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Quality education for economic growth

By Editorial Board
03 December 2019   |   4:11 am
It is always curious that Nigerian leaders at all levels always pontificate anywhere on a well known fact that education is the bedrock of development but they don’t invest robustly in it for the common good.

It is always curious that Nigerian leaders at all levels always pontificate anywhere on a well known fact that education is the bedrock of development but they don’t invest robustly in it for the common good. By harnessing the innate powers of the intellect and knowledge base of the citizenry, many nations are promoting the advancement of civilisation – creating indigenous solutions to problems for our shared existence. 
The Federal Government again recently re-echoed this nexus between education and development during the convocation at the premier university in Nigeria. But beyond mere rhetoric, the Nigerian society must begin to shift from quality education as an afterthought, to proper funding of the educational system that we desire. Absolutely, a society already in dire straits of epidemic want, poverty and ignorance urgently need more than another empty promise of what good education can do. 
President Muhammadu Buhari at the 2019 convocation ceremony of the University of Ibadan (UI), again pledged to invest in education to make the country a knowledge-based economy. Buhari, who was represented by the National Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, said: “We will continue to invest substantially in education and government has not relented in its efforts to ensure that education is used to fast-track Nigeria’s transition to modern society.” 

Ordinarily, it sounds good to the ears, but more discerning citizenry should be asking questions: What exactly has the government been doing in the last five years, if the education-driven economy is still a convocation pledge? The answer is a no-brainer; nothing of significance has happened to the education sector lately or in the last few decades to stimulate modern economic growth. And a cursory look at the entire landscape says as much about the knowledge-deficit in our society. 
For clarity, quality education is not synonymous with the number of schools or degrees awarded at every convocation. In fact, the Nigerian space has never been lacking in churning out graduates en masse. The letdown is often the incompetence or inadequacy of acquired knowledge vis-à-vis the social demands. The implication is a widening dichotomy between an army of the unemployable paper-qualified population and begging technical needs in the society as we noted here the other day. 
We can blame the academic institutions for unleashing low-grades on the society. However, a look at the quality of the institutions tells the story of steady decline and utter abandonment. Year-in year-out, most of the federal universities have consistently embarked on industrial actions in protest against decrepit facilities in the ivory towers. It should surprise no one that no Nigerian public university is ranked among the top 800 in the world or among the top 10 in Africa in terms of quality researches for development. 
In reality, breakthrough researches are painstaking and expensive far beyond the Federal Government’s year-on-year allocation to education. The fact has it that the funding of education has been abysmal in the last three decades, with the highest cut never exceeding 10 per cent of the budget. The previous administration came the closest in 2014, budgeting N493 billion or 9.94 per cent allocation to education. That was when countries like Ghana, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates are allocating between 20 and 26 per cent to education. Under the current administration, education funding has further nose-dived to about seven per cent range of our annual budget. This is contrary to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) minimum benchmark of 26 per cent for developing countries like ours. The decline is repulsive and unacceptable.
Indeed, today’s modern nations are knowledge-based, though it neither happened overnight nor without commitment of all and sundry. As a matter of fact, governments’ expenditure on education in sub-Saharan Africa increased from $12 billion in 2000 to $67 billion in 2013 representing over 450 per cent growth rate. Leading economies are also putting the money where the mouth is. Economies like the U.S., Germany, UK, China, Japan, South Korea and India had between 2000 and 2015 individually invested between $500 billion and $1.25 trillion on Information Technology (IT) alone – the in-thing in modern society and the architect of today’s third industrial revolution. These are all demonstrations of rigorous investment for national growth and global relevance that Nigeria should begin to emulate. 
The Nigerian philosophy of education as contained in the National Policy on Education has since 1973 clearly stated the objectives of education. In Section 1, education is to build a free, just, egalitarian and democratic society; to build a great and dynamic economy and a land full of bright opportunities for all citizenry. Section 13 adds that “education is an expensive social service and requires adequate financial provision from all tiers of government for the successful implementation of education programme.”
Lest we forget, the essence of quality education and its investments are to nurture the minds of the citizenry to be enlightened and self-sufficient to impact society positively. The outline of such orientation recognises the primacy of innate gifts and character traits that must be nourished and refined by qualitative and rigorous training from the cradle. That way, each individual will find his or her rightful place in society to make a meaningful contribution. It is the aggregate of these impacts that leads to collective wellbeing and sustainable national development.
In the light of the yawning gaps in the socio-economic space and modern trends in knowledge-based societies, it is imperative for the Nigerian system to start channelling the abundant human resources in the direction of our needs. Funded institutions should have the mandate of developing geographical and regional solution-oriented capacities and researches. Ideally, well-funded educational institutions should be more of the feeder to the research processes, industries and socio-economic programme. 
The private sector can initiate industrial clusters that simply network firms of similar services, requisite skills, universities and research laboratories within an area. Some of the significant examples are the Silicon Valley and the Boston’s biotechnological cluster of pharmaceutical companies. They promote assemblage of skillsets in an area, concentration of specialist services and pull venture capital from investors that have close understanding of their market. Part of the chain reaction is more capacity building through apprenticeship, and mentorship of the younger generation.     
With more Nigerians properly enlightened and finding their rightful places in the society, the country will have a lesser number of dissidents, vices and social antagonism to deal with. The Federal Government has rightly touched on an all-important subject of sustainable modern development through education. The current administration must go a step further to begin the process, if it truly believes in the future of this country. The best time to begin was yesterday. The next best time is today or never.