By Rose Moses
As the late Nelson Mandela, first black president of South Africa, once said, education is the most powerful weapon that one can use to change the world.
Renowned African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist, Malcolm X, took this fact a notch higher with his famous quote describing education as a passport to the future, considering that tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.
What this goes to explain is that the quality of education in any country is key to its national development. Education broadens the mind and opens it to greater compass of and desire for knowledge and creativity.
Simply put, education broadens one’s world view, lifting the individual from the bondage of darkness and shackles of ignorance.
In the words of Albert Einstein, the German-born theoretical physicist that developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics, “education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
Any wonder then that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), some years ago, recommended that every nation should allocate a minimum of 26 per cent of its annual budget to education?
Countries that understand the importance of education to the level of development, to a large extent, are complying with the UNESCO recommendation and are today called the advanced countries. Only those countries that care less about their future and development, so to speak, may choose to treat their educational system with levity.
Nigeria, over the years, has expressed a commitment to education in the belief that overcoming illiteracy and ignorance will form a basis for accelerated national development. However, and regardless of the well known fact that education is crucial to the development of the community and nation, the sector has not always been adequately funded.
The result has been unpaid teacher salaries, strikes in universities and schools and decadence of educational facilities at all levels. What you therefore get is decline in literacy rates that affects negatively on development initiatives.
Unfortunately, the sector is once again hit by a needless industrial action that will further impact negatively on a not-too-good existing situation.
In announcing an indefinite nationwide industrial action, beginning August 13, by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), national president of the union, Dr. Biodun Ogunyemi, said the decision followed failure of government to fully implement the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement and the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), adding that related demands made by the union were yet to be addressed.
Some of the key outstanding issues, according to ASUU, include payment of fractions/non-payment of salaries; non-payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA); non-release of operational license of NUPEMCO and the non-implementation of the provisions of the 2014 Pension Reform Act with respect to retired professors and their salaries.
And so, the union is back to the trenches with another round of negotiations going on with the Federal Government. While that is on and depending on outcome of the negotiations, all academic activities in the nation’s universities will be grounded as the union insists that “during the strike, there shall be no teaching, no examination and no attendance of statutory meetings of any kind in any of the union’s branches across the country.”
The last thing the nation’s educational system needs is any form of disruption. This is even more so at a time the students are said to be writing degree and promotion examinations.
Though ASUU is called upon to heed plea by the Federal Government to suspend the action and return to the classrooms in the interest of the nation, it is also expected of government to honour agreements it voluntarily reached with any group.
It is quite pathetic that the picture most young and middle aged Nigerians have growing up, and till date, is that of constant disruptions in academic sessions that saw many university students spending more years on courses that ordinarily required less.
And it is indeed, a sad commentary that an agreement reached between the Federal Government and ASUU in 2009, still remains a bone of contention in 2017, thus resulting in one industrial action or the other almost every academic year, ever since.
Although the Federal Government, through the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has admitted that government had not fulfilled its own part of the agreements, it has however, indicated willingness to fulfill the demands, with the exception of that on exemption from Treasury Single Account (TSA), which is a step in the right direction.
It is the wish of concerned Nigerians however that anything that will improve the sector must be treated with utmost concern by the groups concerned, for in the words of Walter Cronkite, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”
Serious nations are investing hugely on education today to comfortably secure their future.