By Owei Lakemfa
AGATHERING of vice-chancellors, rectors and provosts of tertiary institutions is bound to examine the education system. This time, the question was whether all education is actual education or if literacy including the one certified by a tertiary institution, means the recipient is educated.
That was the crux of the issues raised by Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola at the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) 2018 Policy Meeting on June 26 in Gbongan, Osun State. JAMB spokesperson, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, had in a free flowing style, introduced Aregbesola as His Excellency, the normal way Presidents and Governors are addressed in the country. But he had unintentionally triggered a debate as the Governor objected to be so addressed. He gave three reasons. First, he argued that it is unconstitutional for anyone including public officers, to be so addressed, and challenged anyone to contradict him. Secondly, he contended that educational institutions take students through examinations to access their competence before awarding certificates. So they do not make assumptions. In the same way, he said, public officers cannot be adjudged excellent unless they have performed excellently in office. So it is after their tenure they can be so entitled if they deserved it. His third point was hinged on his religious belief that no human being can be excellent; only God can.
Aregbesola argued that education is extremely important, but that the most important is the foundation; the primary and post-primary where character is formed and morals built. He told his hosts that less than 10 per cent of them would have attended private schools, and asked: “Are the public schools we attended same as those today?” He said it is in his efforts to correct this and restore public education to its proper place, he had literarily, squeezed “water from stone” to upgrade schools in the state he governs.
Beyond the physical structures of the schools which in most parts of the country, are dilapidated, he argued that; “ When our education does not make a man to be conscious of his environment and be of service to his community, that education is defective.” In this, he follows the teachings of a man like Cuba’s Fidel Castro who profoundly changed his country’s education system into an hands-on one because as he argued, a person cannot be said to be educated if he does not know where the food he eats comes from. He also buys into the theory of Brazilian educationist, Paulo Freire who rejected education for its stake; education as rote learning, just to pass examinations. Or, as we say in Nigeria, a meal ticket with which to secure jobs.
Aregbesola concluded that education should be relevant to society with the educated giving back to the society. That education, to be relevant, must develop the thinking faculties of the recipient and produce critical thinkers. To him, the primary driver of society, is education, without which the society is lost.
Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu responded: “ I want to agree completely with Comrade Aregbesola on education but not on the ‘His Excellency’ title. He argued that Nigerians who say “Your Excellency” are only making a supplication to the public officer: “May you be excellent.”
He said that the JAMB Policy Meeting shall be the only means of admission into full-time studies in all tertiary institutions in the country including distance learning, part- time, outreach and sandwich programmes.
JAMB Registrar, Professor Is-haq Oloyede laid bare statistics which clearly indicate the bent and direction of education in the largest black country in the world. They showed that in the 2018 tertiary admission examinations, 1,558,686 candidates or 94.29 per cent picked the universities for their first choice, 69,712 or 4.2 per cent picked the polytechnics, 24,524 or 1.48 per cent picked the Colleges of Education while other tertiary institutions had only 205 candidates or 0.01 per cent. They show that Nigerian youths are fixated to university education and virtually have no faith in technical education that requires more of practice than rote learning.
Another set of statistics reveal serious gender imbalance. The statistics from the 19 Northern states show that the overwhelming number of candidates are males. It means that the obstacles girls go through to get educated in the North remain insurmountable for many. This has been age long, and the statistics show it is not about change. If anything, it might be taken as normal or natural. In contrast, there are more female candidates in the Eastern states of Enugu, Imo, Abia, Anambra and Ebonyi. This does not necessarily mean that there are conscious efforts there to promote girl-child education. That has been a pre-independence consciousness. What it shows is that the culture of male trade-apprenticeship and quickly establishing business at the expense of getting educated, is still prevalent. This in the 1980s and 90s had seen such males trying to make up for their illiteracy by marrying educated women. For them, the higher the education qualifications of a lady, the better.
What this means is that there is need for deliberate intervention in education to balance the male-female equation. For the rest of the country, the ratio is fairly balanced.
Yet, another set of statistics provided by the JAMB Registrar show that the seven states with the highest number of candidates are from the South. The South also accounts for 13 of the 20 states with the highest number. Also, of the 10 states with the lowest number of candidates, nine are from the North. Where 234, 627 candidates sat for the tertiary entrance examination in Lagos State, only 8,769 sat for the examinations in Zamfara State. This is not a question of comparing a mega city like Lagos with Zamfara, but it shows the huge gap. While we have failed as a people to enroll all children of school age, there is the need, beyond rhetoric for states in the North to spend and concentrate more on education, which as Aregbesola argues, is the driver of development.
There are other worrying statistics such as that although university means universal knowledge and learning, all our universities are getting increasingly regionalised; admitting primarily, students from their environs. It means our policy of so-called “catchment areas” is a disaster that not only compromises national unity and interaction, but also narrows the consciousness of our students.
There was some good news. For instance, examination malpractice that in the 2017 examinations recorded 2,508 cases, are down to 280 this year. Also, the number of blind candidates admitted are increasing, and they may increase further as the Policy Meeting decided to lower the cut-off admission mark for such candidates by 30 per cent. The standard and content of our education, will determine our future.