By Dakuku Peterside
NIGERIA is at a tipping point regarding security, human capacity development and economic growth. However, the biggest challenge we face as a country is not about the challenges of today but a bleak future staring Africa’s biggest economy and the most populous Black nation in the face.
Looking beyond the 2023 general elections, one sees our leaders’ deliberate insensitivity and indifference at various levels to the destruction of one sector that offers us hope to safeguard and recover the future. That is the educational sector.
In the last month, Nigeria’s education sector crisis has become more evident -the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, which has been on strike since February 14, 2022, has extended the same by three months. ASUP, the Union of Polytechnic lecturers, have commenced strike action.
There is zero public school registration for the West African Examination Council, WAEC, in Sokoto and Zamfara states, and some candidates in some South-East states cannot participate in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, due to IPOB sit-at-home orders.
There are other horrendous developments in the education sector. What is frightening is the inability of our policymakers to connect the monumental rot and negligence of the education sector today to our bleak future.
Nigeria seems to be retrogressing in all aspects of education and skill acquisition. The net quantity and quality of education in Nigeria compared with past decades, given our population and economy, is negative.
The products of our education system cannot measure against their opposite numbers in India , China or the EU. The education sector crisis has been made worse by the intractable insecurity in various parts of Nigeria, the girl- child education inequity, and poverty that has made quality education unaffordable to many Nigerians. There is total loss of confidence by stakeholders in our education system.
Loss of confidence in Nigeria’s education is led by the political and other elite class. Over 95 per cent of the elite leaders in government, business and technocratic professions are educating their children in tertiary institutions in Europe and the US. Consequently, there is hardly any serious policy discussion about education in Nigeria.
Despite notable interventions of the UNICEF and the Nigerian government, we still have 18.5 million children out-of-school in the country, the second largest number in the world. Neglecting the education of the present generation of Nigerians would, in many ways, endanger the prosperity of the future.
But does anybody care? Educating young people today will determine how much progress we make as a country. It is evident that with the neglect or near-total collapse of education, the future of our society is uncertain or may be gloomy.
Our education sector needs quantum overhaul that targets educational outcomes. We need improvement starting from primary education, where we see many children out of school. Secondary education where we see declining standards and low attainment in national exams like the National Examination Council, NECO and WAEC.
The complete collapse of the higher education sector, where workers have incessant strike actions, leading to half-baked graduates who are grossly untrainable and unemployable, needs immediate attention.
As the crisis in the education sector deepens, the attention of our political leaders swings between elections and politics. Elections and politics are essential and must receive due attention, but that must not detract attention from the education sector, which is undergoing decay and needs urgent and immediate attention.
Governments at all levels have an indifferent attitude towards the educational crisis in the country. They have not articulated better ways of managing education to provide needed quality education for our children. Education policies are either not fit for purpose or not yielding the desired results, and education monitoring institutions are moribund at best where they exist.
The recommended average percentage of GDP on total government and private expenditure on education is five per cent of the GDP. Most countries in the developed world spend even more than this average on education.
For example, “among the 34 OECD countries reporting data in 2015, 17 countries spent more than the average percentage (five per cent) of GDP on total government and private expenditures on education institutions for OECD countries”.
However, data from UNESCO also shows that education expenditure (percentage of GDP) in Nigeria was 0.85 per cent as of 2017. This statistic shows the crass negligence our education sector is facing from all sections of the government. This must change!
Two futures are possible with our political leaders’ indifference to education issues. The first is where we continue to relegate education to the rear of our development agenda; our youthful population, which ought to be a demographic advantage, becomes a burden.
We will entrench and reinforce generational inequality and possibly poverty, insecurity, and most importantly, dismantle the building block of the future. Conversely, we are setting our country up for endless, perennial crises because of the collapse of essential building blocks of a functional society. Either way, we cannot win.
We know that the growth of the human mind and the broadening of the human intellect reflect his immediate environment’s physical development. Therefore, the development’s physicality is just a reflection and reification of the extent of our mental and intellectual development.
We see this in what happens to a developed environment when undeveloped minds are allowed to inhabit them, and they trash them and reduce the place to the extent of the level of development of their minds and converse is the case too. This fact underscores the importance of education to the development of Nigeria.
The children we do not educate today will pose a danger in the future, and they may fuel insecurity, criminality, and total dependency on the state for survival, not to mention the lost opportunity cost in productivity they would have given were they educated.
We must bring all ideas, talents, skills, and resources to the table to resolve some of these crises threatening to mar the future of the next generation of Nigerians. It is not just a policy and monetary issue.
We need to focus on teacher education to improve the quality of teachers and periodic testing and retraining. Teachers’ promotion will be tied to the quality of their teaching, personal development, and impact of teaching on students. Individual states should set independent standards for teachers’ accreditation in their jurisdictions.
We must provide all forms of financial and psychological incentives to teachers. We must ringfence their benefits and emoluments in both federal and state budgets. Teachers’ reward must be here “on earth and not in heaven”. We must review teachers’ pay based on current economic realities and attract the best to the teaching profession.
The future we want to build for our children will be worse than what we have now if we do not prioritise education. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine. We must focus and refocus all our physical and intellectual energies to rescue our education from total shambles and, that way, safeguard the future we desire.