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Accessible education for all and not the few

By Denrele Animasaun

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think — rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.”- Bill Beattie

Many of our learned elites benefited from free and high quality education and it did not only transform their lives but that of their families and the next generation. The quest for knowledge is not new; it is innate and transformational when it is allowed to flourish. My father always reminded my siblings and I that: “education is an inheritance, that once it is acquired no one can take it away from you”. The nation’s intellegenzas hold in their hands the foundations of thinking, creative, progressive and a dynamic society.

llustration: A teacher. TRCN says 50% private schools employ unprofessional teachers.

Conversely the death of an advance society begins with the gradual and eventual erosion of its educated and gifted guardians of progress, if you silence the educated and the learned group and then the  nation regresses and it becomes a society of sheep, the gullible and the ignorant. A nation without the progressives and the educated becomes a festering playground for tyrannical leaders and the megalomaniacs.

It is, therefore crucial and essential to have literate and knowledgeable citizens who can think and question the powers that be, agitate for the marginalised, the weak, work towards an equitable and tolerant society.

Most importantly, they are able to contribute positively to the growth of the nation. A nation grows when its people are educated and consciously aware. Margaret Thatcher was once asked what was her government’s top priority, without hesitation she said; “Education, education and education”. Yes, education is the key and an essential building block of a fair, just and progressive society.

G.K. Chesterton defined education as; “simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another”. Many of our parents had the opportunity to get an education because their parents, who had the aspirations that their children should have an education and thus, have a better quality of life and with It, the opportunity to do better in life as a result.

My grandparents and countless others across the nation toiled to pay their children’s school fees and if they were lucky also sent their children abroad for higher education so on completion, they can return to Nigeria and become successful in their chosen careers. Our parents were the nation builders and took their roles seriously and many did return and helped build the nation and we all benefitted as a result of their hard work and dedication to the cause.

In Nigeria, in the 60s,70s and 80s,we  had schools, colleges and universities that produced remarkable graduates, and the quality of the nation’s education rival the best of the best in any developed nation.  Sadly, that was then.

Now, our seats of learning have been underinvested for decades, ignored and left to fallow and fallen into ruin. In fact, most of our schools and higher learning establishments are riddled with corruption, cultists, substandard learning, lack resources and poorly paid teachers and a place of discontent due to prolong strikes and scandals, students on a four year course have interrupted period that means they fail to or it takes additional years to complete their studies. In terms of lost years, it has cost implications to the nation’s productivity and economic growth.

The seat of learning has become a breeding place of iniquity, intimidation, crime, killings and debauchery; it is not exactly a safe place to learn. For parents who could afford a safer alternative, they send their children to neighbouring African universities and colleges and those with deeper pockets, their children go too far flung countries where their education is uninterrupted and where they can complete their education and perhaps return to a gilded job arranged by their parents’ connection.  I am often told that it is who you know that gets you the job and that merit or qualification alone no longer cut it.

This alas, has created an elite class and the gulf between the haves and have-nots has become so wide than ever before. Education was once a sure way of breaking the cycle of poverty and now not so much the case. It is so hard for many young people to get access to education, training, talk less of securing employment.

For decades respective administrations have failed to invest in the nation’s most valuable resources- our young. As a result, the nation has to deal with the dire consequences. Many of our young people are not in employment, education or training.

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”-Andy McIntyre

Without the risk of disclosing my age, I was a child of the 70s and I was a fortunate recipient of the Jakande’s free education.

Lagos State had a visionary governor who prioritised education and made it accessible to so many children, who may not have the opportunity to get one otherwise.

He recognised that the state education sector was poorly funded and his astonishing legacy stands today: he established a singular school system and ensured genuine free education in Lagos State and the beneficiaries of this policy are in different positions of eminence in the country and around the world. During his tenure: he raised the primary schools in Lagos State to 812 with 533,001 pupils (against 605 primary schools with 434,545 pupils he met in 1979) and secondary schools to 223 with 167,629 students (against 105 schools with 107,835 students in 1979) and his government constructed 11, 729 classrooms with the maximum of 40 children per class between March and August 1980, by 1983, he had constructed over 22,000 classrooms.

As Lagos state governor in 1981, he recognised that the education sector was poorly funded and he transformed the educational system. Now, an elder statesman, in a recent address, he stressed his concern regarding the standard of education. It had fallen so low and it is a serious concern to him and he called “on the government to do more on education because no society could be better without quality education”.

They do well to listen; many of these people owe him a debt of gratitude as they were a product of his educational opportunity. You would think they of all below would recognise the importance of access for all to education.

The status of education in Nigeria is critical and no amount of private universities and colleges will or can address the deterioration of the quality and standard of the nation’s educational system without a committed and substantial investment in the education sector. A nation depends on providing a competitive and world standard educational system for its citizens, without that they cannot take their top rank in league table of developed nations.

Failure to address this as a matter of urgency means, the loss of potential geniuses, brain drain: losing the best students and graduates to opportunities abroad and nation that fails to thrive.

According to the National Literacy Survey (2010) carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics in Nigeria, it is estimated that the adult literacy rate is 56.9%, with huge variations between states (Lagos 92.0 % and Borno only 14.5%), regions (urban74.6 % and rural 48.7 %,) and by gender (male 65.1% and female 48.6%).

Recently, Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Nigeria’s Kaduna State, disclosed that some  primary school teachers were  given questions set for primary four pupils, aged 10 and he was surprised at the outcome as 75% of the teachers expected to pass but :”I am sad to announce that 66% of the teachers did not get that.”

He laid the blame on the recruitment of unqualified teachers for the problem and he has promised to put an end to it. Contrary to the good governor’s disclosure the state’s teachers’ union secretary, Adamu Ango, came to the teachers’ defence and has since disputed the governor’s claim, calling it “cheap media propaganda”.

The teachers in the state are unsurprisingly not too pleased because they have to take frequent tests and this was the third test within the year.  The fact is, teachers and teaching is no longer a valued and appreciated progression in Nigeria.

Many complain that they are expected to do much more for less pay:  Class sizes and some have said the size of a class is between a staggering 70 to over 120 students! It is impossible to teach such large number and many students cannot optimise their learning in such large class size.

We have seen pictures of many of such classes with students writhing and sitting on breeze blocks and a classroom that is not fit for purpose. Of course, many of the classrooms were commissioned and carried out by corrupt middlemen and proceeds are shared by same corrupt politician in fine clothing, now you wonder why they send their own children to better schools at home and abroad. Teachers are demotivated, poorly paid or delayed paying their salaries and many are leaving the profession in droves. Like in any other sector in Nigeria, some teachers get their jobs through connection and they may not be the best people for the job. If you pay peanuts, then don’t be surprised to get monkeys!

It is a known secret that many students can buy their grades at entrance exams and many times a hardworking student’s results is given for a fee to those who can afford to pay. For that working student it’s not only a disappointment he may have received a less favourable result but may have repeat the year so as to get a better result in order to gain entrance to higher learning.

I understand that the education authorities are tightening the loopholes but, the system is heavily flawed and what is needed is determined change of culture of bribery and corrupt practices. There needs to be a zero tolerance and consequences should fit the level of corruption in order to make an impact.

The push and pull of the nation’s education sector has been long time in its demise so it will take the termination of the likes of Jakande to lift it off its doldrums.

With basic education in such a bad state, especially in publicly funded schools, well-off parents have been voting with their wallets and they send their children to private schools in West Africa, America, Asia and as far flung as Russia!

Indeed the class division in Nigeria is especially widening and glaringly obvious in terms of what school one’s child attends. It seems there us business to be had in schools these days and Nigerians do like a niche market. In recent years, private and independent schools and universities have sprung up and many are too expensive for ordinary, hard-working Nigerians. Inspite of these exclusive private colleges and universities price tags, they are not independently vetted and are substandard compared to similar schools abroad or they are nowhere as good as the nation’s long established federal colleges.

From my archive-Ogbeni’s vision

When something works and works well, it is important to admit and admire the process and that is what I do. With well over half of the Nigerian population unemployed, not in training, or education and with poverty higher than it has ever been, subsequent administrations have promised to improve the lives of its citizens and time after time, they have consistently and spectacularly let the nation down and have failed to deliver.

However the Osun administrations have a pragmatic vision; It employed the highest number of civil servants than any other states in the country. So, here is an administration that does exactly what it set out to do. It did more and beyond to improve the lives of its people.

One of the few states in the country that has consistently improved and laid down solid structures and sound governance. This is essential in order to get the country working again.  That is exactly what the Ogbeni’s administration has done.

Making education free at the point of entry which means more children are educated and it ensures that the future of Osun is brighter as more children are given the opportunity to better their lot. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the people can in fact bear witness to the changes in the state.

In the Ogbeni, the people of Osun have witnessed a committed and hard-working governor who is willing to work for the interest of its people. He has single handedly transformed his state and its people. He has produced results for all to see; this is no spundbites. The feeding programme is a master stroke after all, they say, an army matches on its stomachs. No point sending children to school on an empty stomach. Stroke of genius, so they offer free nutritious meals so that the children’s bodies are optimise for learning and development.

The programme’s sublime quality and rationale is that it considers every aspect of the health of the children that includes the de-worming programme and the distribution of free uniforms and school materials. This means that every child is equal at the point of entry. Every child has been given a head start and they can unfurl their potential and thrive.

As a result of all these innovations, the school attendance has improved exponentially, more teachers are recruited to deal with the demand, Osun government spends more than N3 billion annually on its home-grown elementary school feeding, O’Meal.  N600 million was spent on about 3,000 community caterers as well as transportation fare to the various schools. – 2014.

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