Educational summits… motions without movement
For several decades, the Federal Ministry of Education, policy makers, higher institutions of learning, corporate bodies, non-governmental organisations and corporate individuals have organised series of educational summits targeted at improving the sector, nonetheless the country is yet to witness transformation in that regard.
At each of these summits, huge funds are spent, key speakers within and outside the shores of the country are hired. But the corresponding results could not match the huge investment expended.
This development has indeed become worrisome as experts are beginning to wonder why several summits and workshops are not yielding expected results, as the sector is still confronted with many impediments.
Just recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, directed the Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu to convene a summit on education within the next few weeks to tackle the issues bedeviling the sector.
Citing education as the bedrock of development, the president maintained that the sector must be restored to take its lead role as the driving force of the nation’s economy, while reminding that any success recorded in education will have a ripple effect on every other sector.
While Nigerians await the regimented summit, some experts have cautioned that except holistic approach is taken to assemble the already existing and well-documented challenges of the sector; review the proffered solutions and implement the ideal recommendations; the exercise and efforts will go down the drain like the previous ones.
They identified failure of successive governments to implement recommendations as a chink in the amour of the nation’s educational system and need a big shot in the arm.
Going forward, they precribed that the curriculum currently in use must be reviewed to address the skill gap and prepare students to be globally competitive. They also listed improved funding, periodic training programmes for trainers, basic infrastructural facilities and quality assurance as other key areas that must be looked into.
Former Permanent delegate and Nigeria Ambassador to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Prof. Michael Omolewa; erstwhile Minister of Education, Prof. Chinwe Obaji; former vice chancellor, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Tolu Odugbemi; Vice Chancellor, Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Prof. Sola Fajana; Director, Centre for International
Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS), Prof. Anthony Kila and Professor of English, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Sam Onuigbo, in their respective comments, stated that government must tackle the challenges confronting the sector by implementing well-informed recommendations made by intellectuals in the past.
According to Prof. Omolewa, while the idea of a summit is commendable, as it acknowledges public outcry that all is not well with the sector and that the system has failed to prepare the students for societal needs, the question should be why were low actions taken on past summits.
“Summit is a participatory process of sharing ideas, of networking, of building partnership, of extending the arm to other people to come in and join in building a strong viral educational sector. But the questions to ask are what were the conclusions of past summits? What will be new in the new summit? Then, who will be the key actors in transforming the education sector? Who will be held accountable for performance? What will be the real or critical issues that must first of all be tackled before the general ones?
“The curriculum for example, history has already been restored or still in restoration. So the summit will check what the status is, have we got the participation of institutions such as the Historical Society of Nigeria because it is one thing to write and another to translate the writing into curriculum?
The issue of skill-gap is key; there is a disconnection between town and gown and the curriculum must be reviewed to prepare our students to be globally relevant and competitive.
Besides, he noted that allocation to the sector must be improved upon in line with UNESCO’s recommendation so as to put an end to incessant disruption of the academic calendar.
“So, the summit should take a report on who is doing what in the curriculum. Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) must come in and engage critical stakeholders on way out. The summit should have sub groups like funding, curriculum, teaching, incentives, publications, writing, examiners, quality control and so many others.
For Obaji, the problem with the sector is not about the dearth of ideas but implementation of the many ideas that have been generated by experts. She stated that politics must be separated from education to achieve the desired results in the sector.
“We should move away from rhetoric while government should lok for sound minds in the sector to implement the idea. The problems are numerous- inadequate funding; out-dated curriculum, obsolete teaching and learning facilities among others. What has not been done before is implementation of decisions reached by stakeholders on these challenges. We have laws setting up the various agencies, are they being implemented? What are the bottlenecks?”
For Prof Fajana, the usual concern should be issue of funding, as inadequate funding is grossly affecting public education in the country.
He said the 26 per cent funding prescribed by UNESCO for developing countries should be duly followed, as funding in the country’s education system remains a huge challenge.
“Funding is very imperative as the deficits are still very overwhelming there is need for access to any form of assistance from government and TETFund to the private universities. Also appropriate pricing is very necessary specifically now. It is never done anywhere in the world, education cannot be free especially at tertiary level. Primary and secondary level we can understand, but for tertiary government cannot sustain it. They can charge some fees, not that it will be at par with private universities, but it will be a form of assistance to government. That is why the issue of infrastructure is a big challenge for most public universities. It will also present a level playing ground between public and private universities. Another issue is on our curriculum; we need to certificate our curriculum. It is a global world and our educational curriculum should be able to address our specific development needs.”
Onuigbo on his part said, “The budgetary allocation to education is grossly inadequate and as long as it remains low, what the sector will be able to accomplish will never be up to expected standard. Two, teachers are the major resources in the sector and the issue of understaffing in schools is affecting the system terribly. The growth of private schools at all levels of education is another major issue as this sector suffers so much from unqualified teachers. Recruitment of teachers in private sector is shabbily done as secondary school leavers are mostly engaged.
“Most of the actors in the private sector lack the financial muscle to employ qualified teachers. This is even made worse by the monitoring and supervising agencies, which are easily lobbied. Once money is made available, approval is issued. So the system needs total overhaul and proper monitoring. In the public primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions, the facilities that were established several years ago remain at the level they are with no improvement. The laboratories lack specimens for experiment; same is the situation in our medical colleges. Some of the university teaching hospitals are just miniature private institutions. And if we continue to train doctors under such facilities, they can only come out to cause more havoc to the system. These are some of the issues.”
Odugbemi lamented that despite the nation’s numerous outstanding scholars who have made useful recommendations on how to advance the system, implementing those ideas appears to be the major challenge.
He said, “It seems we are not sincere to really solve the challenges of the sector facing us. Some now see summit on education as a routine or more or less as a jamborees, where we talk and everybody goes home. Implementation of brilliant ideas has become a big challenge. For instance, we have been talking about adequate funding of the sector for several years, yet we are not seeing results. We know that without good funding of the sector, the system will not function properly. The solutions are there in theories but bringing it to reality has continued to be a mirage.
For Prof. Kila, lack of follow up and disbelief in the system is the reason why several education summits have failed to yield expected results.
According to him, “We are yet to see education as a real fundamental of development in this country. Our leaders see education as an addendum. They don’t understand that for anything to work, we must first educate our people. The lip service they are paying to education is also visible in the way they handle the affairs of the sector.
“After the summit, there is no agreed follow up on the issues identified as the challenges of the system. Nobody follows up to ensure implementation of recommended solutions. This is still part of our mindset towards education. They don’t view it as an essential element of development. Secondly, a lot of times, the conveners of education summit are not truly convinced that the agreement and recommendations are capable of moving the sector forward. So such conferences have become more of a ritual than a viable means of solving challenges of the sector.”
Going forward, Kila advised that conveners of education conferences should henceforth try to understand the importance of education and seek viable ways of truly and practically tackling those challenges so that education should occupy its rightful place in the development of the nation.
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