Lesson notes from Buhari’s retreat on education
I was fortunate to be at the Federal Executive Council’s Retreat on Education last Monday in Abuja when President Muhammadu Buhari’s unwritten concluding remarks, which artfully endorsed Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s noisy policy on mediocre teachers in Kaduna state almost took the immediate steam out of the significance of the well-organised one-day Retreat. I was told that Inside Stuff’s considerable attention to expediency of investing in education quality was the reason for the special invitation to be part of the Retreat that has been widely covered.
It was not like a typical Retreat we have always witnessed in Abuja as even the focal point, the Federal Ministry of Education and even the Minister subsumed themselves in the presentation of data processes. The resource persons, notably professors Peter Okebukola, former LASU Vice Chancellor and former Executive Secretary NUC and Emeritus Professor Michael Omolewa, former Nigeria’s envoy at the UNESCO who are quite significant in educational management, were the visible ones throughout the Retreat. Remarkably, the resilient spirit of “implementation, implementation and implementation” as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a law professor later reiterated was the silent bogeyman there. As one young permanent secretary told me quietly as we were returning from the toilet, “the trouble with this kind of good document is not just implementation. It is the political will, yes political will of the president to rally his men out of the box called Aso Villa, to drive implementation…”
Incidentally, in one of his presentations on the strategic plan, Professor Okebukola called for, “generous political will” to implement the ministerial strategic plan details time.
Buhari’s Timely Endorsement of el-Rufai’s War On Mediocrity.
Though president Buhari’s keynote was detailed enough, it seemed to me that the taciturn General artfully used his speech as an opportunity to kill two birds with a stone: One, he made his point remarkable to the extent that he identified what to do to invest in education. President Buhari signed a covenant with the people when he noted:
“…The significance of this summit is obvious. We cannot progress beyond the level and standard of our education. Today, it is those who acquire the most qualitative education, equipped with requisite skills and training, and empowered with practical knowhow that are leading the rest.
“We cannot afford to continue lagging behind. Education is our launchpad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future. This administration is committed to revitalizing our education system and making it more responsive and globally competitive.
But more important to him was an opportunity to clarify his relationship with the Hurricane el-Rufai, who has been markedly demonised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) for flushing out mediocrities in the rank of teachers in Kaduna state. The former minister of FCT, had earlier been portrayed as disloyal to the president by some forces within the presidency. This manifested when el-Rufai’s confidential memo to the president was leaked the other day – just to smear him as ambitious and unreliable. It should be noted that the president executed a coup against el-Rufai’s adversaries in Abuja when he (PMB) did not include the unexpected endorsement of his (el-Rufai’s) crusade in his keynote (where it belongs). When the president rounded off his keynote, he unusually waited to speak to a key aspect of the content when he noted that he and a friend actually noticed the trouble with teaching quality that el-Rufai ‘is trying to solve “ten years ago”.
Thank God, no one could edit the president’s unwritten keynote that became the front pager in almost all the relevant newspapers on Tuesday. The president has spoken: that he does not have any issues with el-Rufai’s politics and the way the restless governor has been purging his own system. Can we recall that the Kaduna state governor actually began the TSA before the federal government? The Kaduna state governor too disbanded the Kaduna Government House clinic and posted all the doctors and medical staff to the general hospitals as soon as he was sworn in. He said all government officials including him should be treated in general hospitals.
It is hoped that the ministerial strategic planners and all governors read the president’s disposition well too: that they too need to rid teaching service in their states of mediocrity if they would like to improve on the quality of education that can deliver development to the people.
‘Change Begins with Education’
That is the title of the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu’s address at the Retreat. He too set the tone for endorsement of el-Rufai’s restructuring model in Kaduna when he noted before the president’s keynote through a story he told about the Chinese. He recalled that the Chinese build a Great Wall to keep the invaders at bay because they thought it would be impossible for anyone to scale it given its insurmountable height. According to the tale, unfortunately within the first century of the construction of the wall, the Chinese were invaded three times. Reason: every time the invaders came, they did not need to climb over the wall because each time they came, they were able to bribe the guards on duty at the gate and the gate was opened for them. The significant lesson, which only good education delivers being that the Chinese reportedly took the pains to build the wall but they forgot to build the character of the guards who were supposed to secure the walls.
Adamu who noted too that, “character is everything”, also recalled another anecdote from an Orientalist who once said: “if you want to destroy the civilization of a nation, there are three ways of doing so: (a) destroy the family structure (b) destroy education and (c) lower role models. According to the ancient strategy for destruction, to destroy the family, all you need to do is undermine the role of the mother.
As the story goes, to destroy education, you should give no importance to the teacher so that the students can despise him…Then to demean the role models, you should undermine the scholars, cast doubt on them until no one listens to them or follows their teachings.
And the consequences are summarised thus: when a conscious mother disappears, and when a dedicated teacher cannot be found, and when role models are ignored, who is there to teach the young ones values? That was how the role of teachers was re-established before the president’s strategic rejection of mediocrity in teaching.
Osinbajo, Fayemi and Shittu on Modern Education Management:
On his part, the Vice President, Professor Yermi Osinbajo who was present at the Retreat throughout the sessions was upbeat that the stakeholders and technocrats there were not cynical but uncharacteristically optimistic about revival of education in the country.
The law professor would, however, like the focal point of the ministerial strategic plan (MSP), to ensure that implementation does not suffer reverses even as he would also like the final document at the Retreat to include some clarity on the strategic objectives of Nigeria’s education- short-term and long-term. He said, “our education terms at this juncture, should address our challenges. Our education plans should be able to solve problems of the soon-to-be fourth largest population on earth, Nigeria. Our strategic objectives should be able to identify what kinds of problems we should address in the next few decades…”
The former University of Lagos law teacher said the implementation document should also reflect elements that developed economies now leverage on, notably the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) “even as we note that the humanities are as important”.
The former Attorney General of Lagos state also noted that in addressing today’s education challenges, the strategy document should not ignore how technology can assist in producing employable graduates too “as classrooms alone cannot help anymore”. He advised the technocrats and regulators to de-emphasise hectares of plots of land in approving universities as disruptive technologies can now take care of hectares of land in the virtual learning environment.
He added that in planning the e-learning platforms now, “you should invite the technology giants such as Google to the room… we must not be stuck in the way we think about education at this time. A lot of things go on in the virtual space…”
But in the main, the vice president would like the men at the centre of implementation to ensure that we, “properly identify what we want to teach, what sort of learning will be important now and how to teach them”.
Professor Osinbajo would also like the focal point of the strategic plan to address specifically girl-child education and other out-of-school children all over the place. Besides, he would not like the final document for implementation and the communique to exclude the all-important issue of “education for citizenship” as most children today lack knowledge of history, civic education and how to be good citizens…”.
Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Mines and Steel Development who made a presentation noted that modern curriculum should produce graduates that have employable skills for 21st century challenges. He noted that first generation universities such as the University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and University of Nigeria, Nsukka should be designated immediately as “centre of excellence and research” only. Mr. Udo Udoma, Minister of Budget and Planning who also presented a paper noted that the 2018 budget proposals contain up to half a trillion of Naira on education through various streams of education. He agreed with Dr. Fayemi that, “there should not be spending, and throwing of money at education but proper investment”.
The Communications and Sports Ministers also spoke on the strategy to revive education. To the Communications Minister, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, the National Assembly and the state governors should be included in consensus building to develop education comprehensively in the country. And the Sports Minister, Mr.Solomon Dalong would like revival of sports integration in to the learning modules so that there would be an all-round development of the learners.
Specifically, the Communications Minister would like the implementing agencies of the strategic plans to include the role of the National Assembly in subsequent Retreat since they will be the ones to approve funds for the revival efforts. In the same vein, Mr. Shittu would like the governors to be actively involved since they (governors have more schools to manage than the federal government. In the main, they have spoken in Abuja. We will continue to remind them to walk their talks on education. And their strategic plan to recruit and reward good and qualified teachers.
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