Every citizen of a modern nation is a subject of the state. And once a state is formed, the citizens formulate ethical principles or virtues to be pursued, vices to be avoided and values to be cherished-for the good conduct of the citizens. These values are in most cases not put in a codified form but transmitted from one generation to the next via a well formulated/structured process called education.
Without a shadow of the doubt, this thought may have informed the decision of past administrations like their counterparts in other countries, to formulate the National Policy on Education anchored on five main objectives that include the building of: a free and democratic society; a just and egalitarian society; a united strong and self-reliant nation; a great and dynamic economy; and a land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens.
Indeed, education typifies the bedrock of development of any nation. ‘With sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes, and projects’.
However, like every invention which comes with opportunities and challenges, education in Nigeria, despite the virtues and attributes, have suffered sets of challenges which include but not limited to; payment of lip service to, and in some cases, total abandonment of the National Policy on Education by successive governments through perennial underfunding of the sector. And in more damaging cases, the money government voted for running the schools does not get to the schools and the little that gets there is normally wasted by those whose responsibility it is to manage the schools.
Essentially, this recurrent mismanagement manifests itself in acts opposed to demands of modern educational sector. And its work impedes lecturers from carrying out scholarly researches, leads to fallen standard of education, brings about policy inconsistency and somersaults, truncates academic calendar with strike actions, lace Nigerian schools (primary, colleges and universities) with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities- with the universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector.
Majorly, the consequences of this malady can be spotted in two major areas; the high unemployment rate in the country, which going by the National Bureau Statistics (NBS), 2019, was at 23.1 per cent, with under-employment rate 16.6 per cent and expected to reach an all-time high of 33.5 percent in this year, 2020. The second is high rate of illiteracy level found everywhere in our country.
For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of education. But this high rate of illiteracy which has its root in thoughtless demand for fees of varying amounts/ proposed by the school authorities to cater for the gap created by the perennial underfunding is but, financially squeezing life out of the innocent students and sent many out of school.
Regardless of what others may say, this failure/failing partly accounts for the low level of development in Nigeria because the growth and development of any nation depends largely on the quantity and quality of all segments of its population. And given the huge population of out-of-school children which currently stand at over 13million, it is understandable that the overall literacy level will be low in the country.
No wonder, Akinola Aguda in his book; Nigeria’s march towards perdition, among other comments noted that our economy is ill, very ill from a time dating back to only a few years after its birth; doses of poisonous matters continue to be introduced almost on continuous basis by successive administrations.
Although, President Muhammadu Buhari, recently, during the New Year broadcast on the January 1, 2020 told whoever that cares to listen that this democratic government will guarantee peace and security to realise the full potential of our ingenious, entrepreneurial and hard-working people; that his policies are designed to promote genuine, balanced growth that delivers jobs and rewards industry. But in my opinion, looking at the deplorable state of the nation educational sector that will drive such vision/policies, achieving the promised feat will be difficult if not impossible.
The reason(s) for these voiced opinion stems from other inherent challenges discussed in the following paragraphs.
And one of the most alarming is the challenge of responsibility and control. For instance, stakeholders are worried that the control of the primary sector is neither fully in the hands of the Federal Government nor in that of the state or the local government. This is a great barrier to effective educational development at the basic level. This challenge is closely followed by the faulty methods of recruiting teachers. Because most of the teachers were not qualified but hired via favouritism, they could not be trusted to impact the right knowledge and values in the pupils and students.
So what this all means to us is that in this 2020, we may forgive other government’s inactions. But we must not fail to ask government at all levels to rejig the education sector. we have a responsibility to return our education sector to the part where it can build a free and democratic society, promote a just and egalitarian society, encourage a united strong and self-reliant nation and a land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens.
To reverse this trend, we must first recognize that problem associated with the nation’s education stems from the fact that as a nation, we have not applied what we learned from the national education policy. We obviously and urgently need a new vision for education in the country-‘vision that will go beyond ideology to experiment and be equal with the latest reforms at the global level’. It is not only our patriotic duties to provide this care, it’s our moral duty at the most fundamental level –and we must rise to that challenge.
To this end, apart from developing the political will to, and ‘culture’ of funding education in compliance with the United Nation Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s [UNESCO] budgetary recommendation, government at all levels must start considering education as a human right that promote science and eradicate illiteracy, and should be implemented in such a way that promotes free, compulsory and universal primary, secondary, tertiary education, and free adult literacy programs.
Part of that effort to guarantee adequate fund for the sector is by ensuring that every kobo budgeted for education would be properly accounted for and would reach the beneficiaries, without siphoned off along the way. Special attention should be given to the areas where discretionary powers are presently being exploited for personal gain and sharpen the instruments that could prevent, detect or deter such practices.
Other efforts expected from the government that should by no means be considered less important includes- revival of the adult literacy programme to boost the quality of education in the country is worthwhile. As this going by reports would cater for the educational needs of over 50 million Nigerians who must have missed first opportunities to be educated. While the programme would use existing facilities across the country and as such there would be no need to waste money in building new schools.
Finally, like Barrack Obama once noted, I believe we have a mutual responsibility to make sure our schools are properly funded, our teachers are properly paid, and our students have access to an affordable college education. And if we don’t do something about all that, then, nothing else matters.
Utomi writes from Lagos