Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, in New York, United States recently, President Muhammadu Buhari said no nation can develop beyond the capacity of its educational system.
That is a truism that does not ring true under the Buhari administration or even some of its predecessors.
ADESINA WAHAB assesses the situation.
The records are there, but they are not enviable ones. Nigeria is the world’s capital, as far as the issue of out-of-school children, OSC, is concerned with over 13 million children involved. Also, the nation has consistently lagged behind regarding international benchmarks for budgetary allocations to the sector. Nationally, the government has not given 15 per cent to the sector in the last decade. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, suggested that developing nations should allocate 26 per cent of their budgets to education so as to be able to play catch up with developed nations.
Since education is on the Concurrent List in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, both state and federal governments have powers to legislate on issues relating to it and the two tiers of government have not been blameless as far as handling the sector is concerned.
The national policy on basic education, that is primary and junior secondary school, is that it should be free and the government providing textbooks in core subject areas including English Language, Mathematics, Basic Science, Computer Studies, Yoruba/Hausa/ Igbo etc.
According to the National President of the National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, many states have failed to implement the policy: “In some states, the free textbooks expected to be provided by the government in core subjects were last provided almost a decade ago. The books are either worn out, not enough to go around the increasing number of students or are not available. Also, with the cost of textbooks going beyond the reach of most parents, students now go to school without books”.
To improve facilities in primary schools, the government 1976 introduced the free Universal Basic Education, UBE, which gave birth to what we have now – the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, at the federal level and State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, at the state level. The two agencies are to collaborate to improve facilities in public primary and secondary schools.
From UBEC, a certain amount is given to a state government to be matched with the same amount by the state SUBEB and used for the purpose of improving facilities and the training of teachers among others. But what do we normally have? Most state governments would only collect the UBEC grants and fail to add their own. In such instances, UBEC has had to blacklist such states. Blacklisted states won’t have access to UBEC funds until they pay up all the arrears and then UBEC would release its share. For instance, Kwara State recently got a reprieve after being suspended for some years by the commission. It paid up N7.1 billion it misused in the past and UBEC released N7.1 billion to match it. The over N14.2 is now being used to upgrade public schools in Kwara State. As of the last count, over N50 billion is being held up in the coffers of UBEC because some states are defaulting on the payment of matching grants.
Happenings at tertiary education level
Colleges of Education, polytechnics and universities are not faring better. Plagued by poor funding, inadequate facilities and manpower, and overcrowded classrooms and hostels among others, they also suffer from incessant strikes by staff unions. Members of the College of Education Academic Staff Union, COEASU, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, have been on strike at one time or the other this year, for instance. The consequences include unpredictable academic sessions due to the closure of the institutions.
The National Coordinator of the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, a group hoping to be registered as a staff union in the university system, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, described the situation thus, “incessant closure of the universities does not allow them to rate well or be able to compete with their foreign counterparts. Also, we won’t be able to draw foreign students to a system that is unpredictable. People want to go where they can be sure of completing their studies at the stipulated time.
“Moreover, a collaboration between lecturers here and our foreign counterparts is not made easy. Imagine if you have agreed with a foreign colleague that he should come over at a particular time and then you have a strike on your hand, that arrangement would just collapse.”
Other issues affecting education generally
Delivering a paper at an event to mark the first year in office of the Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University, LASU, Prof. Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello, the Deputy British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Ben Llewellyn-Jones, who spoke on “The significance of education to the growth of a nation,” listed some of the problems comforting education in Nigeria.
“In Nigeria and across the world, our globe’s development is hindered by the absence of equal opportunity for women and girls to fulfil their potential. There are still too many children out of school in Nigeria, particularly girls.
Although education is free in Nigeria, there are direct and indirect costs involved. Poverty is the most important factor that determines whether or not a girl can access education. In conflict-affected areas, children are impacted by inadequate access to quality education, affecting the future of an entire generation of children. At the start of 2020, 935 schools in the North East were closed for example. According to the Global, Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, in Nigeria about 900,000 children’s education has been interrupted as a result of attacks on schools and teachers.”
While students and schools should not have been targets of attacks, unfortunately, that has been the case in the country, further compounding the problems. A few months ago, UNICEF came out with a report that over one million students, especially in the Northeastern and Northwestern parts of the country are afraid to go back to school due to the possibility of attacks and abductions. Teachers are also not left out, over 100 teachers have either been killed or abducted during attacks on schools.
The consequences of the challenges are glaring, the standard of education is going down, and people who can afford it are going abroad, as education becomes an object being hit on all sides. These are the challenges waiting for the incoming administration.