There are possibilities that the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education might also not be available for the next NCE meeting
Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The 63rd National Council on Education (NCE) ended in Abuja few days ago. The week long event usually commence with officials’ session with expected attendance from Federal and State Ministries of Education, their parastatals and other relevant stakeholders.
This year’s event was unique in the sense that it was the last NCE meeting for the two Ministers of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu and Prof. Anthony Anwukah.
This was because, new leaders and ministers are expected to emerge next year after the general elections.
There are also possibilities that the current Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, might also not be available for the next NCE meeting scheduled to hold in Rivers State in 2019.
The annual event provides opportunity for all education stakeholders to discuss issues and take decisions as regards education development in Nigeria.
The Council, if properly constituted, is considered the highest decision making body as regards education in Nigeria.
The Permanent Secretary who declared the officials’ session opened informed the stakeholders that Nigeria has officially occupy first position on the table of countries with high number of out-of-school children in the world.
Though, he could not justify his claim with a verifiable figure, but he insisted that local and international indications have given credibility to the report that Nigeria has performed poorly in managing out of school children.
He confirmed that greater percentage of the out-of-school children are found in Northern Nigeria, adding that the only challenge was that Nigeria could not provide accurate figure to that effect.
He said: “How the International organization uses 10.5 million as figure of out-of-school children in Nigeria. But local statistics indicated otherwise. It pegged it at 12.7 million as the highest figure and 6.7 million as the lowest figure.”
The search for alternative funding platforms dominated discussion at the ministerial session of the meeting, unlike last year’s event, in Kano, that was dominated by discussions on the safety of schools and the separation of Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) and Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) from the Religion and National Values Curriculum for basic education.
The Council was obviously unhappy with the poor financial attention being given to education sector by Nigerian government. “It obviously falls short of 26 percent of annual budget recommended by UNESCO.”
However, after extensive discussions at the meeting, suggestions were made by the stakeholders on how best to source for alternative funding for public education system in the country
The Council agreed that there was need for ingenuity and creativity on the side of the school management to financially sustain their academic and non academic programmes.
It, thus, approved for states government to establish education bank and students loan board at concessionary interest rate, to allow students easy access to funds.
It also approved for establishment, a special intervention fund for persons with special needs, and also advocated increased investment in the sector through increased budgetary provisions and other financial interventions.
It suggested that larger percentage of revenue generated by parastatals under the ministry of education must be ploughed back into the sector for increased development.
But there were unpleasant reactions from the commissioners of education and other stakeholders when the issue of compulsory development fee in basic schools in Nigeria was suggested.
The implications were that public primary and secondary school children would be compelled to pay annual development levy of N500 and N1000 respectively.
Apparently uncomfortable with the development, some state commissioners for education pointed out that issue of compulsory development fee was never discussed at any of the sessions and were surprised on how the item found its way into the communique.
The debate, for and against, the introduction of the compulsory development fee caused big division among the education commissioners and other stakeholders at the meeting.
The Permanent Secretary, Sonny Echono, who served as Secretary of the Council was forced to expunge the item in the communique for obvious misinterpretation and misconception.
He suggested that the proposal be represented for extensive and critical deliberation at subsequent meetings of the education sector stakeholders.
Meanwhile, the Kogi State Commissioner for Education, Rosemary Osikoya, raised a point of order, and informed the Council that the proposed compulsory development levy runs contrary to some provisions of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act.
She advised the Council to be conscious of the UBE Act, suggesting that Federal Ministry of Education approached the National Assembly to effect some changes in the UBE Act, so there could legal backing to their actions.
The commissioner highlighted sections of UBE Act that stated that, “every government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.
“Parents shall ensure that their children attend and complete primary and junior secondary school education.
“Stakeholders in education shall ensure that every parent or person who has the care and custody of a child performs the duty imposed on him/her under the UBEC Act.”
The National Secretary, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Mike Ene, condemned the proposed introduction of the compulsory development fee in basic schools in the country.
He commended the courage of the permanent secretary to expunge the item in the communique of the National Council on Education.
He said: “It is totally against that spirit and letter of the UBE Act which currently promotes free and compulsory education for all Nigerian children at the basic education level.
“It simply means that government is giving you the education with right hand and taking it back with left hand. It is totally condemnable if such thing is being proposed by the federal government, particularly at this period that Nigeria is being seen globally as the country with highest number of out-of-school children.”