Commercialisation of education and the storm ahead

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By LES LEBA

The youths, they say, “are the future of any nation”.  In the light of this awareness, the process of youth education and development would be top priority on the list of objectives for any progressive nation.

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The wealth of a nation garnered from the toil, sweat and sacrifice of its people will be carelessly dissipated in the next generation, if the training and education of its youth is handled with levity.

The critical question therefore, is whether or not our educational policies and programmes can produce the expected quality of youth development that would ensure successful sustainability of the Nigerian project.

Private investment, wherever it occurs, will generally be driven by the profit motive; consequently, if youth education is left solely in the hands of entrepreneurs, the basic right to education may only be available to the small elitist class, who can afford it.

The majority of citizens, who are financially challenged, will remain largely uneducated, and untrained and ultimately become social liabilities, who will retard wealth creation and probably also predicate social insecurity.

Nonetheless, education seems to have been sucked in by the controversial wind of privatization of public utilities.

Consequently, the number of private primary schools has gradually increased from a ratio of, say, 1:20 public schools to what may now be a ratio of about three private schools to every government-sponsored primary establishment.

The products of these private primary schools, in turn, quickly provided a heavy stimulus for the growth also of private secondary schools.

The death knell of a predominantly government-sponsored education sector is now being sounded by the steady growth of private and profit-oriented tertiary institutions nationwide; meanwhile, the graduates of government institutions are now largely adjudged by both public and private sector employers of labour as uneducated and an embarrassment to the institutions from whence they came.

Ultimately, we must be wary of a huge population of quarter-baked youths with no jobs.

The mind boggles at the scary prospect of the impact of the disconcerting disparity of opportunities between a small elite and a huge population of impoverished, largely untrained have-nots!

Sadly, the whole structure of youth education in Nigeria has now become as commercialized as a cash and carry supermarket.

The most disturbing aspect of this phenomenon is the high cost of private education. In a country where the highest paid civil servant earns less than N1.5m a year and the least paid civil servant earns less than N100,000 annually, indications are that primary and secondary school fees exceed N50,000 for the cheapest and over N1m for the elitist cadres.

Pray, how do civil servants, who send their children to private educational institutions, manage the abracadabra with their meagre salaries?”

The preceding is an edited excerpt from an article, which was first published in August 2005, with the above title (see www.lesleba.com).  Regrettably, almost a decade thereafter, the chickens are coming home to roost.

In reality, the quality of education in public institutions has been adversely affected by inadequate funding, as well as political and economic factors; for example, in spite of United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s best practice recommendation for 26% of annual budgets to be allocated to education, regrettably, for decades, education votes have hardly exceeded 15% of annual budgets.

Worse still, the recurrent component of expenditure generally consumes the lion’s share of the vote, while the usual delay in passage of budgets and unbridled corruption would further reduce the possibility of full implementation of the relatively paltry capital vote for education.

The ubiquitous dilapidated structures and facilities in our educational institutions are the inevitable products of inadequate funding and misappropriation of the meagre annual educational budgets; the protracted industrial actions by staff unions, such as the yet unresolved 10 months old strike of polytechnic teachers, and the horrid regular dislocation of academic calendars with the attendant oppressive impact on parents are also due to inadequate funding.

Furthermore, the instruments of quota system and disparate cut-off marks for admission of students from different states into government institutions is undoubtedly a monumental injustice; how does one rationalize the rejection of a candidate with excellent scores because of their state of origin, while automatic admission awaits abysmal failures from some other states?

The decay in the education sector accelerated with the reckless depreciation of our national currency by over 95%, between 1985 and today!

The remuneration package for teachers in primary and secondary schools as well as lecturers in our universities became inadequate to meet the survival needs of these of these cradle watchers; the result has been a mass exodus and loss of some of the best brains in the country to foreign pastures.

Expectedly, poverty has deepened as several industries and businesses collapsed, as the naira steadily depreciated from stronger than 1:1 to today’s N160/$1.

The promotion of misguided government policies and deliberate lack of transparency and accountability also induced corrupt practices with public accounts and also further widened the gap between the rich and the poor.

Ultimately, the dismal quality of education also instigated an exodus of students from affluent homes to expensive educational institutions abroad.

Conversely, while children from privileged homes may pay over N8m ($50,000) to study abroad, thousands of their indigent counterparts constantly risk their lives across deserts and turbulent seas to also seek greener pastures abroad.

Ultimately, the beneficiaries of our failed educational system are primarily the sponsors of local private educational institutions as well as colleges and universities in Europe, Canada and United States.

Indeed, if barely a hundred thousand youths pay an average of $50,000 annually for tuition and living expenses, this would result in a minimum outflow of about $5bn (N800bn) annually (i.e. well beyond the relatively paltry consolidated allocation of about N400bn in the 2014 budget for the whole country.

Sadly, the print and electronic media now readily tell a tale of a new scramble by foreign institutions to attract fee paying Nigerian students.

Sadly, however, if economic mismanagement of public resources subsists, only a fraction of our overseas-trained students will return home after graduation.

Such an event is fortuitously a win-win outcome for those first world economies, who are ironically, our shylock creditors as well as beneficiaries of the expensive sacrifice we make for our children to study abroad.

Nonetheless, those sponsors of foreign education may take comfort in the knowledge that their wards are less likely to be kidnapped or subjected to the uncertainties and the abiding trauma of survival at home.

 

SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!

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