ONE of the three main reasons why General (Dr) Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s longest serving military head of state came to deliver the 2nd personality Lecture of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD) on Friday, January 21, 2011, was to “share experience on a specific subject matter — education – that has the capacity to advance or derail the Nigerian dream, depending on how it is handled.” The occasion was also the celebration of second year Founder’s Day of ABUAD.
As stated by him in the introduction to the lecture tittle: “An Alarming Decline In Education Standard In Nigeria: Reversing It And Moving Forward,” the first, is to associate with the vision of the founder of the institution, Aare Afe Babalola, secondly, to see firsthand the campus that so many people have spoken about so glowingly, not only in terms of the beauty of its physical structure but in the programme of work and studies and the constellation of first class brains that can compete anywhere in the world.
Gowon acknowledged that over the years, much has been said and written about the problems of Nigeria’s educational system, which is not only on a downward spiral in terms of quality, but has virtually become dysfunctional.
“Today, it has become increasingly difficult to match content with practice” pointing to an incident in which a lawyer was asked by his senior why an assignment was not done and he retorted that he ‘forgetted’. Another experience was when he visited his alma mater, Barewa College and the principal who said only about 1.3 per cent of the students who sat and wrote the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) met the minimum requirements (five credits, including English and Mathematics) for university placements.
“Unhappily, this is not an isolated case. On the contrary, it is reflective of the woeful performance of our schools in public examinations, especially government controlled schools in the last five to ten years.”
He said the enormity of the problem at hand was succinctly captured by WAEC results of the 2010 November/December General Certificate of Education (GCE). A total of 310,077 candidates wrote the examinations. Out of this number, only 62,295 recorded five credits in their core subjects. The results of the May/June examinations were no better, as only 33,071 (25 per cent) passed, out of 1,351,557. National Examinations Council (NECO) results did not fare better as less than 25,000 candidates out of 1,113,177 passed the English Language examination.
“The situation has not always been this bad. But things got progressively worse when societal values began to be eroded by crass materialism and public service became a launch pad for conspicuous consumption, as individuals helped themselves to the common wealth the way they would to food at a serve-yourself-dinner.”
Gowon pointed out that wherever and whenever Nigerians discuss education, such discussions will gravitate from the low quality of instruction imparted by today’s teachers who, unlike the ones in our days are not too well-grounded in the art and science of their profession, to pupils whose basic worldviews have been corroded by warped social values and in an environment that is far from being conducive for learning.
He recalled the ‘good old days” when neither the teacher nor the pupil was satisfied with anything less than 100 per cent or higher percentage of success in public or other examinations.
“Those were the days when students knew the meaning of hard work/studies or burning the mid night oil when and where allowed. Those were also the days when parents could not dare to think about purchasing question papers for their wards. Those really were the days when schools could not contemplate becoming special centres where all manner of malpractices are recorded in examination halls.”
The former military ruler went down memory lane, when in the early 1970s, his administration launched the Government policy control on Education and the taking over of schools, and later, the introduction of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme in 1974.
“Our overriding objective was to lay a sound foundation and fully and properly fund education at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary, upon which we could build the future of our youth and, by extension, the future of the nation.”
He said the whole programme was meticulously planned and it dovetailed into the Third National Development Plan, 1975-80. There were some initial challenges in respect of building infrastructures and equipping the new as well as the old schools. Also the challenge of how to get the right quality and quantum of teachers to engender the success of the scheme.
According to Gowon, education was on of his administration’s major assignments contained in the gigantic third National Development Plan, geared towards laying the foundation for Nigeria industrial take off.
“Unfortunately, these dreams were shattered with the change of government in 1975 that sadly abandoned the plan. I believe you know the end of the story.” He added that the non-implementation of that development plan stunted Nigeria’s development and progress, creating a number of the problems we have and still haunt the nation today, notably education, power production and supply, transportation, roads, rail and ports development and manufacturing, among others.
“In the circumstance, it was the educational system, as part of national life that paid a heavy price of this act of misjudgement. Today, few, if any, of our public or some private schools can boast of good infrastructure. Today, the hitherto popular Government Colleges are so decrepit that few parents will consider them when thinking of enrolment for their wards. Today, the quality of instruction in most of our public schools is well below par in a lot of instances. Some private schools fair just a shade better.”
He went on: “Teaching is handled by bad teachers or tutors who seem not to be qualified and who are not knowledgeable. The teachers are also too poorly paid and motivated that they have no option but to become emergency businessmen and women. They want their rewards here on earth now, not wait until they are in heaven.”
Gowon said successive administrations played bad politics with various policies that have not really advanced the cause of education.
“The problem is further compounded by poor funding of education with the result that strikes by various unions in the educational sector have literally crippled the system.
The irony of it all is that the decimation of the educational system appeared to have been more deliberate than it is circumstantial, for the ultimate beneficiaries of the decay appeared to be public officers who either can afford to send their children abroad to receive quality education or are able to float private educational institutions to take advantage of the situation by making money out of it. In either or both of these instances, the masses were the ultimate losers as quality education was priced out of their reach.”
Society itself contributes to the rot in education by celebrating mediocrity which is a major disincentive for development of creativity and the spirit of enquiry. Many universities in the quest for funding, confer honorary doctorate degrees on several unqualified people. Some of the blame for falling standard of education should go to parents who purchased question papers for their wards to “excel” in public examination.
To reverse the decline, he called for a return to basics and ensure full commitment to raising the standard of education in Nigeria.
“I maintain that we can not talk of declining quality of education without examining the foundation upon which our tertiary educational system is built. First, we need to know that consistently inconsistent educational policies have caused a great deal of confusion in our educational system.
At some point, there was a policy on just Primary Education, followed by Universal Primary Education (UPE). At another time, everyone started talking of Universal Basic Education (UBE). Now, I hear talks of an attempt to once more review the policy.”
Gowon contends that if we examine all the education concepts or policies closely, “we will observe that the difference(s) is/are largely semantic”
The nation was cautioned to be careful in the way education at the tertiary level is managed, because it is at this level that the spirit of enquiry is fully fired. Bad education at this level will not help to produce the men and women that are needed to lead Nigeria and the world. Bad education will hamper national development.
“Sex for marks will destroy the moral fabrics of our nation. Cultism will destroy the very basis of academic freedom, creative rebellion and independent thoughts. ‘Group Think’ and cultism cannot make us advance as a nation. Selling handouts and engaging in other trading activities should no longer be the norm on our campuses.
Our teachers must be morally and professionally qualified and be well motivated. In addition, character and academics must continually be the benchmark of good education and certification.”
He insisted that we must first get our politics right. “When we get our politics right, we will get our educational and other policies right. In this regard, the system must be encouraged to help itself. The Federal Government must provide timely financial assistance to improve public primary education and at other levels. Government must provide good infrastructure that make good education possible.”
Gowon added that we must encourage and ensure the upgrade of all public schools which the bulk of our children attend and not allow our public education system to go to ruins.