How to strengthen sector, by scholars

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services), University of Lagos, Akoka, Prof. Duro Oni,

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services), University of Lagos, Akoka, Prof. Duro Oni,

Forty-eight hours to Nigeria’s 56th independence anniversary, opinions of scholars are varied regarding how education in the country has fared just as they have also proffered ways of strengthening the sector ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI, write.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services), University of Lagos, Akoka, Prof. Duro Oni, is of the opinion that as a country, there is no doubt that we have made great strides within the period under review ranging from the number of institutions at all levels of education.

He said, “At the university level that I am most familiar with, there are currently some 143 universities or more belonging to the federal, state, religious organisations and private establishments. The growth has spurred competition among the universities to excel especially with national, regional and global rankings. That notwithstanding, there is a need to make our educational establishments more functional at all levels. There appears to be a desire by all to acquire university education to the detriment of the acquisition of skills in critical areas of development. These include such basic skills as masonry, carpentry, plumbing, electrical works etc. Recall that at a time, most of the housing construction industries were engaging craftsmen from neighbouring countries to the detriment of the Nigerian workforce.

“Within the tertiary education system, there is a need for collaboration between industries and research output. So, industries should engage research institutes and universities in proffering solutions to problems and working in close concert. Industries should fund research and researchers should make available products of their research to industries for implementation,” Oni said.

He added, “One other area of interest, which has long been neglected, is the impact of the mother tongue on the development of children’s education. Available research has amply demonstrated that children who are taught from the nursery/primary school in their mother tongues tend to excel. There is a need to explore this more. Finally, education at all levels should be well funded.

For associate Professor of Biochemistry, University of Benin, Dr. Jerry Orhue, education policies and their implementation in the country have been moving in cycles, just like every other aspect of our national life

According to him, “We sometimes make significant progress but so quickly run out of steam, and find ourselves at the starting point again.

“From the Universal Primary Education (UPE) in the then Western Nigeria, to the 6-3-3-4 system, and now the Universal Basic Education (UBE), what has been most consistent with our educational system is the inconsistency of implementation. This inconsistency will continue to characterise the system until we have leaders who understand without any ambiguity, that national interest ranks ahead of any personal or sectional gains.”

Orhue, who is also the Executive Director, Genius Illumina, added, “Although there are so many issues militating against education in the country, it is my candid opinion that by far the single most important factor is lack of leadership. While not saying there is no need for improved funding, I am of the opinion that the state of education in Nigeria does not justify the volume of money so far spent in the sector and the reason is simple; money does nothing by itself. People must put money to work. As a stakeholder in the education sector, not just as a university teacher, but also as one who heads a non-governmental organisation with passion for education, my pains have always been exacerbated each time I meet with government officials saddled with the responsibility of moving us forward as a nation, but who know next to nothing as regarding the real issues at stake.

“Often times, these are men and women devoid of ideas or passion, and in some more pitiable cases, both ideas and passion are completely non-existent. It is my opinion that we need men and women at the driver’s seat of our educational system, who understand the value of education to national development. We have had too many leaders, including ministers and commissioners in this critical sector who do not see their jobs beyond a means of amassing wealth. With too many round pegs in square holes, our nation should not expect any magic,” he pointed out.

The university teacher added, “Our political leaders must stop seeing political appointments as means of satisfying political affiliates. Our national life is too sacred to be used for such unholy exercises. The life and future of million of Nigerians is too important to be committed to the hands of men and women, who can not see beyond their noses. Rather than considering national interest as supreme, most of those saddled with the task of our educational development have continued to represent regions and ethnic interests rather than defend the education sector they were meant to serve.

“Sentiments often over dominate and guide the direction of major and far-reaching decisions affecting the quality of education in the country. A case in point is the lingering crisis that has engulfed the admission process into Nigerian universities. Once appointed, our leader must understand that they are no regional or sectional leaders, but persons who must learn to operate within the context of the larger national picture.”

“The Nigerian education sector is in an appalling and sorry state. Decayed and deficit infrastructure, teaching and learning facilities; deplorable standard of teaching and learning; poor, deficit and unprofessional teacher capacities; a curricular, especially at the tertiary level not in tandem with national development needs; all resulting from gross underfunding, corruption and lack of commitment to innovative policy development and implementation, “ was how former vice chancellor of Niger State-owned Ibrahim Babangida University, Prof Ibrahim Kolo, summarised his views.

How did we get here? From the so-called “Oil Boom” era of the 1970s and 1980s when the country’s leadership, without planning, pumped funds to expand facilities in the sector at all levels without utilising the benefit of hindsight of previous development plans, or developing the required strategic plan and synergies to guide the expansion to meet national development goals, and access for the children needing to be educated for the human capital required. “

He maintained that one of the consequences of that action is “schools and educational institutions” with no required facilities and teachers. In the 1990s and on, we continued either as if all was well or continued to plan or implement plans by setting up structures and institutions with no reference to evidence-based deliverables. From 2000 to date, we became infatuated with the Reform Agenda and Road Maps (the recent one being the fourth) as if the fundamentals for turning around the decay, lies in the “Ministerial Strategic Magic.”

On how to begin the turn around? He said, “We must begin to think out of the box. Even with a road map, new and “crazy” looking ideas are needed to address funding deficits and alternatives; Embarking on sustainable path to restoration of decayed infrastructure and facilities; renewal of teacher professionalism; and curriculum reinvention and quality assurance. These require a radical departure from those policies and strategies that have not worked by deploying those we have failed to implement.

But how do we do these? He responded, “Budgetary prioritisation of education, with emphasis on fiscal discipline, direct funding at schools level, and exploring of additional sources such as use of sector development bonds and setting up the education bank; re-strategising the TETFund, and UBEC; demarcation of levels of funding responsibility; Expanding access through ICT and empowering NOUN as an affordable alternative to the conventional institutional systems, and conversion of colleges of education and polytechnics with capacities to specialised universities; reinventing teacher education and professionalism through restructured pre-service, in-service and evidence-based continuous capacity development programmes; re-invention of the curriculum, especially at the tertiary level to become more of societal development-driven; and institutionalisation of institution-wide, community-driven and peer review quality assurance mechanisms at all levels (as against outmoded schools inspection and accreditation) by a new structure into which NUC, NBTE and NCCE shall transform.

“We also need to embark on institutional consolidation and mergers; cut down on number of parastatals; new legislations to drive institutions to become fund raising and to enhance corporate social responsibility commitment and industry inputs; as well as getting JAMB to migrate from academic achievement testing to academic aptitude testing in conjunction with tertiary institutions to reduce admission selection frictions,” he submitted.



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