60 years of promises, policy inconsistency in Nigeria’s educational system

Despite great educational potentials in the last 60 years, the journey of educational policies and implementation has been tumultuous and warped, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL.

From being promising, the nation’s educational system has become an eyesore, warped, and tumultuous. Since 1960, the country has explored various approaches with almost every step seeming to be a misstep.

Prior to 1960, its educational system was fashioned after the British’s: six years of primary education, five years of secondary education, and two years of higher-level or A-Levels. There were resounding successes in terms of inputs and outputs. A couple of years after independence, the system changed.
 
In 1983, the education system was updated to the 6-3-3-4 system (six years in primary school, three years in junior secondary school, three years in senior secondary school, and four [not in all cases] years in higher institutions), similar to the American system. A decade after that, precisely in 1993, the Federal Government developed and adopted the first National Policy on Education. That signaled the genesis of changes and modifications at various levels in the system.
 
In the north of the country, the Qur’anic school system, with its attendant problems of lack of accountability, continued to thrive and run parallel with the national educational system. Even though the Universal Primary Education (UPE) made primary education free and universal, little or no attempt was made to make it compulsory for all children. 
 
The national education policy was once again revised in 1998 and 2004 to “make it relevant to the development needs of the country,” especially the north.

 
Experts have noted that since education is an agent of cultural transmission as well as change, Nigeria’s revisions of its educational policy should reflect the “dynamic process of nation-building that is continually being modified by new conditions.”
 
The 1998 educational policy introduced the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, prescribing nine years continued education (six years in primary school and three-year junior secondary school) designed to eradicate illiteracy and provide equal learning opportunities. There was no enforcement of the policy.
   
Not done with inventing and re-inventing policies in the education sector, the current administration came up with “Education for change: A ministerial strategic plan (2015-2019).”
 
The document is concerned about the issue of out-of-school children, basic education, teacher education, adult literacy, curriculum and policy matters on basic and secondary education, technical and vocational education, education data planning, library services, information and communication technology, and tertiary education.
 
In the document, the Federal Government proposed strategies for engaging with state governments in addressing the problems of out-of-school children. It also planned to raise the national Net Enrolment Rate (NET) by enrolling 2,875,000 pupils annually for the next four years, as well as renovate schools destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents and construct additional 71, 874 classrooms yearly. 
   
But education managers and stakeholders, in their separate assessments of the sector in the last 60 years, said the sector has worsened and would require an overhaul to meet with the 21st-century challenges.
 
Director, Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS), Prof. Anthony Kila; former Vice Chanellor, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye (OOU), Prof Olusoga Sofola; seasoned scholar, Prof Sheriffdeen Tella and Pro-Chancellor, Chrisland University, Prof Ayodeji Olukoju, said education, in the last 60 years, is a reflection of the state of the country, which started well but now doing very badly.

PROF. Kila said the sector could be measured by the sorry state of school infrastructure, low index of happiness of teachers, bad quality of school leavers, and a high percentage of parents sending their children to private and foreign schools.

 
“Sixty years ago, many were coming to study in Nigeria, but today, most are studying in the country simply because they cannot afford to go elsewhere.”
 
He identified major challenges like the inability of leaders to see the link between education, public order and process, and poor budgetary allocations to the sector by successive governments.
   
On the different educational policies by successive administrations, Kila said it is an indication that “true” stakeholders are not involved in policymaking.
 
To improve the nation’s educational system, the CIAPS director said both the government and its people must first admit that there are problems in the sector, then declare a state of emergency to address them.
 
“There’s need to increase budgetary allocations at all levels, turn all colleges of education to postgraduate schools so that only postgraduates can teach. We need to double the salaries of teachers and add other extras to attract and retain the best and brightest into teaching,” Prof Kila added.

FORMER Vice-Chancellor of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Prof. Soga Sofola, said in the 60s, the nation’s educational system was functional and qualitative in all the three regions. There were good teachers and they were kept on their toes by education inspectors who checked teacher’s notes of lesson for adequacy of instructions, while the tertiary education system was comparable to what occurred in the advanced societies.
 
Secondary schools were also qualitative with a five-year school certificate and two-year higher school (A levels), then three years of university, five for Medicine. Later about the late 60s, preliminary university (now 100 level), was created and A-levels gradually phased out of public secondary schools.
 
This development, he said, contributed to the decline in the quality of university admission as a consequence of increasing access for admission, and also led to the proliferation of universities.

 
According to him, these incidents impacted the quality of graduates being produced, which caused the employers to document the issue of the unsuitability of graduates for employment.
 
He lamented that the National Universities Commission’s (NUC’s) intervention through the introduction of “Entrepreneurship Studies” as a compulsory component of General Studies could not achieve the desired result.
 
Prof. Sofola also identified the inability of universities’ curriculum to catch up with modern trends as one of the challenges confronting the sector.
 
To address the problems in the sector, Prof. Sofola called for the revamping of the university system to increase the quality; increased funding; sponsoring Ph.D. students with bursaries and allowances; increased funding by TETFund for research, preferably in dollars, as well as automatic employment for first-class graduates.
 
“In so doing, the system must have a reward system, whereby not all professors would earn the same salary. Ability to attract research grants should include more substantial personnel cost to the researcher so he is comfortable, better focused, and attract bright students/staff to his research group.”
 
In addition, he said the universities should be able to assess the lecturers on quality of teaching through students’ questionnaires and use it for promotion, while the work-place environment should be improved upon.
ON his part, Prof. Sheriffdeen Tella said the education models have always produced top-class citizens if properly funded and implemented.
 
Tella lamented that underfunding rendered the educational policies, particularly the 6-3-3-4 system, non-functional, especially the science and technology section.
 
“Underfunding, particularly by state governments which, in most cases, failed to provide counterpart funds, remain the greatest problem, as it invariably affects learning environment, quality of teaching and outputs (low quality graduates at all levels), and encourage dropouts, among others.
 
He added that a steady decline in fiscal allocations to education at different levels, coupled with increased cases of corruption, play major roles in the underdevelopment of the sector.

PROF Olukoju noted that inspite of the disruption occasioned by the civil war and prolonged military rule, the education system up to the 80s was characterised by maintenance of relatively high standards, notably, high quality of staff and students at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

“Low school enrolment, especially in the Northern Nigerian states necessitated affirmative action through quota system in admission into federal colleges and tertiary institutions, established by the government to promote national unity.

“An immediate consequence of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was the precipitous collapse of the value of the naira, which was accompanied by underfunding of education at all levels. Morale of teachers fell and over time, less emphasis was placed on quality even as massification took place without commensurate funding, provision of teachers, and adequate infrastructure.

He added: “There was steady dilapidation of school buildings, obsolescence of laboratory facilities and library holdings, neglect of teacher training, though National Certificate of Education (NCE) was made the minimum qualification for teachers. This encouraged a fixation on mere possession of certificates without content and quality.”

Prof Olukoju listed the challenges in the educational system as inadequate funding; financial misappropriation and graft; ICT gaps; high teacher/student ratio; poor quality control; teachers’ low morale and motivation; as well as low standards of public schools.

To address the problems, the distinguished professor canvassed an increase in budgetary allocation, monitoring disbursement and execution of projects, investment in e-library; internet bandwidth, online teaching facilities, training of more teachers, and subjecting them to retraining in basic skills and handling of online /distance learning.

On the various educational policies, particularly the 6-3-3-4 and 9-3-4 systems, the former vice-chancellor said there is a disconnect between conception and practical realities of its implementation, due to corruption, poor delivery, and insincerity.

To reposition the sector for 21st-century realities, Olukoju said there should be regular reviews of curricula and performance, and a national platform for comparing experiences within and across regions and states.

One thing experts agreed on is that Nigeria’s 60 years of tinkering with its educational system has not worked largely due to half-hearted implementation of the policies.

 

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