10 January 2013

Nigeria: Education - Nigeria's Quest in the New Year

2012 has become history like other years that have slipped into the never filled bowel of eternity and at this point, it is only normal for individuals, corporate bodies and organizations to take stock of the gains and losses of the past year with the hope of making adjustments in the new year for growth and productivity.

The same applies to the education sector which many have said is in dire need of an overhaul while others have called for a state of emergency to be imposed on it due to many policies, both popular and unpopular, which have ravaged the sector, thereby giving it the status of a wounded lion which can hardly fend for its young.

At this juncture, there is no crime in asking for the way Nigeria wants to follow in its quest for education, especially in the year 2013 for its teeming population which statistics revealed has majority as uneducated. Seventy per cent of the citizens live below a dollar per day which the United Nations have termed as unacceptable in a land so richly blessed.

With fore knowledge of these statistics and if it will be used as a yardstick for whatever measurement, one cannot help but ask for how many parents will be able to send their children and wards out of the country for tertiary education? The answer is best imagined than told. No wonder, the nation has turned into a jungle of sorts where everyone craves to break away from the cycle of the majority 70 per cent into the cycle of the minority 30 per cent either through fair or foul means. Can we say there's hope?

The nine federal universities that were approved in 2011 have commenced full operations. It is believed that access is not the problem but the fear that they might turn out to have multi-dimensional problems just like that being faced in the University of Abuja, has continued to send fear into the spines of most Nigerians who are of the opinion that the universities were established due to political machinations.

Reports reveal that one of the nine in Taraba State has been overgrown by weeds and is looking like an abandoned project. It was also gathered that key actors appointed by the federal government operate from the comfort of Abuja simply because there are no tangible structures to prove that the project was not a white elephant in the first place. The question is: Do Nigerians need more government owned universities or the need to rehabilitate and maintain the old existing ones should be paramount?

The establishment of illegal universities must also be brought to fore as they have caused untold hardship to scores of Nigerians who have tirelessly worked to earn degrees. For while some of the unapproved institutions exist on their own and by themselves, because they did not meet up with the standard requirements given by the NUC, others were approved by the commission and have existed for over ten years but are yet to graduate students, be it at the undergraduate or postgraduate level. An example is the National Open University of Nigeria. What really is going on and what has the commission done about it, or has such become a Nigerian syndrome that cannot be checked?

Private institutions have taken over the place with tuition that the average Nigerian can only dream of. However, they serve as alternatives to the incessant but avoidable strikes. Stakeholders have called for more private institutions and have solicited that the government should give its maximum support.

But will it be wise for the government to continue in its attitude of neglect towards its own institutions and support the privately owned or do all in its power to ensure that like other developing countries, it takes charge of its responsibilities and becomes the envy of the privately owned?

The talk about tertiary institutions cannot be complete if the issue of colleges of education is not brought to light. It's no longer news that they serve as dumping grounds for candidates who could not secure admission into universities or at best polytechnics.

They have succeeded in producing NCE holders and graduates who can hardly interprete what they acquired in school. Little wonder, statistics have shown that the worst hit region is the north west and north east and the only option is for parents to send their children and wards to private schools which are more/less profit oriented and not to government schools in which at the end of it all, students are unable to make the basic requirements of Mathematics and English as well as other three suitable subjects.

No wonder, the minister of education, Prof Ruqayyyatu Ahmed Rufa'i, noted with bitterness that 70 per cent of secondary school leavers are unqualified for tertiary institutions.

However, funds have been provided for the colleges of education even though the usual complaint is its inadequacy. Even though investigations have revealed that equipments that were demanded for ten years ago, are still being tabled to be absent for maximum use by the lecturers and students alike. This simply means that the sector is still lacking in accountability and transparency which has aided corruption to flourish.

Talking about corruption, the worst hit is the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, which was established with the sole aim of assisting state governments with grants for basic education which many state governors have not utilised due to ignorance of its functions or simply because education is not a priority in their agenda.

It's a well known fact that the grant does not directly go to the state governments but goes into the coffers of the state owned commission which investigation have exposed, have formed the habit of not giving to Ceaser what is rightfully his. Between the commission and the beneficiaries, the funds and materials are known to have disappeared only for the once upon free materials to re-appear in bookshops and for sale at unaffordable prices.

The minister of state for education, Barr Ezenwo Wike, has categorically stated that such must stop as accountability must be the watch word and has gone ahead to vow that it will no longer be business as usual. Will this be possible in a country where the citizens do not think of obeying rules but pre-occupy themselves with how to break them? With the evolution of 2013, it is hoped that some grounds will be broken in this sphere.

NMEC had revealed that from 2012, a total sum of 10 million Nigerians will receive basic education through adult literacy programmes and nomadic education even though the said number was not achieved last year. In fact, there is a department in the ministry which oversees the activities of the commission to ensure that it delivers the quest of the federal government come 2015 which has been tagged as the year for education for all.

However, in a country of approximately 170 million people in which 70 per cent of the figure are illiterates, and only 10 million are expected to receive basic education, will the government be able to achieve its set target come 2015? The answer is certainly obvious. Nigerians are not asking for too much but for the basics in which a country which is interested in the educational skills of its citizens will be able to afford.

This is not forgetting the JAMB and post UME saga which has caused a hot debate which is still on. Some have asked: What business has JAMB as an independent and external examination body got to do with the university system in terms of selecting suitable candidates for the institutions?

For while is has been argued that post-UME was established to check-mate the fraud and racketeering that takes place in JAMB, the post UME is also a means of extorting money from students who are not sure of their admission into the various institutions of their choice.

This might simply be the reason why the minister stated that JAMB has a legal backing to conduct exams and give admissions while on the other hand, stating that post-UME should not be scrapped because it is the universities own way of choosing their own suitable and qualified candidates based on the heels of coming from the university environment.

The Nigerian education sector is like a never ending story. In the year 2013, the expectations of Nigerians are at its peak especially with the mission statement of the minister and the plan for the ministry in the next two years

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