By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
The current systemic malady plaguing the nationâ€™s education sector is giving stakeholders a lot of concern, given the fact that all levels of education are in dire situation.
At the primary school level, enrolment is abysmally low and below 60 per cent with over 10 million potential pupils/students out of primary and junior secondary schools. The enrolment rate at senior secondary schools is about 20 per cent.
To worsen the matter, governments have been focussing on access to education rather than the delivery of qualitative education.
The result of the recent global ranking of Nigeria on the Knowledge Index which places her on the 66th position out of 75 countries as well as 95th position out of 129 countries on Global Competitiveness, just ahead of poor countries like Kenya, Gambia, Tanzania, Mali, Benin Republic, Cameroun, Zimbabwe and Dominican Republic, underscores the pathetic state of the sector.
So, what policies, programmes and strategies should Nigeria pursue this year in order to attain the status of a knowledge society and achieve Vision 20:2020, the Millennium Development Goals and the 7-Point agenda of the Federal Government?
According to Prof. Ademola Onifade who is the Director of the Centre for General Studies, Lagos State University, the basic thing is for political leaders to stop giving poor attention and low priority to education, saying that they should be focussed and wholeheartedly committed to education.
Governments at all levels, says Onifade, should budget enough funds for education, adding that the nationâ€™s education system will remain in the doldrums if there is inadequate funds to carry out programmes and policies meant to rejuvenate the sector.
Prof. Onifade who spoke with Vanguard Education Weekly in an exclusive interview says: â€œUNESCO recommends budgetary allocation of 26 per cent to education. But Nigeria has never met this recommendation. I donâ€™t think the country has gone beyond the allocation of 10 per cent to 13 per cent.
This will not augur well for the sector. Our leaders must meet or surpass the UNESCOâ€™s standard if an appreciable progress is to be made in uplifting the sector.â€
The little attention the country pays to primary education level, according to Onifade, has been doing an incalculable damage to the standard of the nationâ€™s education system.
He says: â€œThe primary school is the level which government should pay more attention to. But the reverse is the case as it has been suffering serious neglect over the years. The primary education level is the foundation. The pupils at this level are the ones transmitting to secondary school level.
So, if primary school pupils are academically deficient, our secondary school students will also be academically poor which will also affect the standard of students at the tertiary level.â€
Thus, there is an urgent need to allocate enough funds to the primary school level, he says, adding that these funds should not only be used in building classrooms and equipping them with state-of-the art facilities but should also be deployed in motivating teachers so that they can put in their best. The same thing should be replicated at the secondary school level as well as in tertiary institutions.
Onifade also canvasses for a robust Teachers Education programme. Government should make enough fund available for carrying out research on teaching methodology so as to improve the teaching/learning process in our schools.
Before the money allocated to the sector can be judiciously utilised for improving the quality of education of the nation, Prof. Onifade says that the appointment of education managers at all levels like the Minister of Education, Minister of State for Education, Vice Chancellors, Provosts, Rectors, Commissioners of Education and Chief Executives of education parastatals must be based on merit. They must be qualified people as well as those who have passion for education.
The immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos and President, Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe makes strong recommendations that are capable of taking the sector to the desired level.
According to him, government should divorce education from politics, and that success could only be achieved when government shifts attention and priority to education, adding that serious attention should be paid to science and technology as well as research.
He says: â€œThe world has moved from commodity-based and military power ranking to knowledge economies/societies, and inherent in this paradigm shift is science, technology and innovation.â€
â€œDeveloping economies, such as ours, can only fast-track and or leap frog their growth through targeted research and development.
A practical way to do this is to do what is generically referred to as reverse engineering. It is higher educational institutions that must provide the road map to circumvent those roadblocks to indigenous technology enhancement necessary for driving innovation and development of the nation. The nation must be prepared to invest heavily in the higher education cutting across both public and private,â€ Prof. Ibidapo-Obe said.
On his part, Prof. Babatunde Oderinde of the Lagos State University recommends full autonomy for our universities, especially in ensuring that Vice Chancellors should not be an appointee of government, adding that it is necessary for the Governing Councils to be well constituted in order to ensure the appointment of the best candidate as vice chancellor who has a lot of work to do in repositioning the nationâ€™s universities.
There is also the need for government to make books cheaper, says Prof. Oderinde, explaining that many students are not well informed because they cannot afford to buy the necessary books.
According to him, lecturers in abroad have more time to carry out research work which enable them to come up with better and up-to-date books.
He disclosed hat the lecture hours per week of a lecturer in Nigeria used to be three or four hours but each lecturer now has about nine to ten hours of teaching per week, adding that lecturers in Nigeria will have time to do research if their work load is reduced. He then advocates for the employment of more lecturers in the nationâ€™s universities.