By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu is Chairman Senate Committee on Education. In this interview with Vanguard Education Weekly  Bagudu says tertiary institutions should be given freedom to develop at their own pace just as he discloses  that President Goodluck Jonathan is setting up a task force among other issues, to return about eight  million children out of school to classrooms.

What is the education summit all about?

The education summit  was held at the instance of Mr President to look at the educational sector with the theme: restoration, reclamation and sustenance of quality education in the country and all stake-holders were invited to have a two-day look at the education sector of the country.

The President was directly involved in the two-day summit as he chaired the two plenary sessions. He said he wanted all of us to have a hard talk on education which I think is the best phrase one can give the summit. It was an interactive session where he listened, he talked with everybody and I think the summit is the best that has ever happened to the education sector in recent times.

A few weeks ago I was in Bayelsa State, at a function for capacity building for primary school teachers and I remarked that this was a very opportune moment for the education sector in the country because our dear President  Goodluck Ebele  Jonathan is a teacher, the minister of education is a teacher, the permanent secretary in the ministry of education is a teacher.

In terms of understanding the issues, in terms of comprending what is at stake and relating to the issues at hand, there is no better team than those who organised it. Both committees on education in the National Assembly are dominated by people who are keen and interested in the educational sector.

I have been a primary school teacher. I have been university lecturer, my father too was an headmaster, so I am familiar with the challenges bedeviling the education system of the country. You have Professor Jubril Aminu, a veteran in the sector, you have Iyabo Obasanjo and others who are well grounded in the education sector.

The same thing in the House, you have Honourable Farouk Lawal, a lecturer for 17 year. So we feel this combination of talents around the decision making process is an opportuned moment for us to look at the sector critically and do something decisively in order to do something different in the education sector.

What is your take on the remark of the president that past ministers of education should apologise to the nation for bringing the sector to this sorry state?

The president was asked a question based on that issue  and he said his view came out of his experience as Governor in Bayelsa State where he said the difficulties in differentiating between junior and secondary school, allegedly has been a challenge across the country.

May be the policy was not a bad one, as a matter of fact the policy was a good one but the implementation here has been poor. Some were of the opinion that there should be ouster of the 6-3-3-4 system, some say it should be 9-3 system, some suggested the  re- introduction of high school certificate. Policy making for a country is like a growing prison.

No country is at the end of maturity level, you keep evolving as society changes. If you tell somebody  today that there is a university that is not offering information technology, you will be surprised. But 30,  40 years ago, I  doubt if there was any university offering information technology in the country as a core department.

Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu

But because of evolving and changing needs like that, your policy has to be dynamic. Other thing is a reflection of time and any opportunity and developmental needs.
Poor infrastructure and motivation are some of the reasons  the standard of education is going down. Was this part of the hard talk?

Nobody was apportioning blame on the teachers or anybody for that matter. Yes it is true that the quality of teachers is very low, the number of teachers is very low as well, individual responsibility given to teachers is also very low and this is a reflection of many other sectors of the country.

Before now, a primary school teacher had  the best community support you can think of, then it is the community that would give you accommodation, now these things are  no more. A primary school teacher was a very important member of the village in those days.

He worked hard to remain important and the community recognized him so. All that has broken down, so restoring that is not a one man’s job. At the end of the summit, we discovered that the problem is hydra-headed. There is result issue.

There is capacity issue which relates  to inadequacy of infrastructure you talked about, teaching staff,  a lot of teachers at all levels are not qualified, you can’t give what you don’t have. So the summit recognised that there is the need to do something about it.

We recognised that there is no financial skill management in our institutions, that is, we don’t see budget coming from the primary or secondary school except the ministry of education. You just see the ministry of education just hand them whatever they have.

Ideally, the school management in the primary or secondary school comprising the headmaster or headmistress and other teaching staff should come together and outline their needs in a budget to be submitted to the ministry of education rather than  the normal practice where the ministry just hand them anything and they also take gladly without any input .

So we recognise the need to develop a framework where people will take responsibilities so that you can hold them accountable. If I am a principal and I do not request anything from the ministry, there should be no need why the ministry must compulsorilly  give the principal more teaching staff that is not needed. So, there is need for accountability in that regard.

We recognise the need to allow institutions to make their decisions particularly the tertiary institutions. If the University of Lagos or Maiduguri or Nsukka or Bayero feel that they want to concentrate more on medical field, they should. Universities should be allowed to develop in areas they are most competent, let them grow at their own different pace.

If Nsukka decide they don’t want department for Igbo language, so be it. If Maiduguri thinks they are better off in churning out more doctors, why not. So they should be given freedom to exercise autonomy vis-à-vis their areas of competences so that we can see competition in the education sector and see specialization. If you look at it  holistically, education anywhere in the world is meant to be competition.

What are some of the resolutions of the summit?

The two-day summit was chaired by the president as said earlier. The first major challenge in any reform of this nature is the will. The president was there without any prepared speech, he was just pouring out his mind. And that tells you how passionate he was regarding the sector.

He x-rayed to the best of his knowledge the problems in the sector. To show how serious he was about the decay in the sector, he said he was going to chair the summit, his actions demonstrated his will to get the sector off ground. The minister of education also did a wonderful job in putting it together. She was supported by the minister of state and the permanent secretary.

My prayer is that the commitment and motivation shown will continue at this high level because the challenges are enormous. So, part of the resolutions is the political will amongst the executive, and the legislative arm of government to make a success of the summit which I think is the first major ingredient for change. Once the will is there, implementation will be easier and that they have shown.

Secondly, there was frank talk. There were different groups in the summit which looked at different aspects of the sector and this group made us to understand that there are 8 million children out of school. What do we do to make some these children return to school?

How many classrooms, how many teachers do we need? There was also the ethics group which says without ethical values, the teachers, students and even the community are not going to change and this is where the religious leaders come in. They must lead in the ethical revival so that the issue of cheating, getting certificate for exams not sat for and other vices can be a thing of the past.

We also looked at the funding aspect of the sector chaired by Faruk Lawal. I am a member. The public sector can never be adequately funded and if that is the case, then we have to look at other options like raising bonds to finance the sector.

As far back as 1948 Nigeria had development bond, so why not for the educational sector because there is the need to really intervene like the 8 million children out of school that need to return to classrooms.

There is infrastructure collapse and in order to realise our 2020 vision, we have to start now. Raising bond in the market apart, there is the need to increase the budget allocation that goes into the education sector and this is where the issue of flexibility in our higher institutions comes in so that they can charge tuition but with a proviso that there should be a scholarship in place whereby finance is not going to be a limiting factor because that is how the best educational institutions are designed. So we want to have a need-based scholarship.

There is the need to have a skills-based institution. There should be certification transfer mechanism that can help the skilled compete favourably in the labour market. So it  was a broad spectrum approach which is why the president is setting up a presidential task force immediately.

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