By Bironke Oluwatobi
THE realities of the economic quagmire must have dawned on us, with experiences from our demand and supply relationship with the market. The fact that market prices of commodities have increased is well known. Reactions have been stirred, with the major cause of concern being the high price of goods and services. The pressure of the increasing price of commodities has led to the relegation of product quality assessment to a secondary position. The ‘half-bread’ syndrome has occupied the arena. This scheme is forgivable in the purchase of material items like clothes, but in the area of education, it is inexcusable.
Discussions involving the economy have given suggestions and recommendations of several economic healing measures, among them is entrepreneurship. On this basis, oodles of schools, especially at the foundational levels, have been established. This trend has however taken an abusive turn to the point where schools have been carved out of unimaginable sources, rooms are being converted to schools, shops are being made to serve as institutes of learning, and pseudo-education is being served as education. One would expect that the quality of education in the country would improve with the growing number of schools across the country but the deficiencies in the educational system are reflected in the high rate of illiteracy. According to CIA World Fact Book, the level of illiteracy in the country is approximately 59.6% as of 2015. Though this figure is predicted to reduce, with the rate at which schools are springing up across the country, the ranking of Nigerian schools on international scale, yet sit in positions low in pride. This suggests that the educational growth of the country hinges more on quantity than quality.
Considering the WASSCE statistics released by the Head of National Office, in 2014, 1692375 students participated in the examination. 1593442 students took part in the 2015 WASSCE examination; while 1544234 students sat for the 2016 WASSCE examination. About 31.29% of the participants obtained a minimum of five credits in the 2014 WASSCE examination, while the 2015 and 2016 WASSCE Examination had statistics of 38.68% and 52.97% respectively. Though there is a pattern of increase in the success rate, the number of participants declined on a yearly basis. If there are fewer students in schools every year, the concept behind the incessant establishment of schools becomes bewildering.
Although, the bane is not the number of schools in the country, the problem is that the number of poor standard schools intimidates the figure representing quality schools. These rampant schools though offer cheaper alternative in terms of cost but the price margin is insignificant when considering the quality of education. This is where most people relegate quality for cost. Factoring in a number of conditions including the economic situation and the ‘cut down expenses’ ethos, it would be out of place to call for the closure of substandard schools, leaving only the few standard schools with high educational rates. The logical thing to do is to make quality education available at affordable rates.
For this to happen, the responsibility rests largely on the Ministry of Education and other related bodies to develop effective measures to improve on the overall quality of education. This would cause them to look beyond statistics as the yardstick for measuring educational success. The intrinsic value of education should include the condition of learning and the quality of staffing in schools. The Federal Ministry of Education as the overseeing body of the educational sector should design policies that would raise the standard of staffing in schools, both government and private. It is also recommended that policies that would guide the establishment of schools should be created. These policies should look to ensure standard in terms of health, safety and learning environment. This would help avoid incidences like that of Chibok or the one of Babington Macaulay. It is noteworthy to mention that it is not enough to make these policies but to ensure that they are followed by proprietors, teachers and other educators.
Also, the inspection and accreditation process routinely embarked upon by national educational agencies should also be improved upon to make it more effective and holistic. The professional relationship between the inspectors and school officials should be sustained as much as possible, as familiarity and underhand dealings usually lead to comprise of standard. Some wily proprietors borrow educational materials in a ruse to obtain accreditation. It is so bad that some of these schools contract other schools, usually bigger schools, to help register their students for external examinations. Even though these students get registered for the examination, who corrects the deficient teaching and training the students must have been accustomed to?
This is the reason for the call for a broadened inspection and supervision process by the relevant authorities. Although the desultory pattern of establishing schools might appear positive from the entrepreneurship perspective since the number of proprietors would multiply, and a corresponding increase in demand for teachers is implied, but without checks, our educational system is closer to having more mushrooms than the trees. Especially for pre-primary, primary and secondary schools, where the supervisory action has not taken effective course, it is recommended that the inspection of schools and facilities should be done routinely as it is done for tertiary education. This would also require the involvement of the respective local government offices to collect and document the schools within their scope. This information would help the educational bodies in designing policies and in inspection.
Altogether, education should not be seen as a commodity whose quality can be comprised, for the sake of profit. Former US president, Bill Clinton during the celebration of International Literacy Day in 1994 said, ‘literacy is not a luxury; it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century we must harness the energy and creativity of all our citizens’. It is true that education is not a luxury and as such should not be compromised. If, indeed, Nigeria seeks perpetual economic solution, more investment and focus on education are key, so as not to erode the pillars of our educational system. For the umpteenth time, developing the latent potential of our human resources should be the national agenda. Since our societal development is directly connected to the education of our youths, a compromise in the quality of education portends trouble for our societal growth. Therefore, the trend of educational compromise of all forms should be corrected.
Oluwatobi writes via [email protected]