Buhari And Education
AS President Muhammadu Buhari considers those areas his government would give prime attention, education must be among the first. That a nation’s level of development reflects the emphasis it has placed on education over the years is easily attested to by the progress that great societies have recorded through human history.
Citizens who drive the technological, social, economic and political development of their societies are weaned on the diet of sound education. Such educated citizens then go on to conquer nature and make it yield its benefits to those societies.
Nigeria’s educational system has been dogged over the years by inattention or even sabotage by successive governments culminating in horrible curricula, incessant strikes, students’ poor performance, infrastructural decay and poor welfare of teachers.
The result of this state of affairs is that the educational sector only ends up producing people who not only fail to contribute to the development of the nation but are total liabilities to the economy.
Yet, the nation’s educational system was one of the best in the world at a time. This was why people from different parts of the world came to Nigeria either to learn or impart knowledge.
But despite the glaring inadequacies in the educational sector now, the best past governments did was to deploy cosmetic measures without striking at the heart of the problem.
Such responses had a common meeting point in the fixation on just voting huge sums of money, not in structured or institutionalised sustainable manner but in corruption-ridden interventionist spasms, for the sector.
This approach has not been helpful and thus the Buhari government must look beyond just allocating money for education if there must be an enduring transformation of the sector.
Indeed, for restoration, Nigeria’s education must be subjected to a holistic overhaul.
This would involve reappraising how funds have been allocated to the sector, and reviewing it from the primary to the tertiary levels. In the first place, how much funding really goes into the educational sector? It is sad that Nigeria is yet to meet the minimum 26 per cent of a national budget prescribed for education by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as the provision for education in the 2014 national budget was only 10.7 per cent.
But Ghana with which Nigeria began higher education in 1948 has exceeded the minimum budget prescribed by the UNESCO. Certainly, countries with breathtaking technological advancements invest so much in education.
Nigeria can begin afresh by getting highly qualified and motivated teachers into the primary and secondary school levels of its education to mould pupils’ lives, because, despite the importance of this foundational levels of education, they have been the most neglected.
The law may have vested some parts of education in the state and local governments, Buhari should lead the way with a policy that recognises these levels of education as national priority by setting and funding standards for others to follow.
While some attention is paid to teachers at the tertiary level, their counterparts at the primary and secondary levels are often neglected when the issue of their welfare is in focus.
While university teachers, for instance, may not be owed salaries, primary and secondary school teachers are remorselessly owed for several months.
The government should also make teaching at the primary and secondary school levels a high level profession. To do this, the teachers need to be well trained and well remunerated Undoubtedly, whether at the primary, secondary or tertiary levels, teachers should be given the dignity they deserve.
Teaching is a noble profession, should be made attractive to the best brains and its practitioners should be given their due reward.
It is because teaching has not been made attractive by successive governments that public schools often do not have enough teachers and where there are teachers, they are hardly sufficiently qualified.
At the tertiary level, the increase in the number of universities in the country has not been matched with an increase in the number of teachers with the requisite qualification for teaching in the universities.
So, the problem of inadequate manpower, which begins from the primary level, escalates to the tertiary level.
An irony is that such shortage of manpower in education should not arise and unemployment would not be the crisis that it is in Nigeria if priorities had been right and the army of unemployed youths in the country were properly trained for teaching.
It is not late. Now is the time to devise a system of re-training unemployed graduates with a view to creating a pool of first-rate teachers.
They should be given crash courses in education that would qualify them as teachers. The same should be done with the civil service.
The bloated workforce in the civil service at all levels can be reduced not by retrenchment but by reorientation and re-engagement in education.
The excess numbers in the civil service can be re-equipped with crash courses in education and redeployed into teaching. This way, the nation gains a virile educational system and at the same time a lean civil service that is eventually rid of idle hands.
A pool of well-trained graduate teachers in a very soun educational system would constitute a linchpin for the development of the nation. And a well-trained citizenry would bring well-honed skills to bear even on those segments of the economy that have been hitherto closed to Nigerian youths.
In seeking to invest appropriately in education, the question to ask, for instance, is: why must Nigeria still rely heavily on foreign experts in the oil sector over a half century after the discovery of the mineral in the country? Why cannot the educational system produce the manpower needed for the sector?
When Nigeria’s reformed educational system has produced enough manpower and the local economy cannot absorb all the qualified graduates, the rest could be exported to other nations of the world in a policy or programme that could be grander than the existing Technical Aid Corps scheme.
The educational sector is one area where past leaders failed. History beckons on President Buhari to make a difference by setting the right tone, investing appropriately and improving Nigeria’s education to make its products locally useful but globally competitive.