By Toni Akuneme
IN the words of John D. Rockefeller of blessed memory, a good leader is the one who pursues above everything else, “the emancipation of the human resource”.
This thought must have influenced the manifesto of the ruling All Progressives Congress, when it committed, among other things, “to fully implement and enforce the provisions of the Universal Basic Education (UBEC) Act, with emphasis on inclusive and performance based education, improvement of the quality of teaching and learning with special attention to innovative teaching methods and materials.
Thus, the duo of Malam Adamu Adamu and Professor Tony Gozie Anwukah, on whose capable shoulders President Muhammadu Buhari offloaded the burden of sanitizing the education sector in Nigeria, as Supervising Ministers for Tertiary and Basic Education respectively, hit the ground running immediately after their appointment, nearly a year ago.
Like the seasoned administrators they both are, the two ministers knew the importance of charting a road map through careful planning and broad based consultations of the Education Stakeholders, a deliberate move which resulted in what is now called “the Ministerial Strategic Action Plan (Education For Change 2016 – 2019)”. The recent gathering of who is who in Nigeria’s education sector, in the nation’s capital, Abuja, highlights the consensus of all concerned that the sector deserves some radical innovations to tackle the myriads of challenges that have brought us to the current state, where the collective products of our education system are at best described as “unemployable” by employers of labour.
Speakers at the stakeholders’ round table, hosted by Malam Adamu, agreed that the time had come to reposition our country, using education as the agent of change it ought to be.
The Minister of State for Education Prof. Anwukah, set the ball rolling by presenting the draft ministerial strategic plan to the stakeholders for their scrutiny. These included State and National Assembly Members, Commissioners of Education from the 36 states plus Abuja, International Development Partners (IDPs), Civil Society Organizations, Organised Labour, Mass Media, and just about everybody.
According to Prof Anwukah, a former Vice Chancellor, “the document we present today for your scrutiny, is the outcome of our efforts at re-positioning the education sector to be more relevant to our national needs and aspirations as well as meet the international best practices”. He proceeded to call for the strengthening of the education sector in order for the President Muhammad Buhari’s government to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 4, which aims to transform the society through inclusive and equitable education. Prof. Anwukah then thanked his colleague, Malam Adamu, who first muted the idea of the road map.
A handful of goodwill messages sufficed to step up the deliberations, beginning with the Minister for Niger Delta, Pastor Usani Uguru Usani, who brought his Minister of State along, to “underscore the importance their ministry attached to the upliftment of the nation in general and the long-neglected children of the Niger Delta in particular, using education as a catalyst. He said that “of the 10 million out-of-school children said to be scattered in various parts of the country, an alarming percentage of that could be found in the creeks and waterways of the Niger Delta”.
It was just as well, that the House of Representatives Committee Chair on Education, Hon. Suleiman Aminu, described himself as a qualified stakeholder, being both the son of a teacher and a book publisher for decades. He agreed with other speakers before him, that “Education must lead to positive change and that change, as canvassed vigorously by the President Buhari government must come with complete value reorientation to reverse the ugly culture of corruption and impunity in our land”.
Going by the way the venue was filled to capacity, and also the way the participants’ faces shone with rapt excitement, it was glaring that the time for the urgent and inevitable restructuring of the education systems in Nigeria had come. Any responsive government would necessarily key into the global trend which views education as the pillar and foundation for the construction of peace and purposeful development in the minds of men and women.
If the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan’s reminder that good education served as a necessary tool for motivation and capacity building required to drive national development, then the keynote speech of the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, was a further reinforcement of government’s commitment to a holistic and inclusive educational system with emphasis on value reorientation, qualitative teacher curriculum and innovative learning processes. He conveyed even the passionate desire of the President to promote a culture of purposeful leadership that will support every child irrespective of gender, tribe or physical/mental ability to acquire the knowledge and cognitive motor skills needed to guarantee sustainable development within a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.
On the same page with the Federal Government, on this strategic plan of improving education as an ingredient for good citizenship and leadership, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 4), was none other than the Chairman of the Committee of Education Commissioners from the 36 states and Abuja, Hon. Emma Ettah. Chief Ettah concurred that “we will see to the implementation of this Ministerial Strategic Plan at the grassroots as we aim in the short and long term, to join countries like Finland, Canada and South Korea where the rate of school drop-out is zero.
This, coming from not just a State Commissioner for Education, but the number one Education Commissioner in the entire country, is a morale booster which when complimented by all the other state and federal players such as TETfund, UBEC, NUC, JAMB, NECO, WAEC, NOUN, NTI, NERDC, and so on, would yield a significant change in the entire sector. Education should be for change indeed!
However, according to the stakeholders, Nigeria ought to learn from what other civilizations are doing and begin to amend the areas where we lag behind. Areas like corruption, indiscipline, non-certification of teachers, inadequate teacher training, and dearth of innovation. Analysts are quick to add that the high cost of accessing basic education in our country has put the common man under severe pressure. They say for Nigerian to work, government’s blueprint must take definite steps to close the yawning gap between the quality of learning and teaching going on in the public and private schools. The gap has continued to exert enormous pressure on the few Federal Government secondary schools that seem to be better run than the state schools.
Education, even while still being on the concurrent list, the stakeholders believe, can be fixed. In the end, they assert, every child including the poor, vulnerable, mentally retarded, and physically challenged, must have unfettered access to proper education and life-long learning opportunities. Nigeria has huge potentials to be a powerful country, and with dedicated leaders that we have now, positive change is only a matter of time. In Canada, for instance, 70 per cent of the pre-school, primary and secondary education is free and the children even get picked up and dropped off by the school bus free of charge. It is so attractive that even non-Christians rush to enroll their kids in most of these schools which are predominantly owned and managed by the Catholic Church.
If we get it right now, with this new Ministerial Strategic plan, we may well be on the sure path to joining our neighbours here and there, who have taken the shine off us in our quest for the good life. We need this change in the air. Education for change, indeed!
Akuneme is Media Aide to the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Tony Anwukah