Special Report

February 19, 2013

EDUCATION SECTOR IN CRISIS: Evidence, causes and possible remedies (3)

EDUCATION SECTOR IN CRISIS: Evidence, causes and possible remedies (3)

File photo: Cross section of students

This is the third instalment of this piece which was last published on Friday
PRESIDENT Jonathan appears to be agnostic on the subject. In this area, it would be correct to assert that there has been leadership failure.(b) The military established unitary secondary schools, again contrary to the assignment of this function to sub-national level governments in the 1963 Constitution it suspended: only higher education was on the Concurrent Legislative List.

Now, Federal Government involvement in post-primary education is currently provided for in the 1999 Constitution: “the National Assembly to establish institutions for post-primary education” (Second Schedule, Part II, Concurrent Legislative List, (28). But federal role in running secondary schools would qualify as a Nigerian military invention – more on this later.

(c) At the tertiary education level, military over-centralisation was extended to the regulatory agency for the universities, the National Universities Commission, NUC.

From its initial role as a buffer between the universities and governments, the NUC under military rule was transformed into an over-powerful and control-oriented government parastatal with very extensive powers that were more consistent with the centralism and uniformity of military culture than with the autonomous mind-set of academic culture.

(d) The operation of centralised labour unions for teachers at all levels that made sense under centralised unitary military rule has been maintained under civilian rule when the hierarchical federal-state relationship no longer exists, at least, according to the 1999 Constitution.

Thus, both the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, negotiate salaries and other conditions of service at the federal level and the agreements become binding on state governments that did not participate in the negotiations.

Persistent strikes that are linked to the challenge of implementing the agreements reached at such negotiations continue to undermine teaching and learning in educational institutions, especially the universities.

(e) Perhaps the most extensively debated issue in military-inherited over-centralisation is the over-sized share of the federal government in the federation account, to the disadvantage of the sub-national governments.

This affects all sectors but it is particularly pertinent in the education sector because the hi-jacked primary education function (UBE) highlighted above was used as the rationalization for the maintenance of the federal government’s lion’s share of the Federation account under President Obasanjo.  Notwithstanding President Jonathan’s experience in sub-national governance, he appears to have adjusted nicely to the prevailing skewed revenue sharing arrangement. Well, he is the top dog now.

Thus, he has ignored the persistent sensible call of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum for the modification of the existing unbalanced revenue allocation formula (52.68 to federal government, 26.72 to state governments, and 20.6 to local governments). And he is strangely comfortable with the failure of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and the National Assembly to act on the subject.

(ii)  Implementation failure: Implementation failure can be due to either weak capacity to implement or the lack of political will to drive implementation. As pointed out in Part One, the UPE in Western Nigeria was successfully implemented because of the combination of a political leadership team with the will to drive its implementation and a competent civil service (also reputed as incorruptible) to execute the policy and deliver results on the ground in respect of both UPE and other aspects of educational development.

File photo:  Cross section of students

File photo: Cross section of students

In contrast to the Western Nigerian experience, the UPE introduced at the national level in 1976 failed because there was no sustained political will to drive it.

Throughout the civilian interregnum of 1979-1983 and the return of the military for extended rule, the policy was abandoned. As already pointed out, thesuccessor UBE that was launched in 2004 has achieved rather limited results. Muddled political responsibility for UBE has been a major constraint and centralised implementation (for example, contractsfor purchase of textbooks for students in all 36 states are awarded in Abuja) has hindered federal-state collaboration that is essential for effective implementation. And there have been reports of corrupt practices associated with some UBE contracts.

Improving conditions of service

Although there has been an emphasis on enhancing the professionalism of primary and secondary education teachers and improving their conditions of service to promote improved implementation capability, the political muddle combined with the inherent weakness of centralised implementation appear to have doomed a federal-driven UBE to failure.

A telling commentary on the weakness of the National Assembly (NASS), the apex watchdog institution charged with assuring effective implementation of government policies and programmes, is the poor education of its members.

To date, all the oversight missions of the National Assembly in respect of the different sectors, including education, are tales of corrupt practices without a single MDA being made to account for implementation failure: teams of senators and representatives strut the land and return to Abuja with additional millions to their obscene self-allocated salaries.

For example, NASS committees would rather descend on educational institutions for the usual extra earnings than organise a public hearing on how best to fix the 6-3-3-4 education system that is widely acknowledged as not being properly implemented.

(iii). De-emphasis on the value of education and decline of the teaching profession

It is incontrovertible that Nigerians across all the three/four regions valued education highly up to the emergence of military politicians whose culture and actions progressively resulted in a de-emphasis on the value of education.

It would not be unfair to assert that the politicians in khaki had limited understanding of educational excellence, notwithstanding the fact that a few of them decided to obtain university degrees, most often after retirement from service.

Because the military remained in power for so long (close to three decades), their anti-education orientation (or anti-intellectualism)had replaced the pre-military high value of education across the country.

Today, restoring high value for education in the Nigerian society has become a tough challenge.

Propagandist for education

My father travelled to Lagos during the First World War and encountered western education. He returned to his community in Iju, Akure North to become a propagandist for education. Due to his example and inspiration, Iju had one of the highest concentrations of educated people (in proportion to total population) in the country at his death. I am sure that similar stories abound of propagandists for education of my father’s generation in communities across the country. It was on this fertile soil that Awolowo’s UPE seed was sown; and it flourished as already highlighted above.

Unfortunately, worship of money that accompanied the military’s anti-intellectualism appears to have replaced love for education.  Paradoxically, a former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, whose tenure was characterised by notable anti-intellectual measures,recently summed up the prevailing value (less) order as follows: “Knowledge has no value while money and power has (sic) more value.”  Even those who commit resources to education today appear to be spurred on by love of money, that is, the ever-increasing number of for-profit educational institutions from kindergarten, through primary to secondary and tertiary education.