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Way Out of the Morass

Education has suffered a lot of decline in Nigeria but the situation is not irredeemable

Prospero, the major character in    Shakespeare’s Tempest, made an apt statement that fittingly describes the current ineffective state of Nigerian educational sector. Alone on an island where he was banished with his daughter, Prospero tried to assuage his daughter’s unpleasant feeling about their loneliness by impressing on her how much he had endeavoured to bequeath her with a sound education.  He told her: “And here have I, thy school master, made thee more profit than other princes can that have more time for vainer hours, and tutors not so careful.” 

This scenario aptly captures the situation in Nigeria’s education sector. True, majority of Nigerian students in the primary, secondary and tertiary schools now have more time for “vainer hours” as they pass through the schools without the institutions going through them  while their teachers “are not so careful” to teach and mentor them.  Sam Egwu, former minister of Education, in a moment of despair over the fallen standard of education in the country, was constrained to declare publicly that Nigerian university graduates were unemployable. 

Years ago, Niyi Osundare, professor of English, who recently retired from the University of Ibadan, described the  falling standard in the education sector as the climax of a long-unfolding drama in our educational theatre.  Every honest teacher, said Osundare, knew that whatever was left of our educational standard has simply collapsed over the decades.  “When last did you meet a primary school leaver who can spell his/her name correctly, or a high school graduate who knows what part of the body the heart is located? Haven’t you yet run into an honours  graduate of English who doesn’t know what metaphor is, or for whom a preposition is the name of a town not very far from Yokohama?” he asked rhetorically.

But how did the country’s educational system come to this sorry state? The country started getting it wrong during the military regime from the 1970s, after the civil war. Then, Yakubu Gowon, general and former military head of state, took away the schools from the missionaries and later abandoned them midway. From that time to today, the country’s schools began to experience a decline from which they have not recovered since then.

Today, the major problems hindering the progress of the education sector have been identified as lack of a focused and practical action plan, neglect of teachers’ training and welfare, inadequate funding and lack of political will to take the required steps to right the wrongs in the sector. The challenges of adequate funding also include leadership issues, accountability, inadequate budgetary allocation, inadequate funding of schools, poor management and utilisation of funds.  All these factors account for the extent of decay that has eaten deep into the country’s education system. The result is that today, except for an occasional show of brilliance, Nigerian tertiary institutions are producing graduates that can barely read and write well even though they  have the certificate to show that they have gone through the four walls of higher institutions of learning.

Several other factors, according to Iheanyichukwu Achumba, professor of marketing at the Redeemer’s University, Ogun State, and former head of department of Business Administration, University of Lagos, are responsible for the current parlous state of the education sector. They include frequent regime change via military coups, inappropriate curriculum and government interference.  Other factors are inadequate staffing, indiscipline, defective educational policies and corruption within and outside the educational system. “Internally, our educational systems have the serious problem of corruption to cope with. It involves both students, lecturers, non-academic staff, parents and politicians. It takes different forms of compulsory fees, sale of handouts, poor research project conception and execution, giving and receiving bribes for grades and examination malpractices,” Achumba said. 

This is why President Goodluck Jonathan should make revamping the education sector a priority. Revamping is not necessarily engaging in more policy summersault, which has been the bane of the sector but strengthening the structure for supervision and implementation of policies to achieve the desired result. The first place to start is to tackle the primary sector of the Nigerian education system which has shown a clear example of how defective educational policies can create unintended consequences that are capable of crippling the system.

This sector has been bed-wetting since the inception of the Universal Primary Education, UPE, in 1976, by the federal military government. The thrust of the scheme was to reduce illiteracy to the barest minimum but it soon became a farce. Although 36,000 classrooms and 59,500 teachers were estimated for a successful launch of the UPE programme, the massive turn out of 3,000,000 primary school pupils proved the estimate inadequate. There were not enough classrooms and even the crash teacher training schemes could not produce enough teachers to match the intake. It was confusion galore and the project failed.

Not even the rehash of the UPE programme, which was renamed the Universal Basic Education, UBE, in 2001, by former Prisident Olusegun Obasanjo, the man who launched the UPE programme in 1976, as the country’s military head of state, could remedy the situation. Out of 42.1million Nigerian children eligible for primary education, only 22.3million were registered in primary school. That is to say 19.8 million, that is 47 percent of such children, were not in school by December 2005. The same trend prevails in the secondary schools. Out of 33.9 million Nigerians eligible for secondary education, only 6.4 million were seen to be in secondary school let alone the high drop-out rate. If these groups of children do not attend secondary education, where lies the nation’s future.

 Likewise, the 6-3-3-4 system of education, which was intended to encourage the study of technical and vocational education, could not fare better. Achumba pointed out that “in spite of the large gamut of changes it brought in the school curricula, our educational system looks more confused and unable to solve Nigerian educational crises.”

The university sector is also a victim of malaise. Abubakar Momoh, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, in admitting this fact, said that the problem in the education sector worsened when government decided to hands off funding of universities. According to him, that decision made many universities to begin to think of ways to generate funds, instead of focusing on promoting research and scholarship. This has led to the creation of all kinds of programmes, for the purpose of making money.  As a result, “full- time programmes have become part-time and part-time programmes have become the area of attention for these teachers. So, people leave basic teaching of undergraduates which involves rigorous teaching to groom these students to appreciate what scholarship is all about.”

As far as Momoh is concerned, the “entire system is wrong and that’s why I don’t teach on any of these commercial programmes because I don’t believe in it. It’s all crap. That’s why we continue to produce these certificated illiterates people talk about.” He said some university administrators tend to justify the anomaly by pointing at government’s attitude to university education as reason but that, he said, is no justification to continue to produce half baked students for Nigeria.”

As the decline in the education sector continues unabated, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is how to turn the tide and bring the sector to its former glorious state? Cordelia Ogbumuo, an educationist and PhD holder in Applied Psychology, told Newswatch that the place to begin to fix the Nigerian Educational system is the primary school.  It is the foundation that carries our educational super structure. Restoring the primary school system would also entail resurrecting the Teachers Training Colleges, TTC, that was closed due to an ill advised educational policy. “TTC is the foundation of sound education system and the Nigeria Teachers Institute is no adequate substitute for it. If this foundation is destroyed, then the Nigerian education system will be destroyed,” Ogbumuo said.

Achumba believes that Nigeria chose to toy with its educational system with the scrapping of teacher’s training colleges. “It is reported that about 23 percent of the over 400,000 teachers employed in the nations primary school did not possess the teacher’s Grade Two Certificate even when the NCE is the minimum educational requirement one should have. With such shortage and half baked teachers employed to teach in the nation’s schools, how could the primary school programmes be successful. For the standard of education to improve, the society needs to educate the educators, motivate them to discharge their duties.”

The second step toward the restoration of the country’s education sector is to improve teachers’ remuneration and condition of service. This would enable the sector to attract the right caliber of manpower.  It would also end the era when the country’s best and the brightest shun teaching for more lucrative employments. Currently, first class university graduate rarely wish to be teachers.

The third step would be the revival of the education inspectors who would go round the schools to ensure that standards are maintained. This culture is no more or has become ineffective due to bribery and corruption.  The return of the education inspectors would restore the observance of such teaching cultures like proper preparation of note of lessons, scheme of work, record of work and maintenance of register. “The inspectors would ensure that teachers apply such teaching techniques like set induction that enables teachers to capture and retain students’ attention while teaching,” Ogbumuo said.   

Achumba advised the government to have clear ideas of what to do, what to teach and how to teach. Teachers should also be assisted with the right infrastructure to ensure high quality education within the set frame work. Also, the concept of private public sector partnership in the school system must be encouraged because the government may not have all the resources at its disposal.  Under this arrangement, the public sector would provide the enabling environment and act as the regulatory agency that would harness the private sector business and efficiency instinct. Moreover, the private schools system could reduce the population pressure in public schools and promote the high standards that some of the public schools cannot meet.  “Our tradesman in the society are either uneducated or at best possess a primary school education. In the new dispensation, they require formal education not only to succeed in their work place but also in the society,” Achumba said.


Reported by Anthony Akaeze and Victor Ugborgu



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