State of Emergency in education sector: Some Observations

The National Economic Council, NEC, has directed the 36 Governors of the federation to declare a state of emergency on the education sector – Vanguard, October 18,  2018.

By Ladipo Adamolekun

The following is one of the recommendations in the maiden Convocation Lecture that I delivered at the Federal University Oye-Ekiti in April 2017.

Prof. Adamolekun

“Declare a ten-year emergency for the rescue of the education sector:

Inclusion of a thought and recommendation on the entire education sector is informed by the strong interconnection among the three sub-sectors: poor quality at primary and secondary education levels impact negatively on the universities just as rot in universities has serious negative consequences for the secondary and primary education levels. This is similar to the phenomenon of a fish getting rotten from the head. And the advocacy for arresting the rot in the education sector at the level of the universities is with the hope that the resultant positive results will cascade down to the secondary and primary education levels.

A national dialogue on “Nigeria and Education: the challenges ahead” held over two decades ago concluded that “The nation must now consider seriously the desirability of declaring a five-year emergency… for the rescue of our educational system”.  Sadly, the challenges have increased immensely since the recommendation was made as there is incontrovertible evidence of decay and decline at each of the three subsectors: primary, secondary and higher education. A striking corroboration was provided recently in a communique of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities that admitted there is “decay…from the primary to the tertiary level” (cited in The Nation, Editorial, March 22nd 2017).

Consequently, I recommend a ten-year emergency for tackling the crisis in the education sector, taking into account the increased dimensions of the crisis as well as the longer-term perspective required for tackling the challenges. I would like to stress that this recommendation is for both the federal and state governments. I am aware that any government (federal or state) that is keen to act can draw on competent and experienced experts from different parts of the federation to help develop a comprehensive and robust strategy together with an implementable action plan for tackling the challenges (sic).

Emergency must be time-bound

Newspaper reports on NEC’s decision on the state of emergency in the education sector is correctly silent on duration.  Therefore, each government is free to to determine an appropriate duration, taking into account its specific needs. However, as indicated above, a five-year timeframe would be inadequate for addressing the enormous problem in the education sector at either the state or federal level.  In the circumstances, I would recommend a 7 to 10-year timeframe.  The suggestions provided in the subsequent paragraphs of this essay assumes a 10-year timeframe.

Ten-Year Rescue Plan for Education Sector: Specific Activities and Expected Results

The report of the Committee on Needs Assessment (2012) commissioned by the Federal Government (FG) provides a good starting point for both the FG and state governments with respect to their universities. The methodology used in the report should be adopted and used to assess the needs of other tertiary institutions owned by each of the two levels of government: Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and other post-secondary educational institutions. Arising from the findings in the needs assessments, the specific activities required to meet the needs should be spelled out together with the expected results on annual basis. I would add that one obvious action that should feature in the Rescue Plan with respect to public universities is a moratorium on the establishment of new ones during the ten-year plan period. The persistent poor funding of all public universities (as confirmed in the 212 report of the Committee on Needs Assessment and by the unending complaints by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU) is a major justification for this position.

Regarding primary and secondary education, the reference points for the needs assessment to be undertaken in each state should be the provisions in Section 18 (3) Section 18 (3) of the 1999 Constitution: “Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide: (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education…”

Primary education:

Is it “free”, “compulsory” and “universal”?  An obvious addition would be the quality of primary education. Based on the existing realities in each state, the activities to be carried out during the plan period would aim to ensure that it is free, compulsory and universal as well as of quality by the end of the plan period.  Given the strong evidence of the key role played by private providers in primary education sub-sector in many states, public-private partnership (PPP) issues should feature in the plans of the states concerned.  For example, in one South-West state on which I have credible data (provided by the relevant state authorities), there were almost as many pupils in private primary schools in 2015 as in the public private schools. Two obvious measures of the quality of primary education would be (a) percentage of successful completion and (b) percentage of transition from primary to post-primary educational institutions.

Secondary education: In addition to the objective of “free” secondary education specified in the Constitution, another objective that should feature in each state’s plan is the quality of secondary education. Based on the existing realities in each state, the activities to be carried out during the plan period would aim to ensure that secondary education is free and of quality.  Again, as is the case with respect to primary education, strong evidence of important role played by private providers in secondary education subsector in a significant number of states should ensure a focus on PPP issues in the plans of the states concerned. The measures of quality would be the percentage of transition from secondary to post-secondary educational institutions either for degrees from universities) or for skills acquisition from institutions such as Colleges of Education, Polytechnics, and Colleges of Health/Laboratory Technology. Regarding federal-owned secondary schools (the so-called unity secondary schools), they should be transferred to state governments together with the annual budgetary allocation (pending the adoption of a new revenue allocation formula).  Strikingly, according to the 2010 Report of the Presidential Task Force on Education, the unity schools “do not appear to be sources of excellence in secondary education and cannot be models for the States and other School Proprietors – one of the reasons for establishing them in the first instance.”

Monitoring and Evaluation, and Incentives for Performance.

Each Rescue Plan should include details on how the activities implemented and the results recorded will be monitored and evaluated annually.  Furthermore, there should be provision for bi-annual reviews of performance and revision/tweaking of policies and programmes. Incentives for performance should also be provided for each of the three education sub-sectors at the state level and for the tertiary sub-sector at the national level. For example, annual publications of league tables of secondary schools can be published in each state just as it would be desirable to have a national annual ranking of universities, drawing on the methodology used to produce the annual Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Two Critical Cross-cutting Issues: Education Funding and Learning Environment Education funding: This must feature prominently in every Rescue Plan.  First, each government would need to formally commit to allocate at least 15 percent of its budget to education during the plan period as directed by the National Economic Council. I would strongly recommend between 20 and 30 percent of budgets as the more adequate funding level.  India and Rwanda are two examples of countries within that higher bracket in their 2017/2018 education budgets. Additional state funding through an Education Endowment Fund recently adopted by a few state governments is a good practice. Second, the fiction of zero fees in universities needs to be abandoned, given the evidence of high (and sometimes humongous) fees charged in private secondary schools and universities in the same economy.  Of course, the level of fees would vary from one state to another as is already the case with respect to a few state-owned universities. However, scholarships, bursaries and loans would need to be provided at both the federal and state levels to ensure that no student that meets the requirements for university education is excluded because of inability to pay fees.  Finally, universities should seek to enhance their internally generated revenues through more effective mobilisation of available sources including revenue-generating research and donations from philanthropists and alumni.

Learning environment:

Poor infrastructure, especially epileptic electricity, impacts negatively on the learning environment with respect to the use of information technology in general and e-learning in particular.  This limitation affects all three education sub-sectors in varying degrees. The learning environment for each sub-sector is also impacted by different combinations of inadequacies covering classrooms/lecture theatres, libraries and laboratories. Strategies for meeting these needs should feature prominently in the Rescue Plan of each government with a roadmap that would ensure satisfactory improvements by the end of the plan period.


Professor Ladipo Adamolekun writes from Iju, Akure North, Ondo State.

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