By Jerome-Mario Utomi
IN the words of Dr. Denis Taylor, a British leading scientist in the electronics field and former Chief UNESCO Advisor at the University College, Nairobi, Kenya, who was also among the British scientists that developed radar during the Second World War, one thing that is very apparent to all is that developing countries must concern themselves first and foremost with their natural resources. This does not, however, mean selling these natural resources abroad as raw products.
No, to get the maximum benefit, the raw products must be turned, if possible, into manufactured products and then exported. I believe this is one of the main reasons why developing countries should encourage a proportion of their graduates to have training in research method. Now, we can come back to the question: “Is research important in developing countries?” I think it is.
Despite the above truth, it is sad that the Nigerian state has neither supported research in the country nor treated the education sector, one of the tripods on which nation building stands, fairly since the nation’s independence. The situation is exacerbated by successive governments’ mindless or near-exclusion of the sector from the nation’s budgetary allocations.
In fact, by its admission, the Federal Ministry of Education few years ago declared that the funding of education at all levels in the country is below the benchmark recommended by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO. While UNESCO’s benchmark for funding of education was 26 per cent of the national budget and six per cent of the gross domestic products, GDP, Nigeria has been allocating six per cent of the national budget to the funding of its education.
However, there is one event in recent weeks that came not only as a surprise, but probably did more than anything else to help Nigerians believe in President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration during the democracy day celebration broadcast on the June 12, 2020, that his administration remains committed to expanding access to quality education in a manner that enhances the productivity of its citizens.
That event is the recent upward review of the National Research Fund, NRF, of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund, from N3 billion to N7.5 billion for the year 2020, by President Buhari. While making the disclosure lately at this year’s Board of Trustees, BoT, retreat of the organisation in Abuja, TETFund Executive Secretary, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro, going by reports, explained that the latest approval by Mr. President makes the agency the largest holder of research grant in Nigeria.
He noted that the President also approved the establishment of six medical simulation research and clinical training facilities in six colleges of medicine in each geopolitical zone within the year and submitted that the authorisation provided TETFund an opportunity to provide 12 COVID-19 and related infectious disease molecular laboratories, two in each geopolitical zone, making the fund the highest single provider of the disease’s test centres nationwide.
Essentially, aside this revelation and other observations such as Mr. President’s fresh claim that he has launched the Better Education Service Delivery for All in 17 states, established additional six Federal Science and Technical Colleges, and executed a pro-active Teacher Training Plan with all states of the Federation, among others, there are in my views, an entirely new set of reasons why President Buhari’s actions in this direction are commendable.
First, it is pretty obvious to most Nigerians that the nation has in the past had too many leaders who defined education too narrowly in a manner devoid of process and fairness. They got preoccupied with revenue generation in ways that impeded scholarly researches, truncated academic calendar with strike actions, left Nigerian universities with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower needs of the nation’s industrial sector.
Nigerians have equally at different times and places witnessed leaders that continuously mouth education as the bedrock of development, proclaimed that with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made, as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes and projects. Yet, it always ended up as nothing but lip service to the detriment of the development of this critical sector.
Without doubt, there is simply no question that Nigeria being a developing nation will continue to face developmental challenges and this reality underscores the importance of research/education as well as provides answers to why the president’s action needs to be applauded. As an illustration, development experts believe that the traditional progressive solution to problems that involve a lack of participation by citizens in civic and democratic processes is for the nation to redouble its emphasis on education.
Education is, in fact, an extremely valuable strategy for solving many of society’s ills. “In an age where information has more economic value than ever before, it is obvious that education should have a higher national priority. It is also clear that democracies are more likely to succeed when there is widespread access to high-quality education,” it has been said.
What about security and economy? Will they benefit from this basket of support given to research by Mr. President? I think they will. The reason is not far-fetched. As the world is in agreement that a country’s defense capability has to continually upgrade as new technology, especially information technology, is incorporated into weapon system.
This requires a sound economy that can afford to pay for new weaponry and a highly educated and trained people who can integrate the various arms into one system and operate them efficiently and effectively.
While Nigerians celebrate this new found love for education, the situation in the sector says something else that calls for more work, more reforms and more funding. Separate from the painful reality that over 13.4 million Nigerian children are currently out of school, and the nation’s educational policy crying for redesigning to suit the 21st century demands, I believed that, as a nation, we are highly skilled and frequently very good at ‘single loop learning’. We have spent much of our lives acquiring academic credentials, mastering one or a number of intellectual disciplines that neither has a link with our industrial and global demands nor needed to solve real-world-problems.
This very fact ironically explains why the nation is often so unable at creative solution creation.
More particularly, considering the fact that there is a complete stoppage of real-time teaching and learning in about 185 out of 193 United Nations recognized countries (including Nigeria) which are shut arising from the threat of COVID-19 pandemic.
From primary to secondary institutions; and also, to higher institution, the social and mental health costs of keeping such a great percentage of the population of learners out of learning conclave cannot be only huge but remains a sign that Nigeria needs a renewed emphasis on redoubling its investment in ICT or digital literacy education.
For a very long time, there have been attempts to extend the notion of literacy beyond its original stage in the country as the present understanding of education tends to encourage critical discussion but neglects the social diversity of literacy practices, retain a narrow focus on information, and made little impact to what students can produce through ICT skills.
Across the globe, true education can no lnger be regarded as merely a set of competences that live in people’s heads. But a phenomenon that is only realized in and through social practices of various kinds, and it therefore, takes different forms in different social and cultural contexts.
And Nigeria cannot confine its attention to the isolated encounter between the reader and the text or the teacher and the student. It is time to take account of the interpersonal context in which that encounter takes place and the broader social and economic processes that determine how such knowledge are produced and circulated.
I hold the opinion that Mr. President needs to do something to help education in the country. It is in the interest of the government to do this as a formidable way of curbing crime and reducing threatening insecurity in the country. It should be done not merely for political consideration but from the views of national development and sustenance of our democracy.
Utomi, a media consultant, wrote from Lagos.