at the Ministry of Education perhaps under the chairmanship of an erudite personality.
That is correct. The Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, believes that the rot in Nigeria’s tertiary schools is bad that it will require an extra year added to the years of study of students before they can be fit to explore the outside world.

Anwukah, alongside his co-travellers, has put forward a proposal for Nigerian students to spend an extra year in specialised institutions after graduation from the university.

The minister’s proposal was tabled at the recent retreat for Governing Councils of Nigerian Federal Universities, organised by the National Universities Commission (NUC) with the theme, “Elements of Statutory Governance, Procurement and Financial Accounting in Nigerian Universities”.

Understandably, not many employers are proud of the hands they hired. They claim that re-training and sometimes making the students they have employed to unlearn what they have learnt in schools can cost an arm and a leg. Anwukah does not want this trend to continue, agreeing that many university graduates are not good enough for employment.

As he argues his case, it is easy to imagine Nigerian employers giving him a standing ovation while parents and guardians including the students –at least armed with placards to shoo him and his ideas away.

But the junior minister said, “Law students attend Law School for one year before going for NYSC and medical students go for one year housemanship before they are allowed to practice fully. So, it will be necessary for (students who study) other courses to also go through this process.”

Not stopping at that, he even suggested the need for parents and students to be ready to break the bank unless the federal government will sponsor for the one extra scheme when he said, “The Lagos Business School can also serve as one-year after-school training.”

A cursory examination of how the NYSC, which has not eroded the nation’s primordial sharp ethnic divides, has performed will provide some insight into the appropriateness or otherwise of the extra one year proposed by Anwukah.

The National Youth Service Corps is a one–year compulsory programme for students under 30 years who studied in Nigerian tertiary institutions or Nigerian students abroad but intends to work in Nigeria. It was created through decree No. 24 of 22nd May 1973 by the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon.

The vision of the scheme is to foster national unity and even development, and describes the scheme as “an organisation that is well motivated and capable of bringing out the best qualities in our youths and imparting in them the right attitude and values for nation-building; an organisation that serves as a catalyst to national development, and a source of pride and fulfilment to its participating graduate youths,” according to a statement on its website.

Among other things, the organisation’s mission is to “be at the fore front of national development efforts, as well as serve as a profitable platform for imparting in our youths values of nationalism, patriotism, loyalty, and accountable leadership.”

So the core objectives of the scheme include discipline, fostering a tradition of work, to teach ideals of national development, develop skills for self-employment, remove prejudices and eliminate ignorance and promote national integration.
But some say even the decision to continue a scheme set up to fill an immediate need created by the fractious civil war for 44 long years is the clearest indication that the war never ended and that unity remains elusive. Hence, following the killings of corps members in northern Nigeria, many called for the abolition of the scheme.

The arguments against retaining the programme include the argument that it is a waste of funds, leads to loss of lives of corps members in crisis-prone or hostile areas, makes youths engage in illicit behaviour during orientation camps where supervision is minimal and even adds little value to host communities as young graduates with no formal training in teaching are assigned to teach children in rural areas.

But the biggest argument against the programme is that the current operation does not even help the objectives of the programme. Prospective corps members with people in prominent positions manipulate their postings to states of their choice hence defeating the purpose the scheme.

The use of corps members as ad-hoc INEC staff during elections exposes them to election violence. About two years ago, Samuel Okonta, serving in Rivers State as a corps member, was shot dead by some yet to be apprehended gunmen. To address the concern of parents about insecurity, the scheme now allows corps members to choose to serve in states of their choice or reject postings to volatile areas, totally defeating the goals of the programme.

However there are those who strongly believe it should not be scrapped. The vice chancellor, Crawford University, Igbesa, Ogun State, Prof. Olurotimi Ajayi, said the scheme should be protected and preserved, since its objective was the promotion of national unity among Nigerians, which it was fulfilling.
The vice chancellor said rather than abolish the scheme, the government should look at the challenges facing the scheme such as insecurity, poor incentives and welfare of the corps members.

It is instructive to note that Nigeria spends billions of naira each year to pay allowances of thousands of graduates who enrol for the NYSC programme across the country. In 2016, the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development was allocated N75.47 billion of which N66.83 or 86 per cent was for NYSC. Yet, this is barely sufficient to meet the bare necessities of mobilised students who are paid a stipend of N19, 800.

The slots are not even enough for all the students needing mobilisation and many who serve only do so because it is required by employers despite the fact that the experience add little or no value to what they bring to the job. A couple of years back, the Kwara State university told its recent graduates who should be part of next year’s NYSC mobilisation exercise that the university has slots for only 500 despite graduating thousands.

Still, the minister of state for education insisted: “The universities are producing products that are not matching the needs of the industries. I urge the committee of pro chancellors and committee of vice chancellors to end the decline in the standard of education. The SIWES projects introduced for a year’s industrial attachment for students has failed in the universities. It is not doing its role in bridging the gap between the universities and the industries.”

For his salacious idea to scale through nationwide consultations will be required. Experts in the education sector, however, think that even if the idea is eventually accepted and implemented, it will only be a superficial treatment of deep-rooted malaise of the education system.

Like a great salesman who seems to know his products more than the manufacturer, Anwukah added: “We are trying to sell an idea, the proposal is to get into our university system the re-schooling concept – that is, you finish your university degree –may be add one more year as a finishing school project. I don’t know how it is going to sell.

“But the idea has come as a result of the failure of SIWES system in the universities. We try to address the relationship between the universities, the industries and the graduates: how they can fit in and we introduced the SIWES project and it is not working and it is not providing that bridge between the industries because the most industries are unwilling to accept most students on the SIWES programme.”
So, the minister said plans are under way to see whether an extra year can be added, “When a student finishes from the university he can now go out to industries for one year internship for that job”.

To buttress his point, he gave an example: “The law department has one extra year; after the law programme they (graduating students) go to Law School – doctors go for one additional year.”

One thing he is certainly right about is that the country cannot continue with the current education system and expect to have students who are well qualified to be employed by quality employees-starved employers.

So, he asked: “Are we going to continue with the SIWES experiment which is not working or we are going to brace up to introduce an additional year of re-school whereby you spend that one year in any industry?”
The question is needless and the proposed idea is nothing short of a shot in the dark. A more enlightened step will be for the government to carefully examine the problems of the education sector and do the needful.