Transforming the education sector

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BY JOHN UDUMEBRAYE

EDUCATION  is the process of cultivating the human person and inculcating in him or her qualities that differentiate us from other animals. Whether formal or informal, education makes it possible for the individual not only to understand him or herself, but also able to interact with other people and the society in which he or she lives. It is through education that we become social, political and moral beings; that we are able to develop ourselves and contribute to the collective wellbeing of society.  That is what makes education the only priceless treasure that we can bequeath to the next generation.

Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is the first President of Nigeria to have been educated to the level of a doctorate degree.  And, he was a lecturer at the Rivers State College of Education before going into politics.  It could, therefore, be said that Jonathan knows the value of education for the development of society and that he is fully aware that, without education, there can be no meaningful development in such areas as physical infrastructure, power, agriculture, intellectual skills and such other attributes, generally referred to as society’s human capitals.

Although education is on the concurrent list, meaning that the responsibility is shared between the federal, state and local governments, basic education is constitutionally within the purview of the state government and local councils. Historically, in Nigeria, education, at all levels, has always been faced by challenges rooted in our colonial heritage.  The educational system itself was part of a larger colonial package, introduced into the country by our erstwhile colonial masters. Due to a number of factors- cultural, social and political- its development was not uniformly spread to all regions or states of the federation.  Consequently, there has been an imbalance in the education development of various parts of the country.

To tackle the imbalance in favour of those regions of the country that are educationally disadvantaged, there have been policies such as the federal character/quota system of admission and special interventions aimed at developing basic and tertiary education in such areas.  Even in the so-called educationally advantaged areas of the country, access to education remains limited and inadequate. Clearly, therefore, education will, for a long time to come, remain on the priority list of any administration that is genuinely committed to serving the people of this country.

Jonathan was already an educator long before he became a politician.  His commitment to the education sector could, therefore, be said to be natural.  Indeed, there has never been any government as committed to the development of education as that of Jonathan. Not only does education occupy a key position in his Transformation Agenda, remarkable achievements have already been recorded   in less than three years since he assumed office.

It is easy to underestimate Jonathan’s achievements in the education sector, without an idea of the magnitude of the challenges he inherited.  Estimates had it that in 2011, there were as many as 10.5 million out-of-school children roaming our streets, that a large number of the children took to hawking and such other menial jobs for economic reasons and that the existing education institutions, both basic and tertiary, lacked the necessary teaching tools and equipment.

The statistics also showed, for instance, that out of the huge number of candidates seeking admission to the nation’s universities each year, only an average of 5.2% was able to gain access.  What the figures show is that there has been an acute shortage of education facilities, skills and personnel in the Nigerian education system.  It is, however, important to add that these problems have been due to years of neglect of the system at all levels.

Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda has, with equal intensity, been targeted at both the basic and tertiary sub-sectors of the education system. In addition to increased budgetary allocations, there have been special programmes and interventions, the results which have taken the sector to new heights.  A few cases are worth mentioning: Under the Almajiri education programme, 125 day and boarding schools are being constructed in 27 states, while their equivalents, the Back-to-School Special Vocational Schools in the South-East and South-South are being established, mainly to cater to the boy-trader in the two zones.

More importantly, special girl schools are also under construction in 13 states of the federation, in addition to some 100 Innovative Enterprise Institutions which have been licensed to provide alternative access to higher education through the acquisition of technical and vocational skills. The main goal of these intervention programmes is to reduce the 10.5 million out-of-school children. The overall outcome of these interventions has been an increase in the enrolment into basic schools from 23 million in 2010 to 29 million in 2012.

At the tertiary level, the Federal Government has established 12 new universities (9 in the North, 3 in the South) to enhance access for thousands of candidates who seek admission into Nigerian universities annually. Jonathan deserves commendation for other interventions such as the Book Fund, the Presidential Special Scholarships for Innovation and Development, PRESSID, in which 101 beneficiaries are now undergoing training in 25 top universities in the world, and the sponsorship of over 7,000 lecturers of federal and state tertiary institutions for post-graduate (mostly PhD) training, home and abroad.

Another aspect of Jonathan’s transformation of Nigerian universities is his success in upgrading their modes of learning, through facilities, including a video conferencing system, centralised in the NUC, which is capable of connecting all the universities. Currently, 27 federal universities have been hooked to the system and connected to the wider world. It enables lecturers and students from all over the world share information and academic resources.

It is worth mentioning that the Jonathan administration recently earmarked the injection of N1.3 trillion into the Nigerian university system in the next six years to fund the revitalisation of infrastructure and key programmes that would revolutionise the nation’s universities.

Already, the transformation process is on and our universities have started working. So also are the nation’s polytechnics and colleges of education.  A scheme of High Impact Fund has been established by the Federal Government to support all tertiary institutions, and it has made available the provision of N1 billion to each of the nation’s polytechnics and colleges of education. Since 2011, the number of National Certificate of Education (NCE) awarding institutions has increased from 96 to 124 and student enrolment from 620,000 in 2011 to 750,000 in 2013.

In addition to the funds invested through the various intervention programmes, the statutory budgetary allocation to education has almost tripled from N224 billion to N634 billion, between 2007 and 2013. Much of it has been under Jonathan.  As an indication that the Nigerian education system is being successfully transformed, the World Bank recently designated 10 Nigerian public and private universities (out of the 18 African centres that competed) as Centres of Excellence for Outstanding Research Programme in the areas of societal development. There could not have been a better recognition that Nigerian universities have improved substantially in terms of facilities and academic programmes, in the past three years.
 
Udumebraye sent this piece from Port Harcourt via Johnbull.udumebraye@yahoo.com

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