Much ado about the education sector
The Minister of Education recently announced the government’s resolve to declare emergency on the sector but failed to avail the public of the aim of such decision and the resultant effect expected at the end of the day.
At the tertiary level, a Nigerian university has hardly ranked among the first one thousand in the various global rankings. It is a hard fact that lack of facilities in especially the public educational institutions has stalled research-oriented innovations and hence, a big hindrance to necessary developments to measure up with the realities of the modern world.
The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) that is supposed to be used for the revitalisation of the public higher education sector has not yielded the expected result.
Yet, despite the funds being appropriated for the sector, over-dependence on the government funding still hangs like the Sword of Damocles leading to incessant strike actions in a quest to better the lots of the institutions and the general welfare of staff which is nothing compared to robust benefits enjoyed by the political office holders with far less educational heights and achievements.
Several promises made amidst negotiations with the government are always hard to fulfil. Courses that are supposed to be completed in a number of years get unduly elongated as a result, with some schools “crashing the programmes” to bridge the strike gap. This is a very big risk for a developing country because of the quality of such education.
However, the libraries still look like archives of some sort. It is surprising that most books being used in the tertiary institutions have been there for decades.
Some lecturers still copy verbatim from these books, type or publish and sell to students as “textbooks or hand-outs”. Some of them also pay private journals in the Europe and America to publish their articles got from such materials which they count as “publication in international journals” and use them for promotion. Talking of effective internet facilities or virtual library is like asking for too much.
Some of the students have never seen or heard of some academic materials that are common among their mates even in an average academic institution in South Africa. I once visited the state library in Owerri, Imo State and the place was fantastic.
There were enough books and the environment was very conducive, with staff ready to attend to requests from readers. But, how up-to-date are the materials in the library? Though a final-year university student surfing the internet on her phone for her dissertations seemed so confident; she had got enough free materials on google! How about privatising such fantastic library in a state hosting about seven different institutions of higher learning which move will give it a great way to measure up with the realities of the times?
Just as we are talking of deregulating the oil sector, can we liberalise the higher education institutions, with some degree of autonomy given to the universities and other tertiary institutions? This will bolster research activities and engender academic innovations to a great extent.
Education is increasingly being globalised and the developed countries are already running with the tide. Those that never bothered about English language as a medium of teaching are dropping the old idea due to the strategic position the language is rapidly occupying in the global scheme of things. Virtual classrooms are gaining grounds and nations running to bridge the internet gap (electricity has long been conquered).
Duplexes for resident professors are disappearing for momentary hotel bills to lodge a visiting Harvard professor whose academic prowess has gained him a retainership to lecture Economics in a Nigerian university. He finishes his lectures, (an opportunity to bring down a near Harvard standard and still save some “change” for a prolific academic research) and leaves for US after fixing a date for his examination. He flies in again to conduct his examination, goes back to mark scripts and send result by-email.
Webinars and other social platforms are there for students’ continued interaction with the professor. If a survey taken at the end of the session among his students does not favour his style of lecture, it is time for another egg head. This time a guru from University of Cape Town could be invited. The Nigerian professor also jostles for recognition out there, in a way that he does not wait for government subvention to attain academic excellence. This trend is rapidly gaining ground in some places in Europe.
At the primary and secondary levels, sound educational laws and policies will standardise the private institutions and give proper funding to the public schools. The world stood still, astounded when a public school teacher could not read out a passage handed to her by Adams Oshiomhole, the then governor of Edo State.
Apart from revitalising the public schools, those educational inspectors that would take the classroom teacher unawares participating in his class disguised as students should be brought back. They will secretly check the notebooks of the pupils, accompanied with necessary questions about the teacher- a criterion for the teacher’s promotion in addition to proper and thorough scrutiny of the educational qualifications of such teacher.
The floating of private schools by all and sundry who could afford some capital to rent an apartment anywhere should be strictly regulated.
I recall with nostalgia, the playgrounds that used to be as large as the whole Michael Okpara Square in Enugu where we performed different sporting activities and marched with pride during the morning assembly, singing heroic songs to the beautiful rhythms of bands and trumpets and feeling like patriots who are ready to die for the cause of the nation.
Those are the days of non-proliferation of private schools with government conducting schools debate competitions and broadcasting it on national media, the days of dedicated teachers who will not spare the rod lest the child got spoilt, teachers who would not sacrifice discipline for fear of parents.
• Offor is an Abuja-based legal practitioner.
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