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Lamentation over male education decline

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(Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

In 2008, the Imo State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Comfort Chinwe Chukwu, decried the massive decline in male enrolment in schools in the state. Mrs. Chukwu was speaking at a forum organised by the Ministry of Information and Strategy in Owerri. According to her, on the average, the enrolment of males in the state schools system has dropped to 23,290 as against 28,556 for females.

That revelation marked the first time in the history of education in the South-East that females outnumbered males in school enrolment. The development is ominous. In times past, typical Igbo families did not believe in education for the girl child because, according to the protagonists of that retrogressive culture, the girls belong to other families.

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Prior to independence and shortly afterwards, it was the boys that were sent to school due to the traditional belief that the boys are there to continue the family lineage. The girls on the other hand were regarded as visitors belonging to other families! The girls were forced to stay at home to help in domestic chores. Some were sent out as house helps from where they got married. There were few females who went to school. They teenage girls got married fast.

Today, things have changed. The boys are the ones who don’t go to school while the girls have taken the upper hand. This has been the case in the past two decades or so. This historical turn of events is sweeping throughout the entire South-East states without the governments doing anything about it. The females now dominate the entire school system both as teachers and as students.

Gone were the days when some organisations campaigned for the education of the girl child. Those campaigns seem to have yielded dividends. The girls have clearly taken over the education arena. In a typical school nowadays, women constitute the bulk of the teaching staff while the girls outnumber the boys in the classroom. It is important to examine some of the factors responsible for this development.

The general economic downturn in the country is the principal factor. Since the 1980s when the Babangida administration introduced the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), the country’s economic fortunes nosedived in all sectors. Lopsided economic policies in the country ever since then have further worsened the situation. The fallout of the economic downturn is massive unemployment. Since the early 1980s, graduate unemployment has persisted in the country. It soon became common that university graduates could no longer find suitable jobs.

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The unemployment situation, which worsened in the last two decades, has killed the interest of the boys towards education. This is more so when it is observed that those who dropped out of school and went into business turned out to be better off in the society. Nigeria is a society where people worship money rather than knowledge. The wealthier you are, the more you are respected and accorded honors. The educated is given back seat.

With such extroverted culture, it became difficult to convince young boys to take the pains of going to school, which yields little or no money. Thus, it became normal for boys to take the short cut by going into business, which gives quick returns? The society has inadvertently accepted the craze for money in place of education.

Lack of bursaries, scholarships and other financial incentives are also to blame. This factor appears normal because Igbo people have the culture of footing the education bills of their children. But this should no longer be the case, especially, when the established tradition is no longer working.

For example, Imo State is an oil producing state. Like her counterparts, the state receives special allocation from the federation account. This gives her edge over the other none oil-producing states that receive no special allocation. The other oil-producing states in the South-South have functional scholarship programmes for their indigenes. Their students receive scholarships and bursary as a way of encouraging them to go to school. The Imo State government is in a position to support the education of Imo indigenes. If the government is serious about education in the state, this is the time to start scholarship and bursary programmes for Imo indigenes.

Mrs. Chukwu warned that “If adequate measures were not taken by the government to forestall this trend, there would be a period when there would be no more boys in primary and secondary schools system in the state”. The fears are well founded. We are already facing the crisis. But mere lamentation by the authorities cannot solve the problem. The job of the authorities is not to lament but to deal with the problem.

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In addition, the emerging trend of kidnapping and banditry, among other criminal lifestyle to yield big and quick money may have added to the problem. Taking to crime seems to offer better dividends in the short run that “wasting” time going to school that “offers” no future. The recurrent strikes in public educational institutions are frustrating. It has compounded the problem.

Having identified a major problem, it is the duty of the government to come up with workable framework to tackle the problem. What to do to reverse the trend has been highlighted. Government should get to work and deal with the issues involved.

It needs to be established how many students are there in the state school system? How many are in the secondary and primary schools? How many are boys and girls? What is the projected boy’s enrolment in the schools? What is the short fall based on the number on record? What is the amount of school fees paid by students at the primary and secondary schools? What will it cost the state government to institute scholarship programme?

It is possible to plan a vibrant education programme in the state. I have always said that states should strive to be distinct in the way they do things. Lagos State has been championing the payment of WAEC examination fees for its students. This is in addition to the bursary and scholarship programme of the state. The decline in male education in the South-East is a negative trend that should be reversed. It is not in the interest of the zone to be laying the foundation for a bleak future.

Though the economic hardship in the South-East is among the worst in the country, which explains why there is mass outward migration of easterners to other parts of the country. All the major markets in the towns and cities across the country are populated by traders from the South-East. These are boys who should be in school to prepare for a brighter future.

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Given the circumstances and the prevailing situation, the future is bleak for the South-East in terms of education. In an attempt to balance the inequality in the country, every state is striving to have its own university in addition to the federal university. The states in the north are vigorously pursuing this education objective. They are not only establishing their own state universities but also giving financial support to their students by way of scholarships and bursaries.

The states in the west have a tradition of enhanced educational opportunities for their people. This they are pursuing through free education at the primary and secondary school levels. The South-South states are coming up fast. They are utilising their oil wealth to boost education at all levels. It is only in the South-East that nothing is being done to leverage education. The governments of the South-East are paying lip service to education. There should be a deliberate policy initiative to educate the boy child in the South-East.

It is senseless for the state governments to ignore an issue as important as education and instead be planning to waste the state resources on frivolous projects like building a new government house. Educate the people and develop the state. It is foolhardy for any governor to open new drainpipes of corruption on white elephant projects that would not benefit the people.

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