By Funmi Komolafe
In this interview with Vanguard Learning, the General Secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), Comrade Peters Adeyemi, spoke extensively on the education sector, the role of NASU as a major stakeholder and other issues. Excerpt:
As key players in the education sector, what is NASU’s assessment of this sector, considering the fall in the standard of education?
When you talk about the fall in the standard of education in tertiary institutions, we need to consider the type of products we are producing at the primary and secondary levels. If the standard is not anything to write home about at those levels, you are not likely to get anything better at the tertiary level.
We need to focus more on the standard of education at the primary and secondary levels because not much has been done in ensuring that the standards of education at those foundation levels are adequately improved upon.
The second thing is the quality of personnel. If the system is not able to retain quality personnel in terms of teaching and non-teaching staff, we are going to have a situation where the knowledge that would be impacted would not be up to the desired level and this is a problem when you look at the level of motivation that currently exists in our institutions.
We also have the problem of infrastructure, especially in our tertiary institutions. Decay in infrastructure is a general problem in our country and there is this mentality that Nigerians don’t believe in maintaining their structures.
A look round our tertiary institutions today shows that the infrastructures have collapsed to the extent that they can’t be compared with what is available in institutions of their standard outside Nigeria.
Then you look at supervision – who supervises what is going on; how committed are they; what is the level of supervision in our institutions; and how effective are the agencies established to supervise and monitor these tertiary institutions.
We keep on talking about the poor standard of education but we need to ask what are we doing to improve on the standard and this must necessarily include increase in the funding of our institutions.
Also we have to make sure that the present curriculum in our primary and post- primary institutions are reviewed to the point that we are sure that students who seek admission into tertiary institutions possess some degree of knowledge from the foundation level.
We need also to intensify the level of monitoring and supervision especially by the parents because it’s very unfortunately that parents no longer have interest in what is happening to their wards.
Though I am a union man who works with these tertiary institutions, I think that the fact there has been this crisis of discrimination and the contentious issue of harmony between teaching and non-teaching staff has created some level of instability in the system.
If we have several weeks of strike, that is not going to impact positively on the students, and I’m happy that in the last couple of years, we have achieved some level of stability in our institutions. Though the strikes have contributed, in no small measure, to destabilize the system, but they were embarked upon for the fun of it.
The strikes were forced on the unions because of the unwillingness of government to address critical issues like decay in infrastructure, adequate funding, welfare of staff and students, among others. With all of these unattended issues, there is no way we can have high standards in our tertiary institutions.
If there is the determination on the part of government, parents, teaching and non- teaching staff and students, things will improve. Some of the problems in the larger society are also impacting negatively on our education system because if we don’t have stable power supply, the students would not be able to read.
I was in Howard university and one of the things that surprised me when I got to the School of Business was that I could come out of the lecture room and press a button and get a Coke, Fanta or cold water. The lecture rooms are air-conditioned, so there is no reason to complain about anything.
I had a very conducive atmosphere to read even to enjoy my life but if you visit our tertiary institutions, except the privately owned ones, you will not find those basic facilities. We fail to realise that these basic facilities enhance the learning ability of students. So, you may say that the fall in the standard of education also has to do with the fall in the standard of basic amenities in our society.
You once raised an alarm about the state of libraries in our tertiary institutions and I remember that only one state government responded. Are the libraries better today?
There was a time we embarked on this crusade that our reading culture isn’t supported by our government and it is very unfortunate that governments failed to focus on the state of our libraries.
The state of libraries in all states is completely a disgrace as some of the buildings are such that you can’t even expect human beings to go and read there. Some of them are empty, so, it’s really a problem.
We talked about that and we approached all of them. There was a time NASU made the point that it didn’t make sense for a state governor whose state has no functional library to go and donate N10 or N20 million to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s library in Abeokuta, when your own state library is in a state of disrepair. At that time it was only the Anambra State Government that built a fine library complex but we have been appealing to Governor Peter Obi to equally equip it.
There is also a good library in Rivers State but the facilities are not there. We have also talked about the remuneration of the workers in the library, which is non-existent, except in Bauchi State where the government decided to remunerate the library staff. The national library is doing fine but they can do better. If you place it on a percentage, about 80 per cent of libraries are in a very bad state.