15 August 2012

Nigeria: Education - a Sector in Crisis


Minister of Finance Dr Ngozi Okonja-Iweala recently decried Nigeria's falling standard of education and blamed government, educators and parents for the crisis in the sector. She made the declaration while delivering a keynote speech at the 2012 Isaac Moghalu Foundation in Lagos.

The minister couldn't have described the crisis better when she said "the regulatory system in the sector is largely ineffective and this reflects on the curriculum especially in many private schools of foreign origin". The collapse of the inspectorate division of the federal and state ministries of education and the failure by regulatory bodies including the National Universities Commission (NUC), the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to check widespread irregularities at the level of education under their respective supervision do not only depict their ineffectiveness but also suggest the pervasiveness of a system in comatose state. Corruption has taken over the processes of programmes accreditation and inspection at the tertiary and basic levels of the system respectively.

For a long time now, policy inconsistency has remained a critical bane of Nigeria's education system -- a trend that has adversely affected the sector in many ways. One of such inconsistencies is the recent review of basic education curriculum in which new school subjects, including security awareness and civic education, were created in an attempt to "regroup and reduce the number of subjects" offered at the basic level. Only recently too, government mooted the idea of replacing the 6-3-3-4 system with 1-6-3-3-4 structure. It has, in recent times, been a climate of proliferation of sub-standard schools in all parts of the country and at all levels of the system; consistent poor learning outcomes as revealed in high failure rates in examinations; various forms of examination frauds; little impact for the huge public resources expended on the sector; unstable academic calendars arising essentially from incessant strikes prompted mainly by unpaid or poor wages; and low quality graduates at all levels.

As observed by Dr Okonja-Iweala, several Nigerian universities produce graduates that lack the skills needed to perform tasks required in their chosen fields, making it difficult for them to get employment. While the minister is right in blaming infrastructural decay in the universities, it is also true that the system requires focusing on skills acquisition rather than on just schooling. The obsolete state of facilities in most schools and universities is pathetic. Lecture halls and hostel accommodations in many tertiary institutions are overcrowded. Recent media reports, for instance, also indicate that many primary schools in some states, such as Zamfara, lack a single classroom structure, forcing schools to run under trees.

The lip-service paid by state and local governments to education over the years contributed to bringing the system to its present state of hopelessness. The executive secretary of UBEC revealed in 2011 that an accumulated matching grants that amounted to over N35 billion counterpart funds for the basic education sub-sector was lying idle at the Central Bank of Nigeria because state governments had failed to access them.

The dearth of qualified teachers, particularly at the primary level of education, is another disturbing phenomenon. The executive secretary of UBEC disclosed in an audit report last May that more than 80 per cent of teachers in Sokoto State are not qualified, adding that most states in the Northwest zone had large numbers of unqualified teachers. Government must consider teachers' welfare as central to sustaining qualified teachers on the job. Most of those who possess teaching qualification use teaching as stepping stone to other jobs where they would get better pay.

Nigerian universities have lost their place in global ranking. Parents are taking their children to such countries as far apart as Sudan and Malaysia as well as the neighbouring Togo and Ghana to study, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars. This does not include the case of children being sent to Europe and America at much higher costs. These huge sums of money spent to propel other economies could have been used to enhance our university system.

It is clear that Nigeria's education system is not working. To revive the sector, there is the need for a political will on the part of government to tackle the multi-faceted challenges confronting it. Such a task requires a great deal of commitment from all stakeholders.

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