An extra year for varsity students?

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The Federal Government is considering adding an extra year to all academic programmes in the nation’s universities. Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Anwukah disclosed this to members of Governing Councils of federal universities at a retreat in Abuja the other day.

In government’s misguided view, an additional year would make the Nigerian graduate better prepared and more competitive in the job market.

Where did this preposterous idea emanate from? How can anyone sustain the argument that the quality of an academic programme is dependent on its duration?

How does this idea compare with best practices around the world? Is this another way to exclude the millions of qualified youth from gaining access to university education?

The education sector is in dire straits. Indeed, ‘falling or fallen standard of education’ has become national singsong in the last 30 odd years.

From primary to university level, the three tiers of government have not invested enough in building the required infrastructure for stability and growth.

Gradually Nigerians have witnessed a fatal erosion of the high and excellent standards which were set and maintained in the early years of nationhood.

Sadly, the military takeover of government and the seizure of schools from missionaries were part of the problem.

Beyond these, the governments of the day were caught flatfooted in their inability to manage the number of pupils and students in the schools. School buildings degenerated rapidly. Lack of good teachers became a problem.

Flip-flops in educational policy also contributed to the problem. Facilities for educational instruction were not sourced and given to schools.

Morale among teachers dropped significantly such that teaching became a last resort, only for graduates who could not get other jobs.

What started as a foundational problem soon spread to other levels in the educational chain. Things became so bad that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) took the gauntlet and embarked on a legion of strikes to draw attention to the scandal that had become the education sector.

The Federal Government responded in staccato manner instead of tackling the problem in a holistic manner. Salaries of academics were raised. But research and development have continued to suffer.

The universities have not responded to the development needs of the nation. Academics have a fundamental weakness that seems to affect their attitude to work. Instead of breakthroughs in research, Nigerians only read about different scandals.

When the academics do not think outside the box, they could not have encouraged out-of-the-box thinking in their students.

Nigeria has a lot of challenges that require urgent attention. For example, such tropical or largely African diseases as Malaria and Sickle Cell Anemia continue to ravage the country without any serious research results or impact from the universities.

Engineering faculties which often have Departments of Electrical Engineering ironically depend on power generating sets.

No university has been able to develop its own power plant. The Research and Development sections of major companies do not rely on the universities for collaboration efforts because of mutual distrust.

In the midst of this, however, some universities have produced excellent graduates that have gone ahead to distinguish themselves elsewhere in the world. Medical doctors, PhD holders and graduates in the Sciences practise their trade successfully in institutions abroad.

Nigerian doctors are the backbone of the health care delivery systems in the United Kingdom and United States of America.

The problem therefore is not with the duration of academic programmes. It has to do with the quality of academic content. Government should declare a state of emergency in education.

To start with, the Federal Government should hands-off secondary education and limit its role to policy formulation. Micro-managing education should not be the responsibility of the Federal Government.

Work or industrial experience should be added to all programmes within the current time frame of accredited courses. The budgetary provisions and releases to the education sector should be increased from the current paltry six per cent or seven per cent to a minimum of 13 per cent.

The curriculum across all levels should be revised to reflect current challenges. Skill acquisition is crucial to development and should be injected into the school programme. Retrain the teachers. Invest in the human capital that propels education.

Teachers should be properly remunerated and should not be the first victims of policy somersaults. Policy change should be well digested before being implemented.

A new administration does not have to change a policy that has worked well just to make a name. For example, the 6-3-3-4 system was never really conscientiously implemented before being reviewed.

Also, if we were a consistent nation in planning, History as a subject would not have been dropped from the secondary school syllabus in the first place.

Commonsense has prevailed and it has now been restored. Modern education is powered by technology, and because no computer can be operated without power, all educational institutions should be connected to a regular and steady power source. The language component of education should also be taken into cognizance especially in the case of the youth.

Finally, the Federal Government should tread the path of honour and commonsense and drop the idea of extending the duration of courses in the universities. If undergraduates need work experience, this should be incorporated into the existing programmes.

The National Universities Commission (NUC) should also be called to order because that body often meddles with the internal affairs of universities by trying to usurp the functions of university Senate.

A radical solution to the educational system must start from the primary school level and gradually move to the universities.

An ugly trend of decay which started nearly 30 years ago cannot be remedied just by extending the duration of academic programmes.

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