THIS is not about Chibok girls. It is about Nigerian students, the unceasing uncertainties of concluding studies in Nigerian public schools, the scant attention the authorities pay to education, and our endangered future.
Isolated stories like students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, protesting a hike in fees and the unattended nine-month-old strike of polytechnic lecturers, though routine, merely illustrate how our governments have given up on education.
How do ordinary Nigerians benefit from our public institutions? Why would public schools increase fees at whim, and at such outrageous rates, in a society without sustained scholarship schemes? Is education in public schools also only for the rich?
Tuition fees in Ile-Ife were increased from N17, 000 to N100, 000, excluding an acceptance fee of N20, 000 for new students. Which economies tolerate such increases? The tuition fee for returning students is N50, 000 from N7, 000. The students still have to accommodate and feed themselves, buy books and pay sundry fees.
Most of them are from poor homes. It seems nobody cares whether our youth get higher education or not. The first argument that policy makers, most of whom enjoyed free education make, is that education is not cheap anywhere. We agree.
It is convenient for them to forget the public paid for their education through scholarships, low fees and in some cases outright free education. In societies education is expensive, there are public schools that offer quality education at affordable fees. Loans, grants and scholarships are available so that social status is never a barrier to those who aspire to higher education.
Arguments about cost of tertiary education do not even scratch the issues. Governments are busy expanding the costs of education. Most of the costs go into more buildings, more staff, whose remunerations remain poor, and the attendant bureaucracy.
Cost of acquiring education is barely a consideration. Governments’ indifference to unilateral decisions on fees in public schools and the frequent comparisons made with fees in private institutions indicate a poor understanding of governments’ roles in developing the brainpower pool to run Nigeria.
How would Nigeria grow when access to education is treated as inconvenience to governments? Why would governments prefer establishing more institutions to better funding of existing ones? Why do policies that expand schools facilities ignore obstacles – like fees – to education?
The Constitution in Section 18 (3) states, “Government shall …eradicate illiteracy; and…when practicable provide (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c) free university education; and (d) free adult literacy programme.”
Our governments are too steeped in politics to realise they are doing little for education even by the expectations of the Constitution that keeps them in office.