Doubt, nod for sector reform’s roadmap
The recent launch of the draft “Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan (2016-2019), by the Federal Government, signalled the commencement of yet another journey to bring the sector out of the woods. Stakeholders are of the view that political will, faithful implementation, human capital development and constant infrastructural upgrade, remain the bulwark of a workable roadmap, and not how robust the document is. In this direction, they believe that both must go pari passu if the roadmap must help the country’s case. Assistant Features Editor, ENO-ABASI SUNDAY (Lagos) and KANAYO UMEH, (Abuja) write.
As a country, Finland has an unending story when it comes to the successes recorded by its education system, which charges no fees, but gives high quality service and fully subsidised meals to full-time students.
The world over, the country is reputed as one of the top three countries that place the greatest premium on teaching, as she selects only the finest of graduates for teaching jobs
According to the Finnish National Board of Education, the main objective of Finnish education policy is to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education. The structure of the education system reflects these principles. In addition to this, the system is highly permeable as there are no dead-ends preventing progression to higher levels of education.
Unlike Nigeria, Finnish education focuses on learning, rather than testing. Consequently, there are no national tests for pupils in basic education in that country. Instead, teachers are responsible for assessment in their respective subjects on the basis of the objectives included in the curriculum.
The only national examination, the board maintains, is the matriculation examination, held at the end of general upper secondary education. Essentially, admission to higher education is based on the results in the matriculation examination and entrance tests.
Since early 1990s, governance in Finnish schools have been based on the principle of decentralisation as education providers are responsible for practical teaching arrangements, as well as the effectiveness and quality of the education provided.
Polytechnics and universities in the Scandinavian country enjoy extensive autonomy. The operations of both polytechnics and universities are built on the freedom of education and research. They organise their own administration, decide on student admission and design the contents of degree programmes.
The transformation recorded in the Finns’ education system did not suddenly happen. It began about 40 years ago as a key element of the country’s economic recovery plan. Interestingly, educators themselves had little idea their efforts were that successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardised test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed their pupils to be the best young readers in the world.
With a population of 5.4 million people, about 65,000 educators work in 3, 500 schools many of which are small enough for teachers to know every student in the 100 per cent state-funded school system.
Some of the features that make Finland a stand-out country in education is the fact that teachers only spend four hours a day in the classroom, and take two hours a week for professional development and are effectively given the same status as doctors and lawyers; all teachers must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidised; teachers are selected from the top 10 per cent of graduates.
Also 43 per cent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools; the difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world; 66 per cent of students go to college, and 93 per cent of Finns graduate from high school.
All these, Finland has achieved through government’s sincerity and faithful implementation of the strategic roadmap as well as endless development of her human capital and constant infrastructural upgrade she embarks upon.
When the scenario above is placed side-by-side with the situation in the Nigeria, it appears the only way to describe the country’s education system is comatose, because the conditions this way are radically different.
They are so bad that about two years ago, former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, did a check on the health status of Nigerian education, the results by the two global eminent persons were that it was on life support.
As UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Brown had declared that, “Illiteracy is standing between Nigeria and its deserved success as an economic powerhouse of the world.”
In a statement his office issued, the former premier said, “10 million children are yet to go to school because there is teacher shortage of nearly 1.3 million, and we are missing 1.2 million classrooms. Child labour, child marriage and child trafficking prevent thousands getting to school. And for those that do find ways to get their children into school, there is doubt as to the effectiveness of the courses.”
Bokova on her part, regretted that Nigeria is poorly ranked on a number of Education for All (EFA) indicators, noting that the country needed to muster efforts in dealing with out-of-school children, which reports still put at 10.5 million, improving the quality of education through training and retraining of teachers as well as improving the curricula.”
Since the Brown and Bokova verdicts, nothing has changed for the better, but everything has changed for the worse, amidst governments’ claims of sinking billions of naira into the sector.
The blame bandying game cascades further down as can be gleaned from the following scenario.
According to eminent scholar and former acting vice chancellor of University of Lagos (UNILAG) Prof. Peter Okebukola, “On the one hand, the operators of the school system blame those outside it. On the other hand, others outside school lay full blame on students, their teachers and the managers of schools. Students are blamed for poor reading culture and fixation to social media. Teachers are blamed for poor knowledge of the subject matter and lack of commitment to work. The managers- headmasters, principals, vice chancellors, provosts and rectors are accused by the public of not running an efficient system. In turn, the insiders to the school system blame the society for not funding the schools well, and for polluting the schools with despicable values and morals including corruption and cultism.
The university don continues: “Between 1960 and 1979, the sector witnessed fairly impressive growth. The huge revenue from oil in the 1970s went in part, to the service of the sector. School plants and equipment were improved and maintained. Improved welfare scheme for public servants including teachers in the early 1970s hiked morale and productivity. Towards the end of the decade, the Nigerian education system sustained the production of graduates that were highly rated within and outside Africa. Equally well rated were primary and secondary school leavers. However, by the mid 1980s, a combination of economic depression, military misrule and corruption choked the system and sent it on a downward slide. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) induced decay in school infrastructure at all levels and triggered massive brain drain. It was at a low point in this regression state that the democratically-elected civil administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo assumed the reins of governance in May 1999.”
He continued, “One of the cardinal goals of the administration was to effect a quick turnaround of the system. Since 1999, the system has started witnessing a turnaround. Sadly, the pace of recovery is too slow to wipe out the loss in quality. As if to add salt to injury, new debilitating factors are rearing their heads to reverse gains in some areas. Corruption and insurgency top the list.
“From less than 3, 000 primary schools in 1960 enrolling about 1.3 million pupils, there are now over 94,000 public and private primary schools with enrollment in excess of 32 million. Secondary school number and enrolment went from 1, 227 and 24,640 respectively in 1960 to over 15, 000 public and private secondary schools in 2014 with 12.4 million students. At the tertiary level, there has been similar growth. From one University College in 1960, there are now about 150 universities, with aggregate student population of over 1.2 million (full-time and part-time). Since population growth rate outpaced the education sectoral growth rate, such quantitative expansions failed to significantly reduce literacy rates. The education sector report card saw a leap in many of the quantitative indicators between 1960 and 2014.”
Emerging scenarios have continued to strengthen the fact that in a world where countries are gravitating towards knowledge economy, no nation has the capacity to rise above the level of its education. This therefore calls for proper funding of education from federal, state and local governments if the sector must produce the much-desired results, which will stimulate national development.
Sadly, the paltry eight per cent appropriated by the Muhammadu Buhari-led government in the 2016 fiscal budget, to the ailing sector, which is in clear breach of the UNESCO-recommended 26 per cent, does not reflect the administrations determination to launch the country into the world of science and technology, with focus on education as an instrument.
In presenting the draft roadmap, “Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan (2016-2019),” Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, subscribed to this when he said, “No nation can achieve economic prosperity without a sound and functional education system … Education is at the heart of all national development efforts; and, in recognising that, the Muhammadu Buhari administration believes that Nigeria’s education system must prepare its children for responsibilities of citizenship and national development.”
Adamu, who stressed that, “The Ministry of Education under my stewardship will confront these problems with all the seriousness, commitment and strong political will to ensure that we address them once and for all,” added that, “Allowing these problems to persist is akin to surrendering the fate of our country to ignorance; we cannot afford to do that.”
On the subsisting conditions, Adamu lamented that on child education, about 25.3 million students at all levels of education are out of school in the country; with 11.4 million pupils affected, Nigeria has the highest out-of-school children in the world; more than 50 per cent of in-school children are not learning because they cannot read or write; about 63 per cent of children who live in rural areas cannot read at all; around 84 per cent of children in the lowest economic quartile cannot read at all, and there is near absence of reliable data to support education administration and planning as well as inadequate teacher training and support.
Bemoaning the pathetic state of the teaching profession, he stressed the imperatives of professionalising teaching saying, “Teacher education itself is dying simply because non-professionals have now become teachers… Therefore, the professionalisation and registration of teachers will help make sure that the profession is re-organised with quacks kicked out.”
In revealing the architecture of the roadmap, Adamu said it was made up of several pillars, which took into consideration, major goals that must be achieved.
He listed the goals to be achieved to include quality and access in higher education and e-learning; curriculum and benchmark minimum academic standard; addressing the out-of-school children phenomenon; strengthening basic and secondary school education; teacher education, capacity building and professional development; adult literacy and special needs education; education data and planning; technical and vocational education and training as well as Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in education and library services in education.
According to him: “I hope that we have enough will to implement it to the letter.”
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is doubtful of the efficacy of the strategic roadmap to effectively address the gamut of problems besetting education on the country.
President of the Union, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi said, “ASUU doubts the efficacy of the draft strategic roadmap as presented by the Federal Government because most of the present government’s philosophies are driven by neo-liberal philosophy, which is even against the spirit of the Nigerian constitution.”
Quoting from a submission of former Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, he said, ‘Only when we are clear about the kind of society we are trying to build can we design our educational service to serve our goals.’ On this score, he stressed that the earlier the country realises the importance or imperatives of sufficiently funding quality education, and goes ahead to do that, “We would certainly continue to leave at the mercy of our rulers.”
“As a union, we do not believe that neo-liberal policies are what Nigeria should be pursuing to achieve at this point in time where over 70 per cent of Nigerians cannot afford three square meals daily; mass of people yearning for upliftment in their circumstances of life and the bulk of the people are earning less than one dollar daily,” Ogunyemi said.
Insisting that neo-liberal policies would “undermine our national policies and objectives, run contrary to the country’s constitutions and incapable of impacting the larger populace positively,” he called on the Federal Government to address issues of energy, manpower development, improve conditions of living and address sundry fundamental worries he we must make a headway.
“Until fundamental national problems are addressed, no education blueprint would fly, no matter how lofty the contents are because it has a shaky foundation as far as these conditions persist. We should never loose sight of the fact that education is still the strongest weapon to liberate a people from poverty, disease, ignorance and under-development.”
Even though Country Director, Education Data, Research and Evaluation in Nigeria (EDOREN), Prof. Oladele Akogun, expressed optimism that the plan would go a long way in providing a lasting solution to the problems militating against the country’s education sector,” he hopes “that we have enough will to implement it to the letter.”
He maintained that, “Most often, education takes a long time before it can yield results, so people tend to shy away from investing in some things that that they can’t find the results immediately. I completely agree with that plan.
“The only vaccine we have against most of the social vices in the country is education, and if we use it now to vaccinate the people, we are sure of a future that all of us will be proud of,” he added.
On his part, the Executive Director, Society for Promotion of Education, and Development, Mr. Tochukwu Okafor, not much would be achieved if we do not ensure proper monitoring, which would ultimately ensure that the strategic plan is properly implemented.
“The plan is talking about ensuring that about five million children are enrolled in the school every year, how are we going to monitor it to ensure that this actually happens?
“The plan is also talking about ensuring that we have facilities that would carter for these children. How are we sure that the funds being provided are being judiciously utilised? So, there must be a synergy between the civil societies and government to ensure that some of these laudable initiatives are implemented,” he stated.
He equally noted the compelling need for the country to have a dependable database from which information derived from there would guide and shape our decision-making.
For President, National Association of Private Schools Proprietors (NAPS), Mrs. Samira Jibir, the draft document is not radically different from what the country has had in the past, adding that what would make the difference is its religious implementation.
Even though she admitted that some of the objectives in the strategic plan would address major problems in the sector forcefully implemented, he noted, “But I don’t think it is anything different from what we have been having before.”
She, however, commended the Federal Government for taking the issue of teacher training and development very serious in the plan.
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