Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Evidence, Causes and Possible Remedies (IV)


THE lack of distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit educational institutions in the country is almost certainly linked to the fact that office holders who ought to have championed making the distinction (including imposition of tax on the for-profit institutions) are guilty of benefitting from this cheating, another form of corruption. It needs to be corrected without further delay.

It is important to stress the linkage of the de-emphasis on the value of education to the decline of the teaching profession. In the 1950s and 1960s teachers at all levels were highly valued in the Nigerian society. Primary and secondary school teachers were respected and trusted in communities across the country and teachers in tertiary institutions were acknowledged as a distinguished elite group.

That was also the era of educational excellence. Then, in 1973/74, military politicians and higher civil servants combined to rubbish the elite status of university teachers through the brash "quit notice" from campus accommodation and the imposition of relative disadvantage in the context of a so-called post-Udoji re-alignment of salaries and wages in the public sector.

Although ASUU has, through prolonged struggles, succeeded in achieving decent improvements in salary levels for universities, the rubbished elite status has persisted, sustained, in part, by the numerous strikes that have accompanied the Association's struggles, and in part, by the dominance of money culture within the society. The decline in public respect for, and trust in, primary and secondary education-level teachers started at about the same time as was the case for university teachers.

Beginning from the early 1980s, the decline was accentuated partly by wrong-headed policies that made teaching at these levels unattractive (mission and elite schools were taken over by governments and all were progressively reduced to mediocrity) and partly by neglect (low salaries, poor working environment and lack of incentives). The result was poor performing teachers and decline in standards. Efforts aimed at restoring teacher professionalism that could, in turn, raise standards and enable teachers to regain public respect and trust have so far recorded limited success. In some instances, the teachers and their Union are resisting reform, thereby perpetuating the prevailing decline.

Part four: Possible remedies or path to educational excellence

In all, I propose five possible remedies:(i) devolve educational development, (ii) increase funding for education, (iii) ensure reliability of education statistics, (iv) leapfrog use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education; and (v) enhance university autonomy.

1. Devolve educational development

According to the Compulsory, Free, Universal Basic Education Act, 2004, "the Federal Government's intervention under this Act shall only be an assistance to the States and Local Governments in Nigeria for the purpose of uniform and qualitative basic education throughout Nigeria." After eight years of implementation, enrolment in primary education falls far below MDG target and the "assistance" of the Federal Government to Junior Secondary Schools that caused management nightmares for states has resulted in "unified", six-year secondary schools in many states. In these circumstances, I would recommend that the UBE Act should be repealed and the share of national revenues hi-jacked for the purpose by the Federal Government should be shared among the states and local governments.

Full responsibility for achieving quality basic education (interpreted as 9 or 12 years, preferably the latter) belongs to these sub-national governments. And it is only at these two levels that communities can be successfully mobilized for ownership of, and participation in, primary and secondary education - as was the case in the "old" Western Nigeria.

Predictably, some states will perform better than others, reflecting differences in quality of leadership, political party orientation (there could be significant differences within the same party in different states), and level of administrative competence.

However, the resulting diversity would contribute more to reducing the number of school age children out of school than the poor performance recorded during the period of centralism and uniformity.

Furthermore, in the absence of empirical evidence to support the facile assertion regarding the usefulness of the so-called unity secondary schools (102+) for promoting national integration, the Federal Government should choose one of the following two options: either transfer the schools to state governments together with the annual budgetary allocation (pending the adoption of a new revenue allocation formula) or embrace the public private partnership for running the schools that was adopted during president Obasanjo's final year but abruptly abandoned under president Yar'Adua. It is worth adding that according to the Report of the Presidential Task Force on Education, the unity schools "do not appear to be sources of excellence in secondary education and cannot be model for the States and other School Proprietors - one of the reasons for establishing them in the first instance."

2. Increase funding for education

Perhaps the first point to make is that Nigeria has sufficient financial resources for ensuring adequate financing of education at all levels. According to newspaper reports in August 2012, the World Bank had estimated that about $400 billion oil money was stolen or mismanaged in the country between 1960 and mid-2012 of which over $250 billion between 1999 and mid-2012. According to another report, between 2006 and 2009, Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (including law-enforcement units) failed to remit about N4 trillion to the Federation account.

That translates to NI trillion per annum or 25 per cent of the annual budget for those years. Furthermore, according to a Sunday Punch investigation (published on November 25, 2012), "Over N5 trillion (about ($31billion) funds have been stolen through fraud, embezzlement and theft since President Jonathan assumed office in 2010".

Funding needs

In these circumstances, Federal Government's education expenditure (actual for 2009-2011 and budgeted for 2012 and 2013) is grossly inadequate. This low level of funding needs to be significantly increased, beginning with the 2014 budget: a modest target would be 16 per cent, that is, double the average for 2009-2013, but still far below the desirable UNESCO's recommended 26 per cent. According to the Report of the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities (2012), state governments also underfund education. The situation in one state university was so pathetic that the Committee recommended "Declaration of state of emergency in the university".

Against this backdrop, it is important to mention the additional funds mobilised for the education sector through education taxes (introduced in 1993) and collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).(Total amount collected between 2008 and 2011 was about N400 billion). Until 2011, all levels of education benefited from the fund, called Education Trust Fund. By the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) Act 2011, proceeds of education taxes were to benefit only tertiary education institutions: universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Furthermore, NUC recently introduced the High Impact Intervention Fund for selected universities in geopolitical zones but its disbursement lacks predictability.

Notwithstanding these additional sources of funding, the financing gap in public universities remains huge. Today, there is strong support in the public universities for the introduction of fees. This viewpoint has merit, taking into account developments in the university sector world-wide.

However, policy reform in this direction would need to be accompanied with an appropriate mix of scholarships, bursaries and loans that would ensure that no Nigerian who is qualified for university education in a public institution is denied the opportunity because of his/her inability to pay prescribed fees.

An essential prior action to the introduction of tuition fees in public universities would be for the Federal Government to provide substantial capital fund for the take-off and effective functioning of the Nigerian Education Bank (EDUBANK Nigeria), established by law in 1994 as successor to the Students Loans Board that was repealed by the same law.

3. Ensure availability of reliable education statistics

An important dimension to the crisis in the education sector is the weakness of the statistical underpinnings of the national education system:"That data (both hard figures and soft explanations) are virtually non-existent and un-useable in the education system is an undisputed truism" (Report of the Presidential Task Team on Education, p.17).

Reliable education statistics

Again, it is through a devolved approach that reliable education statistics can be produced and made available for the use of relevant stakeholders. State governments need to provide appropriate incentives (a mix of sanctions and rewards) to local governments to ensure that they keep comprehensive data on childhood and primary education. And state governments need to acknowledge and accept that they cannot achieve quality education without robust education statistics. At the federal level, collaborative effort between the National Bureau of Statistics and the Federal Ministry of Education would be a sensible strategy for tackling this problem. The objective at both the federal and state levels should be, as recommended in the Report of the Presidential Task Team on Education, the establishment of "functional educational management information systems (EMIS) that would facilitate evidence-based decision making in the sector.

4. Leapfrog use of ICT in education

Although ICT penetration is still low in the country, due partly to epileptic electricity supply and partly to broadband challenge, its role in helping to enhance teaching and learning has been embraced in several states. For example, a few states have provided laptops for students and teachers in secondary schools.

Broadband penetration

Ensuring regular electricity supply and scaling up broadband penetration from the current six per cent to the 20 per cent promised for 2017 are the conditions that would make leapfrogging use of ICT in education a reality across the country. In the meantime, public and private secondary schools and universities that are able to successfully tackle both the electricity and broadband challenges can leapfrog to join other countries such as South Korea and USA in improving the quality of education through online/digital teaching and learning (see Box 1.)

BOX 1: progress towards digital education in South Korea and USA

1. Around 30 per cent of all college students are learning online - up from less than 10 per cent in 2002.

2. New online Western Governors University (founded in 1997 by 19 Governors): Tuition costs less than $6,000 a year, compared to $54,000 at Harvard. Students can study and take their exams when they want, not when the sabbaticals, holidays and scheduling of teaching staff allow. The average time to completion is just two-and-a-half years.

3. Massive open online courses (MOOCS) offer free college-level classes taught by renowned lecturers to all-comers... they are part of a trend towards the unbundling of higher education. Source: "Higher Education - Not what it used to be" in Economist, December 1, 2012

"Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete" - Arne Duncan, US Secretary for Education

"One of the most wired countries in the world, South Korea, has set a goal to go fully digital with its textbooks by 2015... Over the last two years, at least 22 states have taken major strides toward digital textbooks... In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pair of bills in September aiming to make his state a national leader in electronic college textbooks.

A California law that will become effective in 2013-2014 school year, allows college students to download up to 50 core textbooks for free in the form of e-books. The e-books are for classes at the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges. The state has also established the California Open Education Resources Council for e-books.

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