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Commercialization of education and the storm ahead

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“Currently Nigeria’s out of school population is projected at 10 million while that of India is projected at 1.8 million, though they have eight times our population. Why is it so?”

Without adequate investments in education, “there is no way the country can combat poverty”. Atiku Abubakar at the 2017 Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs Conference in Lagos, on Thursday, November 31).

THE youths”, they say, “are the future of any nation”; the process of youth education and development would, therefore be top priority for any progressive nation.  The wealth of a nation garnered from the toil, sweat and sacrifice of its people will be carelessly dissipated in the next generation, if training and education of its youth is handled with levity. “The critical question therefore, is whether or not our educational policies and programmes can produce the expected quality of youth development that would ensure that the Nigerian project will be successfully sustained.

Private investment is invariably  driven by the profit motive; it is, therefore, clear that if youth education is left solely to entrepreneurs, the basic right to good education may only be available to the small elitist class, who can afford it.   The majority of citizens, who remain financially challenged, will regrettably remain largely uneducated, and untrained and ultimately become social liabilities, who will challenge wealth creation and probably also predicate social insecurity.

“Nonetheless, education seems to have been sucked in by the controversial wind of privatization of public utilities.  Consequently, the number of private primary schools has gradually increased from a ratio of, say, 1:20 public schools, to what may now be a ratio of about three private schools to every government-sponsored primary establishment.  The products of these private primary schools have in turn quickly provided a heavy stimulus for the parallel growth of private secondary schools.

“The death knell of a predominantly government-sponsored education sector has now been sounded by steady growth of private profit-oriented tertiary institutions nationwide; meanwhile, graduates of existing government institutions are now largely adjudged by both public and private sector employers, as uneducated and an embarrassment to the institutions from whence they came!  Ultimately, we must be wary of a huge population of quarter-baked youths with no jobs!

The mind boggles at the scary prospect of the impact of the disconcerting disparity of opportunities between a small elite and a huge population of impoverished, largely untrained or poorly trained have-nots!

“Sadly, the whole structure of youth education has now become as commercialized as a cash-and-carry supermarket.  The most disturbing aspect of this phenomenon is the high cost of private education!  In a country where the highest paid civil servant earns less than N1.5m a year (2005),  and the least paid civil servant earns less than N100,000 annually, indications are that primary and secondary school fees presently exceed N50,000 for the cheapest and over N1m for the elitist cadres.  Pray, how do civil servants, who send their children to private educational institutions, manage this abracadabra with their meagre salaries?”  Besides, it would certainly require a miracle for the majority who earn $2/day to provide their wards with quality education.”

Quality of education

The preceding is the summary of an article, first published on August  29,2005, with the above title in Vanguard Newspapers (see www.lesleba.com).  Regrettably, over a decade thereafter, the chickens have come home to roost.

It is undeniable that, the quality of education in public institutions has been degraded by inadequate funding by government; for example, despite UNESCO’s recommendation for 26% of annual budgets to be allocated to education, regrettably, for decades, votes for education hardly exceeded 15% of annual budgets.  Worse still, recurrent expenditure still consumes over 65% of annual budgets, while late passage of budgets, coupled with unbridled corruption, also challenge full implementation of the same relatively paltry capital budget for education.

The ubiquitous dilapidated structures and facilities in our educational institutions are the inevitable products of inadequate funding and misappropriation of the meagre annual allocation for education. Besides, the often protracted industrial actions by staff unions, and the consequent horrid dislocation of academic calendars are fundamentally also, products of inadequate funding.

In addition, policies such as quota system and disparate admission and selective cut-off marks in public educational institutions, undoubtedly also constitute monumental injustice; how does one rationalize the rejection of a candidate with excellent scores because of their state of origin, while automatic admission awaits abysmal failures from some other states?

The decay in the education sector invariably accelerated with the reckless depreciation of our national currency by over 95% between 1985 and today!  The remuneration package for teachers and lecturers predictably became inadequate to meet the existential needs of these cradle watchers; the result has been a mass exodus and loss of some of the best brains to foreign pastures.

Expectedly, poverty has deepened as several industries and businesses collapsed, as the naira depreciated steadily from parity to today’s N306/$1.  The promotion of misguided government policies with the deliberate lack of transparency and accountability together with systemic corruption, further widened the gap between the rich and the poor.

Ultimately, the dismal quality of education has led to migration of students from affluent homes to expensive educational institutions abroad.  Conversely, however, while children from more privileged homes may pay over ($50,000) N15m to study abroad, thousands of their indigent counterparts constantly risk their lives across deserts and turbulent seas to also seek greener pastures abroad.

Ultimately, the beneficiaries of our failed educational system are primarily the sponsors of local private educational institutions as well as colleges and universities in Europe, Canada and United States.

Indeed, if barely a hundred thousand Nigerian youths pay an average of $50,000 annually for tuition and living expenses, this would result in a minimum outflow of about $5bn (N1.5Tn) annually with N305=$1 (i.e. well beyond the relatively paltry N500bn consolidated allocation in the 2016 federal budget for education).  Sadly, copious adverts in the print and electronic media now readily tell a tale of a new scramble by foreign institutions to attract fee paying Nigerian students.

Tragically, however, if insecurity and economic mismanagement of public resources subsist, only a fraction of our overseas-trained students will return home to add value to the economy after graduation.  Such an event is fortuitously a win-win outcome for those first world economies, who are ironically also, our shylock creditors as well as beneficiaries of the expensive sacrifice we have made for our children to study abroad.

Nonetheless, Nigerian parents who are sponsors of foreign education may take comfort in the knowledge that their wards are less likely to be kidnapped or subjected to the horrid uncertainties and the abiding trauma of survival at home.

SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!

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