Nigeria at 59: Education sector and El-Rufai’s challenge
One event in recent history that typifies the nations’ education sector as an area in need of help is the ripple reaction that trailed the enrolment of the six-year old child of the Kaduna State Mallam Nasiru, in a public school on Monday, September 23, 2019.
Specifically, not only did the event divert attention from real threat deserving of healthy and appropriate fear, it sowed confusion that glaringly potrayed the country as a nation that leadership has drained its national will and a people with weakened national character.
Expectedly, while condemning the orchestrated media attention drawn by the event which lacks all attributes of a news story, many described the enrolment as a none issue as children of the ruling class used to share classrooms with that of the poor before education was destroyed in the country, some argued that considering the fact that we are in a nation where many politicians daily undermine the integrity of government by using public office to do favour for family and friends and in a country where the quality of education is determined by the amount of school fees paid, he should not be vilified but praised for his prudence and humility. Others submitted that El-Rufai’s opponents finds it difficult to appreciate him because when verdict is passed on to someone, it blocks the possibility of knowing who the person is and this definitely creates biases, sentiments and prejudice, and also makes the mind become impervious and closed towards either seeing the good sides of the person or the bad sides of the person.
Whatever the true position may be, it’s vital to underline that El-Rufai and his innocent son are overtly not the plot of this piece but the reaction that trailed their event convertly provide a link to the disappointing state of education sector and public policies which presently perpetuates poverty and consolidates youth unemployment.
As a background, public policy is ‘a course of action or inaction chosen by public authority to address a given problem or interrelated set of problems.’ Leslie Pal added that every policy has three key elements; the definition of the problem, the goals to be achieved, or the means chosen to address the problems and to achieve the goals.
By analyzing each of these elements in turn, it becomes easy to understand the essential ingredients that made great nations what they are today, as well as answer questions to why others are unsuccessful.
To explain this point, it is believed that policies, plans and strategies are fundamental to progress and development of countries, yet, right from independence, the problem with education in the country very much lies with the inconsistency in policies driven by several panels set up by the government to recommend measures to enhance the quality of education in the country. And, this problem is not so much with the recommendations of the various panels but their poor implementation by those entrusted to do so.
As an illustration, if not bad policy, how do we explain governments’ inability to heed to the United Nations Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) budgetary recommendation on education? What other expression shall we use other than bad policy, to describe a country where over 13 million children are currently out of school, yet the lawmakers are proposing operational vehicle with estimated current price of the chosen vehicle now N50 million, and might need about N5.550 billion to get enough quantity for its members; what shall we say of a country’s education where researches are not adequately funded and yet, the President allowed hundreds of millions go into replacing his plates and cutlery yearly. And what shall we expect from an educational ministry headed by someone who is not an educationist? This may however not be the only explanation.
Like in business, no nation can grow consistently faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement such growth. Likewise, with the education sectors’ present state, it will be difficult if not impossible to develop disruptive or constructive concepts that can shatter set patterns of thinking and provide solution to the unemployment situation in the country.
The reason is simple. There is no linkage between the nations’ university system and the manpower demand by industrial sector.The strategic consequence of this failure is that the universities and other tertiary institutions will continue to turn out, every year several thousands of graduates that the industry do not need. This is made worse by the fact that here is a nation where uncalculated importance is attached to the possession of university degrees.
At a very broader scale, apart from the unemployment woes created by poor educational sector which robs the youths of skills, it may also not be a wrong assertion or described as hasty to conclude that the appaling security challenge in the country has its root in the sorry state of the education sector as teaming youths deprived of quality education – with neither skill nor job remain a security threat to those that are educated.
Viewed differently, it’s been emphasised that any nation desirous of security must continually upgrade its weaponry as new technologies, especially information technology, and is incorporated into weapon systems, which also demand a highly educated and trained people who can integrate the various arms into one system and operate them efficiently and effectively. With the present state of the education sector, how can we guarantee the supply of such needed manpower?
Regrettably, while we play ‘casino’ with policies and strategies, countries such as Japan and other developed nations dedicates at the highest level to creating a people with a unified value system that is shared by all ministries, from the Ministry of Education (MOE) to the famous Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI).
To, therefore, provide answers to the above, reverse the present trend in the sector and make education sustainable in a way that protects the rights and opportunities of coming generations, we need to, as we mark yet another independence anniversary understand the basic reasons why the existing system is currently accepted and challenge these fundamental assumptions. The nation must recognise that education is the bedrock of development; that with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of a hyper-modern society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes and projects. But such a tendency is clearly different here.
Here is another important point. While the search is ongoing, the nation must as a matter of urgency tackle inadequate funding of education; policy inconsistency which characterises the sector, invest in teachers’ training and retraining and infrastructural development in primary and tertiary schools.
Most importantly, this time is ripe to make access to quality education a fundamental human right.
•Utomi wrote from Lagos.
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