State of Emergency in Education Revisited

About three years ago, I wrote an article entitled “The State of Emergency in Education”. In the article, I ex-rayed the problems in education in Nigeria and proffered some possible solutions that were in consonance with the spirit and letter of words powerfully spoken by Kevin Rudd when he said, “Education is both a tool of social justice as well as a fundamental driver of economic development.”

I parsimoniously stated that education is one of the most important factors that not only sustain the culture, including the democratic principles, but also it empower an individual and determine his/her worth in a competitive economy. I alluded that the essence of a qualitative education in a burgeoning democracy is imperative particularly in a global economy. I added that education system in Nigeria is in a state of crisis.

In Nigeria, it is understood that the basic right of all children is basic education. And the tenets of Universal Basic Education (UBE) program of the Federal Government hold that all Nigerian children of school age should acquire, at least, basic education. The country’s constitution capaciously requires that primary education be compulsory and free. The question is: has the government dropped the ball by not fulfilling its obligations? There seems to be a gamut of empirical evidence that Nigeria has an increasing number of dropouts at both primary and secondary school levels and low adult literacy continues to be a perennial problem to various administrations. Sadly, many problems in Nigeria’s education system have not been addressed by those in charge. The fundamental problems that have been widely overlooked which gave rise to this phenomenon are our collective failure to teach students how and the reason to learn, including our failure to provide the students with an educational environment enriched with meaningful and challenging curriculum. The country has failed our students in many ways, especially in our inability to upgrade our system to the world standard. Equally critical is our collective attitude—the society’s emphasis on accumulating wealth, which has trumped the value of education. Unfortunately, the Nigerian society has directly or indirectly taught our children to value accumulation of money more than the acquisition of knowledge, cognitive, and problem-solving skills.

The consequences of the phenomenon are daunting. The seemingly lack of adequate knowledgebase and high-order thinking skills to propel the national economy produces perennial cycle of poverty. In addition, our youth are preoccupied with an elusive chase for wealth which prompts them to engage in unbecoming actions. Though benighted Nigerian administrations have the capacity and resources to readily erect a world class education system that would be the envy of many countries, yet they continue to fail our children and the nation. Even when they tout the benefits of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) program, yet they continued to be pertinacious in stifling the entire education system. What a perversity! Obviously, it is assumed that those who are at the corridors of power, particularly those who occupied the position of “Minister of Education”, do not realize that educational attainment and economic achievement are intertwined and a sound policy is required in the area. Indeed, it is frightening!

Sad still, our attitude toward education coupled with lack of government’s sustainable education policy has led the education system in shambles. Unfortunately, the staggering reality is education system in Nigeria has been increasingly decaying over the years without any substantive intervention by the policymakers who should have been perspicacious and honest in discerning and implementing programmatic remedies.  Nigeria’s failed education policy has resulted in certificates and transcripts from Nigerian universities being looked at with utmost disdain by other countries. And now the current administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has the daunting task of correcting years of neglect and anomaly in Nigerian education system. I strongly hope that President Jonathan will address the problems urgently.

Well, in the face of the problems, I did recommend an urgent top-down review of educational structure, including revamping educational curriculum at primary, secondary, and university levels with total infusion of moral education in an effort to massively overhaul the system for optimum standards. There should be more emphasis in funding increase of education and quality of teachers with equally strict accountability. The government should spend more on programs coupled with a decent salary for teachers. In the same token, teachers would be made to be more accountable in order to keep their job. Teachers should receive necessary training to perform their job and the training should be continuous. Also, teachers should be evaluated based on student performance at primary and secondary levels. At the university level, they should be evaluated based on their teaching, research, and publication abilities. The education system should not have any room for mediocre teachers at all levels. Quality teachers should be rewarded and retained while ineffective teachers should leave the profession.

In Nigeria’s education system, there should be more local control of primary and secondary education with strict accountability parameters enforced by the state and federal governments. Each local education system must come up with meaningful accountable and measurable plans to address the problems of dropout and adult literacy. Compulsory education would be better enforced at the local level than at the state or federal level. Local control would seem to reduce the large bureaucracy that clogs the wheel of efficiency and effective implementation of programs. The state and federal governments should have palatable incentives for the most achieving local education systems.

Nigeria should pay rigorous attention to science and technology, research and development, and liberal arts meshed in high standards and rigorous curriculum to overcome years of low educational quality in the country. To promote equal opportunity and rid the country of poverty, quality education would be at the heart of such effort. Perhaps more indicative of the economic value of education is in the high productivity and earning power of workers with quality education.

I believe that the appalling state of education in Nigeria could be ameliorated if consistent and sustainable corrective measures are taken with long-term planning and monitoring immediately. The problem has reached a critical mass and it is believed that President Goodluck Jonathan will deal with the issue aggressively. Similarly, in Imo State, there are some laudable measures being taken by the Ohakim administration to address the problems in the education sector.

In his address at the Imo State Stakeholders Forum early this year, Gov Ikedi Ohakim alarmed, “One of the worrying issues for this state is the general decay in the educational system. Not only have infrastructure collapsed, standard has fallen abysmally. Indiscipline is rife, cultism is the norm, sorting is the culture. Government is determined to tackle the rot in our educational system. Government is living up to its responsibilities of ensuring the delivery of accessible, qualitative and functional education, because the 21st century will be knowledge-driven. The Michael Okpara College of Agriculture Umuagwo was upgraded to the status of a Polytechnic. Government released the sum of N45 million for accreditation of 10 programmes of the institution. Government also recruited 91 academic and 38 non-academic staff to enable the institution to get full accreditation. The State, during the period under review, completed the handover of Alvan Ikoku College of Education to the Federal Government.”

“There was also a reduction of school fees from N8,000 to N3,700. Those quoting some totally wrong figures should desist from causing confusion. To further boost education and rehabilitate all educational infrastructures in the state, the first phase of the Education Endowment Fund was launched in the 27 local governments in the state on 28 December 2009. We intend to raise over N52 billion… In 2010, the State Government will embark on the policy of disarticulation and re-articulation of Junior and Senior Secondary Schools in the State in order to reduce cost and make teachers available for teaching functions.”

Gov Ohakim continued, “This year also we will commence the handover of schools to their missionaries owners. It is important to understand why we are implementing this policy. There is urgent need to rebuild the character of youths through moral education. We want to challenge the Church leadership to re-invent the strict discipline that was the hallmark of education on the part of teachers and students. The policy will also allow government enough elbow room to play its traditional role of regulating education and enforcing standards. This will ensure that we produce graduates who are worthy in character and learning. Government will, however, be responsible for the payment of teachers’ salaries for the first two years in the schools handed over to missionaries. Government also guarantees the payment of the retirement benefits of teachers involved in the handover process during the period of transition.”

“The missionaries will be responsible for day-to-day management of their schools, but Government, through the Ministry of Education, will ensure standards and protect the welfare of staff and students. Government expects the cooperation of all concerned in implementing these policies, especially the disarticulation and re-articulation of schools,” Gov Ohakim added.

Again, I accede to James A. Garfield’s powerful avowal when he said, “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be maintained.”

Dr. Acho Orabuchi, Ph.D. is an Opinion Writer and Adjunct Professor in Dallas, Texas USA