A society develops and acquires qualitative human capital which is an indispensable resource that will develop and sustain other resources, activities and sectors of the economy and invariably reduce poverty and guarantee sustainable development. Ruth Choji and Ruth Tene Natsa, in this interview with Prof Bogoro reveal the benefits of inclusive education in the Nigerian setting.
What will you say are some of the challenges affecting the Nigerian education sector?
The issues are many and I'm involved. Indeed, the challenges are many, from the policy angle to the management and several other sectors associated with standard quality of deliverables. As one in the tertiary level, my first worry and embarrassment associated with the lowest of low ratings associated with our universities and someone will ask how we got there.
There has been a progressive neglect leading to the dearth of access and quality. Nigeria now has a total number of 122 universities but I tell you that it is one out of a hundred of the number of universities that we need.
One state in the USA has the number of all the universities we have as a country and you know that the United States is barely twice the population of Nigeria. With this statistics, does this not show that there is a problem? As genuinely as ASUU has been concerned with the establishment of the nine new universities, it has been disturbed that the existing public universities do not have enough funds.
But I can tell you that the federal government was concerned about the issue of access. There is the issue of balancing across the country and these are political issues. For the purpose of access, the federal government said let's establish one federal university in each state and that was when the issue of the nine universities came to place. For now, there are only about three states that do not have and they are Yobe, Kebbi and Zamfara and hopefully, the government will do that in no distant time so that there will be no excuse.
The same thing with federal polytechnics. A number of states have it but not all. Same also goes for federal colleges of education. But all of them need balance concerning the issue of access. As poor as the results is for WAEC and NECO for O' levels, we still have many young chaps who have the requisite for university admission, polytechnics and colleges of education who are still roaming the streets.
So, there is genuine challenge of access. We are now in a system whereby the reading culture is dead but do you blame people? Everyone is interested in certificates because the system has made it so.
The combination of education with politics is said to be one of the problems affecting the sector. How can the two be separated so that maximum benefits can be derived?
We have allowed politics in everything. It is even ruling in our families. The worst of it all in this country is politics that has infiltrated religion. So, the damage that politics is doing to religion is monumental. Many politicians are very reluctant to invest in areas of long-term development because the benefits do not show up easily and fast. We jokingly say that education is not a shouting emergency but it's a debilitating imperative.
You neglect it, it finishes society and before you recover, it takes another long period of time and you have to spend hundred times more. It is not a shouting emergency because you will have to invest for a long time to see the benefits. So many political leaders who are not concerned about ultimate sustainable growth will rather make do politics about education. They are happier to announce that 150 million naira has been spent on scholarships to several students or that billions have been spent to procure the same infrastructure. At this point, we should begin to assess and determine the impact of those interventions.
One of the concerns of ASUU has been on the neglect of existing public institutions but thank God the long drawn conflict between ASUU and the federal government has been settled and it has a lot of financial implications from the side of the government. Government had to approve 100 billion this year and will subsequently approve 400 billion in the next four years and that is not just tertiary but other aspects of education.
Five private universities were recently given provisional licenses to operate and that brings the number of private universities in the country to 51. Do you think Nigeria needs more universities at the moment or the federal government as well as the private sector should concentrate on maintaining the old existing ones?
I'm glad that there is competition in the development of the education sector. I hope the private universities are supplementing the government owned universities and the other way round. In more developed economies, the per-capital income is subsistently good to enable poor people gain access to private universities. Right now in this country, no low income person, most low income persons cannot afford to take their children to the university.
Where do you keep them? I'm happy that licenses are given to private universities to operate but will be happier if government sinks in more money into public universities so that they can be expanded. There should be no one reading under trees again because we still have them in this country. We still have children who have to walk for 20 kilometres before they get to school.
There are challenges and that's why more funds needs to be invested. It's good to have more private universities but more important to put more funding in public universities. That is where children of the less privileged will benefit from. That is where education policy looks at every body-from women to minority groups.
Is there a possibility of the north catching up with the south in education in the next 10-20 years from now?
You can give it an index of possibility. For the optimist, yes it is possible. For the pessimist, a lot needs to be done. For the realist, specifications for what to be done will be given and I will rather be a realist. The truth is that there is a gap between the north and south and along the line, we know what has happened, besides the fact that western education was embraced faster and earlier in the south than in the north as well as other cultural factors.
We know that generally, the lack of progress in education is a national problem but the north has its unique challenges. Some of the impediments are cultural but I believe that the political leaders and the elites in the north are the biggest challenge to make a difference. Most of them went through education free of charge. It was as good as that unlike today because there has not been a corresponding balance to tackle the issue of population growth.
There is population in the north but what stops the north from competing with the south and not only the south but with the rest of the world as we see other countries? So what is required is for the political leaders and elites and all of us to acquire the resolve to improve the conditions and access and promote inclusivity in education. Everybody must have access to education from the rural areas to those under whatever guise.