Nigerian education sector had experienced fluctuating fortunes since independence in 1960, passing through ups and downs, recording different aspects of achievements and challenges.
Education ordinarily is seen as the pivot for success in any human endeavour. The basis of any concrete development whether in science, technology, arts, economy, communication, medicine, engineering or manufacturing is education.
Even the struggle for independence was as a result of exposure to education, especially Western type, prompting the nationalists to challenge British colonialsm. Dr. Karo Igbinaka, a lecturer in the philosophy Department, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos and also Chairman, UNILAG – ASUU, in this interview with Saturday Vanguard assessed the development of Nigerian education system in the past decades and how we came to the present situation.
Without any gainsaying, education seemed neglected, thrown to the rear as pursuit of money, materialism, fame have taken over. Government is not helping matters with its careless attitude to education and the products of our education system without employment.
What is your assessment of Nigerian education so far?
Well, in the early years of independence, our education system was good, not bad at all.
Early in the 1960s, the three regions built good universities and schools owned by missionaries were well taken care of.
Teachers were seen as community leaders. The University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Lagos, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, were big universities in the world.
Military rule didn’t do worthwhile good to the education system. The military government scrapped divisions in the West African School Certificate Examination. Hitherto there used to be classification into Division one, Division two and Division three. The Higher School Certificate (HSC) was also scrapped.
Schools were proliferated. Government destroyed education values and everything. In no time, our education nosedived.
How did it happen?
Most of the schools were left unattended to due to corruption, teachers were not cared for and so it impacted on education. Today, not much have been achieved to reverse the education sector. Most primary schools, most secondary schools are places of shame.
Even universities are places of shame. For example, University of Abuja is a carricature. There should be efforts to reverse the trend.
Today, most Nigerian students are going abroad to study, even going to Ghana. It’s not a good trend. The reason for this is the fact that we did not plan well enough.
Can you proffer solution to checkmate this trend?
Now the issue is fundamental if we take sector by sector. There is need to upgrade primary schools, secondary schools also. At the tertiary level, teacher-education has been ignored. Studying education is no longer attractive, especially at NCE and University degree level.
One thing that government did in the past was to make studying education at university level free. This incentive will make people to study education.
The government can introduce bond to be signed by the student stipulating that the student studying education should first work for a period of time (teaching in the school system) before going out. Without quality teachers, there can’t be good education.
For polytechnic gown is not relevant to the town. Polytechnic graduates are not servicing the sector. Tailors, mechanics, electricians, vulcanizers, battery chargers, bricklayers are not polytechnic graduates.
Do we then scrap polytechnics?
I don’t think so. Today Polytechnic graduates see themselves as potential university graduates.
Again can we convert polytechnics to universities?
There is need to have a clear policy on the graduates of polytechnics. At the universities, we are not there. What we have here are foreign-driver. We should be asking what is the relevance of the system.
We should have an overview and revisioning of our education system. Hence there had been calls for declaration of emergency in education. Not entirely on value system, but to have a critical re-look.
The National Universities Commission (NUC) should do much to stabilize the system, instead of always reacting to failures Government has to review the education system and move forward.
What do you think are the challenges government can look into?
Government has to provide the framework for people to operate. Missionaries need grants-in-aid for their educational efforts.
Government should free itself from primary and secondary education. In respect of funding, this has been hampered by high level of corruption. If you talk of free education, something has to suffer. Education is not free. Somebody is paying. Students, particularly the indigent ones should have scholarship. There should be scholarship loan scheme for students to access and pay back after graduation.
This can guarantee good education. A situation where government pays for education from primary, basic to tertiary levels could be the ideal. However, at the tertiary level, government can provide assistance.
In those days, the community gave loans to indigent students. But this fizzled away, because government just woke up and says it will pay.
Our people studying abroad spend money for education. We should look at it fundamentally. Free education is proper at primary and secondary schools level. But at tertiary, a loan to be refunded should be given to students.
On the role patrons can play?
Individuals can come together to be the benefactors of some schools. They can will their property and wealth to schools. They will be committed to the well being of these schools. Government can give national awards to such people, we must have a re-think of our value system.
Has proliferation of private universities benefitted the system?
There is need for them. But the fear is about the quality of academics employed to teach in these private universities. The fees charged are exhorbitant. Least fee is N400,000 per semester. It’s very costly.
Many of them start with having all the faculties which tend to undermine quality. They can start with two colleges and then grow gradually.
I’m aware of some of these private universities where students don’t fall, where there are so many first class more than 3 public universities combined. Many of them offer admissions just like that.
Yet there is need for more and expansion of the older ones. Nothing bad, but lacked qualified academic manpower. Even the older universities are in short supply of Ph.D holders as lecturers.
What is your advice to government on getting a better education system?
Government should work sincerely with stakeholders and have a coordinated policy from primary, secondary to tertiary levels. A child should know if he is going to polytechnic, college of education or university.
It will remove a lot of frustration in the system. NUC should have a policy in which polytechnic graduates can obtain postgraduate diploma.
Funds should be provided to build more facilities, conduct in-service training for academic and non-academic staff of the education system – core areas are classrooms, laboratory and library.