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Re-inventing Nigeria’s education sector (2)

By Leonard Shilgba
21 May 2015   |   4:37 am
OTHER Federal universities should be included in the Group One universities category upon attainment of international accreditation and those pre-determined benchmarks, which would attract more federal grants. Consequently, there shall be reward for excellence, and therefore motivation to excel. This will definitely enhance quality.

Nigeria educationOTHER Federal universities should be included in the Group One universities category upon attainment of international accreditation and those pre-determined benchmarks, which would attract more federal grants. Consequently, there shall be reward for excellence, and therefore motivation to excel. This will definitely enhance quality.

Eventually, many Nigerian students and their parents, who spend billions of dollars annually abroad on university education shall keep the money at home as they are assured of the same or better quality of education in Nigeria.

Those universities will also earn foreign exchange from foreign students that they will attract because of improved quality and international accreditation.

There would be reduced pressure on the naira, forcing it to appreciate significantly against the U.S. dollar just as Buhari has envisioned.

Recently, there have been calls for the discontinuance of the N100 billion-a-year federal foreign scholarships. Some argue that if each of the federal universities is given N2.5 billion from the amounts spent on foreign scholarships, there would still be some left-over. I agree, but much more. In the 21st century, with more than 100 universities (federal, state and private), the Federal Government must not throw away money to foreign universities in the form of foreign scholarships.

By choosing to spend such huge amounts on foreign scholarships, the Federal Government confesses that it has failed to provide the appropriate facilities, resources (human and material), and environment to guarantee quality education. If those facilities, resources and environment are provided in Nigeria, we shall achieve the same objectives and attract the best faculty available on earth. Rather than send our students to the “top 25 universities of the world” we should strive to get some of our universities up such ranking. What did those top-ranked universities do right? What is the accreditation process in those universities like? How much is the annual funding per student in those universities? What is faculty remuneration like in those universities? These and similar questions need to be answered by the federal and state governments that spend outlandish amounts on foreign scholarships.

I recommend a transparent scholarship scheme that is more responsive and adaptive to current realities. For instance, the scholarships should be categorised into:
C1: Merit-based offer, which depends on academic performance in the priority programmes of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and shall be sustained by academic excellence. Minimum standards shall be determined by FME and reviewed periodically. Education subsidies (scholarships) shall be remitted directly to the programme-host departments by FME upon verification.

C2: Work-based offer, which requires minimal student work-service during vacations in specific government departments, agencies, and ministries, and community services.

Student loans should be provided through the vehicle of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), under a new Nigerian Education Act, which I propose to formalise some of the ideas being proposed in this epistle, that will be worked on in order to provide a legislative cover for all the reforms in the education sector that will be introduced. Direct payment should be made to their duly accredited universities and other higher education institutions (only for accredited programmes) upon completion of necessary paper work by the students. This shall assist indigent students to pay tuition fees that universities and other higher institutions in Nigeria may charge. Re-payment timelines and guidelines after graduation, and the application documents required (including biometric national identification card) shall be provided in the Education Act.

Note: The Federal Government should abolish foreign scholarships, which are reported to amount to about N100 billion annually. Rather, this money should be used to improve facilities in federal tertiary education institutions, improve faculty remunerations and thereby attract high-quality scholars to our tertiary education institutions, and support students studying in them.

The vision of the Buhari government to build Skills Acquisition/Technical schools in all states of the federation could be leveraged upon to institutionalize first world standards in our society. With those Technical/Professional schools in place and well-equipped with the right human resources and equipment, all technicians and artisans (electricians, mechanics, plumbers, tile-layers, painters, carpenters, welders, air conditioning technicians, etc.,) that will ply their trade in Nigeria must attend an intensive “re-tooling” course to be certified, and thereafter attend regular refresher courses. No uncertified technician and artisan shall be allowed to practise in Nigeria. Informal apprenticeship without proper certification shall no longer be allowed. The proposed Business Clusters across the country could be integrated into this concept.

R1: All public and private construction or building projects involving technicians and artisans in Nigeria shall require keeping of a project roster which must contain the names and certification numbers of those professionals that worked on them.
R2: A well-prepared Nigerian technical and art skills base shall lead to more shared prosperity as contractors and construction companies in Nigeria and beyond shall make the skills pool a recruiting ground. This would attract more foreign direct investment and reduce capital flight which takes the form of remunerations to expatriate staff.
R3: Certification of all technicians in Nigeria shall facilitate maintenance of data for easy and verifiable tax collection, which shall boost federal, state and local revenues.

Management of Unity Schools
Indeed, the FME should not be involved in managing secondary education. The constitutional role of the FME does not include managing secondary schools. That should be the call of state governments, while the FME concentrates on formulating a National Policy on Education; collecting and collating data for purposes of education planning and financing; maintaining a uniform standard of education throughout the country; controlling the quality of education in the country through the supervisory role of the Inspectorate Services Department of the Ministry; harmonizing education policies and procedures of all the states of the federation through the instrumentality of the National Council on Education; effecting co-operation in educational matters on an international scale; and developing curricula and syllabuses at the national level in conjunction with other bodies (Fafunwa, 2002).

When it comes to pre-primary, primary and secondary education in Nigeria, the FME must concentrate only on playing a supporting role to states and local governments.

The key word in managing education at any level is planning. The FME must support the relevant state ministries with human and material resources to carry out: Teacher quality and quantity audit (through state ministries of education); (subject) curriculum audit (through state ministries of education); school infrastructure audit (through state ministries of works with the engagement of quantity surveyors, architects, and building and environmental experts); learning and teaching resources (books, teaching aids and technologies, laboratory equipment, etc.,) audit (through state ministries of education and relevant technical and science education service providers); and finances (avenues for generating funds and attracting external support) audit (through state and federal inland revenue services, state ministries of finance and volunteer financial experts).

Furthermore, the Federal Government should work to remove bureaucratic bottlenecks that frustrate receiving ready education assistance from abroad, and port-clearing hurdles, which hinder timely clearance of education materials at Nigeria’s ports.

The incoming government’s plan to engage Nigerian education experts in the Diaspora to assist in primary and secondary schools in a one month-a-year education assistance programme is commendable, and should be adapted to the audit exercises I have proposed.

The Federal Government should offer support grants to states that meet certain benchmarks such as investment in primary and secondary education as a percentage of annual budget, with special emphasis on special needs and technical/science education; student performance on standardised national examinations; improvement in teachers’ welfare (including regular payment of teachers’ salaries) and work environment; proper student learning environment, etc. Adequate performance monitoring mechanisms must be devised by the FME to determine the type and amount of intervention from the Federal Government that a state deserves.