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NEC’S futile committee on education standard


Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

The National Economic Council’s (NEC’s) lamentation over fallen standard of education and setting up of a committee to address such a serious national crisis is a further demonstration that this administration is yet to grasp the whole essence of restructuring that this newspaper has been addressing regularly here.

It should therefore be worrisome that a governing party should be presiding over a meeting at this time to address fallen education standard when the same administration has failed to declare an emergency on education it promised the nation in April this year to address.

The NEC presided over by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, a law professor, had risen from a recent meeting with another otiose declaration that the standard of basic education at the state level had fallen drastically. To address this, the Council, comprising all the 36 state governors, among others, therefore, set up a committee on how to address the issue. Specifically, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu disclosed this while briefing State House correspondents at the end of a meeting of the Council at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The minister said he presented a Ministerial Strategy Plan (2016 – 2019) for the education sector to the Council, adding that the presentation centred on the achievements, challenges and way forward in the sector.

The Education Minister said the plan also recognised that more investments were needed in the education sector, while emphasising that collaboration among the federal, states, local governments, the private sector and development partners was necessary.According to the minister, “the Council noted that the standard of basic education at the state level had fallen drastically and resolved that a committee comprising governors of Kano, Osun, Delta, Anambra, CBN Governor and the Minister of Education should look into what needs to be done urgently in the education sector at the state level and report back to the Council.”

It will be recalled that the same Minister of Education had on November 13, last year presented the same report at a Federal Executive Council Retreat on Education held at the State House Banquet Hall and the President was in attendance. It was at the Retreat the President had supported the controversial drastic measures the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir el Rufai had then taken to address the challenge of unqualified teachers, in the same vein.

The well-organised event then reinforced faith in the capacity of the administration to get to the roots of lack of progress in all spheres and indeed mediocrity because of inadequacies at all levels of education. In fact, the Education Minister in a well delivered speech at the Retreat suggested that the president should declare a state of emergency on education at the end of the Retreat the Vice President too attended.But at the end of the Retreat, among other action points, it was hinted that the declaration of emergency would be made in April this year. It was not declared and no reason has so far been given. Specifically, the chief host of the Retreat, the Education Minister’s welcome remark was titled, ‘Change Begins with Education.’

He set the tone for revival in education (before the president’s keynote) when he told a story about the Chinese. He recalled that the Chinese build a Great Wall to keep the invaders at bay because they thought it would be impossible for anyone to scale it given its insurmountable height. According to the tale, unfortunately within the first century of the construction of the wall, the Chinese were invaded three times. Reason: every time the invaders came, they did not need to climb over the wall because each time they came, they were able to bribe the guards on duty at the gate and the gate was opened for them. The significant lesson, which only good education delivers being that the Chinese reportedly took the pains to build the wall but they forgot to build the character of the guards who were supposed to secure the walls.

Besides, the president’s keynote at the Retreat identified what to do to invest in education. President Buhari hinted at a covenant with the people when he said:“The significance of this summit is obvious. We cannot progress beyond the level and standard of our education. Today, it is those who acquire the most qualitative education, equipped with requisite skills and training, and empowered with practical knowhow that are leading the rest.

“We cannot afford to continue lagging behind. Education is our launch pad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future. This administration is committed to revitalising our education system and making it more responsive and globally competitive.’’

Remarkably, what the Vice President feared most at the Retreat was what has happened to the ministerial development plan document carried curiously to the NEC meeting nine months after: implementation inertia. What Professor Osinbajo stressed there was the spirit of “implementation, implementation and implementation,” which he identified as the usual graveyard of good plans.

On his part, Osinbajo who was there throughout the sessions was upbeat that the stakeholders and technocrats there were not cynical but uncharacteristically optimistic about revival of education in the country.The law professor would, however, like the focal point of the ministerial strategic plan (MSP), to ensure that implementation would not suffer reverses. He would also like the final document to include some conceptual clarity on the strategic objectives of Nigeria’s education – short-term and long-term. He said: “Our education goals at this juncture, should address our challenges. Our education plans should be able to solve problems of the soon-to-be fourth largest population on earth, Nigeria. Our strategic objectives should be able to identify what kinds of problems we should address in the next few decades…”

Osinbajo said the implementation document should also reflect elements that developed economies now leverage on, notably the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) “even as we note that the humanities are as important.”

The vice president also noted that in addressing today’s education challenges, the strategy document should not ignore how technology can assist in producing employable graduates too “as classrooms alone cannot help anymore.” He advised the technocrats and regulators to de-emphasise hectares of plots of land in approving universities as disruptive technologies can now take care of hectares of land in the virtual learning environment.He added that in planning the e-learning platforms now, “you should invite the technology giants such as Google to the room… we must not be stuck in the way we think about education at this time. A lot of things go on in the virtual space…”

Osinbajo would also like the strategic plan to address specifically girl-child education and other out-of-school children all over the place. Besides, he would like the final document to include the all-important issue of “education for citizenship” as most children today lack knowledge of history, civic education and how to be good citizens.

So, if these strategic plans had been presented by the same Minister of Education in the presence of the President and the Vice President, since November last year, why should there be another NEC Committee to look into the same Ministerial Strategic Plan to address fallen standard of education in the states? If a government should use almost a year to be reading a document on education in a 58 year-old nation, how long will implementation plan take? This is why we will continue to insist on restructuring of the federation so that states or regions can address all these issues without undue delays and disruptions at the centre.

Education is on the concurrent list already. Let each state address its infrastructure and what it can invest to address standard and competitiveness that drive the sector at the moment. The Council Committee terms of reference should be referred to all State Executive Councils and Assemblies immediately. Any federal intervention can be done through Universal Basic Education Commission already in place to address counterpart funding and there are other tertiary education Commissions such as National Universities Commission (NUC), Colleges of Education Commission, etc to address all these issues arising in education. The NEC Committee on fallen education standard in the states is therefore uncalled for.

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