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Yet another education summit

Nigeria has had  many summits, seminars and conferences. The country has formulated quite a number of education policies, collected voluminous proposals and blueprints from both local and international experts, on how to salvage the education sector. Yet the problems in the education sector persist.

Does it mean that all those past efforts were not in the right direction? And the ongoing National Stakeholders Summit on “Reclamation, Restoration and Sustenance of Quality and Ethics in Education in Nigeria” will not produce a feasible blueprint for Nigeria’s education sector? Of course not, what was missing was the leadership’s political will, and the right team to push the right button.

Nigeria is witnessing systems deterioration. The most worrying and one that requires urgent, systematic and systemic attention is the education sector. The recent mass failure in the senior secondary school examinations organized by both West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and National Examinations  Council (NECO) are signals of the continuing troubles in the education sector.

The confusion, lack of stability and misdirection in the Nigerian education sector has reached a stage that it  needs a radical restructuring and galvanization composing of reforms similar to that of Soviet Union 1980s Glasnost and Perestroika reforms and the 1947 European Recovery Programme-

The Marshall Plan. One may sound as an alarmist; but we need such kind of reforms in order to further liberalize the sector, recreate and rebuild its hitherto strong foundation and bring new ideas and thinking to policy planning and effective management of the sector. President Goodluck Jonathan has hinted that the Federal Government would review the strict guidelines of the special intervention funds like the Universal Basic Education (UBE) and the Education Trust Fund (ETF), to attain faster delivery of education at the basic levels. Will that be enough? Certainly no. Nigeria needs massive intervention in the education sector.

Though, this not a call for the usual way Nigerian government does things. We really need a shift in the way our schools are run. And we have to put up a system that will provide adequate funding and help to improve the standard and quality of both teachers and students; a system that will completely aid in shifting away from the tradition_ where government is the provider, administrator, monitor and assessor of how funds  are utilized.

Nigeria  has three options on how to breathe life into the education sector: first is outright government shouldering of the management of the sector; the second is leaving everything to the private sector; while the third option is  public private partnership.

The first option, i.e., outright government shouldering the management of the education sector seems to have failed, largely due to corruption and mismanagement, because the system has worked before. During the 50s 60s and even early 70s, the education system  clothed, fed, educated and provided readily available jobs for the teeming  Nigerians. However, the irony is, those who benefitted  from the system  are the ones who destroyed it.

The second option, i.e., leaving everything to, private sector, should not be contemplated  as it would be detrimental to the progress of Nigeria. This is because once the education sector is left in  private hands, many children would be shut_out of school, since majority of Nigerians cannot afford the fees charged by privately owned educational institution. Thus the nation would miss the opportunity of developing the best of her human capital.

Looking at the administration of our education system, it seems private sector participation  is inevitable. I am a strong advocate of private sector greater participation in managing our public schools; but not a ‘bulldozer’ kind of participation, where government will entirely surrender the schools to private entrepreneurs_ thus, students, teachers and parents would be at their  mercy. What we need is  a ‘measured’ public private partnership, where government should build new schools, equip old ones.

After that, we take a benchmark from a well_run private school on what it costs per student_head in running a school; then a gradual entrusting of public schools to private sector, where government provides the funds, taking into cognizance the cost per student; as it is in private schools, while the private sector manages it, especially in the area of infrastructure maintenance, provision of teaching tools, and  management of training programmes for teachers.

This will guarantee that our educational system is  run efficiently, new sustainable jobs will be created and government will be relieved from the burden of ‘ carrying the camel and its loads’. This suggestion may appear odd. However, an honest assessment of the budgetary spending per student head by the three tiers of government will show that the amount spent by  government per student head exceeds the one the best schools in Nigeria charge per student head.

In his opening remarks at the summit, Jonathan said: “Nigeria’s educational system needs a rebirth for better delivery of education in the basic, secondary and tertiary institutions across the country”.  Many Nigerians are of the opinion that the rebirth should be systematic as well as systemic.

It has to cover primary, secondary and tertiary schools. And all the three tiers of government as well as the private sector should participate effectively and efficiently with well_spelled out  roles to be played by each.
* Muhammad is resident in Jimeta, Adamawa State.


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