By Amaka Abayomi
It was Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ, 36th President of the United States of America that said “freedom is fragile if citizens are ignorant.” He had asked Congress for $1.5bn in new school programmes aid, saying “nothing matters more to the future of our country.”
Whether Nigeria’s leaders agree with LBJ in thoughts and action, whether a fragment of $1.5bn (on January 12, 1965, when LBJ made the demand) is spent on education in Nigeria today doesn’t require the knowledge of rocket science to assess.
Amidst ASUU strikes, promises of meeting UNESCO’s recommendation for education and Federal Government’s establishment of more varsities, President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration achievements in the education sector will have to be based on what can be seen.
There is no denying the fact that policies of the successive governments in Nigeria have added little value to educational advancement, which is being ravaged by a myriad of problems, and they worsen as the day goes by.
Chief of the problems is inadequate funding – which leads to other setbacks like shortage of quality staff, dearth of infrastructure, inadequate classrooms and offices, proliferation, insufficient admission spaces, examination malpractice, brain drain, inadequate laboratories for teaching and research, shortage of books and journals, low remuneration, inconsistent and ill-conceived policies among others.
In 2012, Nigeria spent less than nine per cent of its annual budget on education when smaller African nations like Botswana spent 19.0%; Swaziland, 24.6%; Lesotho, 17.0%; South Africa, 25.8%; Cote d’Ivoire, 30.0%; Burkina Faso, 16.8%; Ghana, 31%; Kenya, 23.0%; Uganda, 27.0%; and Tunisia, 17.0%.
The sector witnessed a 15 per cent increase in 2014 budget as 10.7% of the year’s total budget was allotted to education, up from 8.7% in 2013.
But speaking at the 2013 Education Summit organised by the Lagos State government, former Minister of Education, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, said the problem with Nigeria’s education system is not more funding but accountability and transparency.
“The fundamental challenge of education in Nigeria is the many decades of poor sector governance and entrenched dysfunction with no mechanism of accountability and performance.
“When the funds meant for the sector leaves the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Education, it is still very robust, but it would be suffering from anaemia by the time it gets to the schools.”
Vanguard Learning sought the views of educationists, parents and students on how the sector has fared under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
The Zonal Coordinator, Lagos Zone of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Professor Adesola Nasir, said there has not been any significant improvement in the education sector in terms of structure and output.
Nasir said “The structures are decaying and the overall output from primary to secondary schools, such as rate of passing WAEC and NECO, among others is falling. The secondary schools and Colleges of Education have not really improved in terms of structure, infrastructure, teaching materials and staff training.
“This administration witnessed more strike than its predecessors as universities were on strike for over six months while polytechnics and Colleges of Education were on strike for close to one year, and that’s a very serious loss of valuable time.
“Funding is also an issue as apart from the initial funds we received from government in 2013, we did not receive anything for 2014 and we are now in 2015 and there is no hope of us getting the required funds.
“The worst aspect is that the horizon looks bleak. Though some people would say that 12 new varsities were established but the issue is that these varsities were established with funds forcibly taken from TETFund, and the money used for all of them is not enough to adequately fund one standard varsity.”
Stressing that the education sector has been virtually destroyed by this administration, the National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign, Mr. Hassan Soweto, said “six years ago, the number of out-of-school children was 6.5 million, now that number has risen to over 10.5 million and no Nigerian varsity is among the top 100 globally recognised varsities.
“Despite government’s propaganda of development, it is very glaring that no real development has been recorded in the sector. Even with the establishment of new varsities, how many of them have taken off, how many students do they have and are they properly funded because varsities set up over 30 years ago have not been upgraded by this administration.
“Public education has fared badly under this administration and we fear for the future because, with the election coming up, neither President Jonathan nor his opponents are proposing ways of salvaging the sector.”
Not sure how to rate the performance of the sector, a former Dean, Faculty of Administration, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, and a former Lead Public Sector Management specialist at The World Bank, Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, says this government prefers quantity over quality as evident with the establishment of 12 federal varsities.
The renowned Professor of Public Administration said “though some people may commend the establishment of the varsities, but it goes to show government’s preference of quantity over quality.
“At the basic education level, Nigeria still battles with low enrolment and low quality teachers as over 10.5 million children of school-going age are not attending school. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report Index, 2011-2012, Nigeria was ranked 140 out of 144 countries in primary education enrolment.
“At the secondary school level, students record poor performance in public exam as evident in the percentages of students who obtained five credits, including English and Mathematics in the May/June WAEC over the last five years: 23% (2008), 26% (2009), 24% (2010), 31% in 2011 and 39% in 2012.
“In NECO, failure rate was 98% in 2008, 88% in 2009, 89% in 2010, 92% in 2011, and 68% in 2012. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report Index, 2011-2012, Nigeria was ranked 120 out of 144 in secondary education enrolment.
“Universities are not left out as instead of having no less than 80% of the academics with PhDs, only 43% are PhD holders while the remaining 57% are not. Also, instead of 75% of the academics to be between Senior Lecturers and Professors, only about 44% are within the bracket while the remaining 56% are not.
“There is an average of four abandoned projects per varsity in Nigeria” – with negative consequences for classrooms, laboratories, students’ hostels, and staff accommodation. Poor infrastructure adversely affects teaching, research, learning and students’ health and safety.
“Universities do not have adequate supply of PhDs but PhD holders seek graduate-level positions and some compete to be truck drivers.”