Post–UME And The State Of Education In Nigeria

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On 28th July 2008, we issued a press statement, wherein we condemned the way and manner Post-UMEs' were conducted by 'our universities' and how the whole exercise has been turned into another JAMB and money making venture. Just a few months back the federal government through the Federal Ministry of Education issued a directive stating that no university should charge more than One Thousand Naira (N1,000) for Post-UME. But this has turned out to be mere statement.

The University of Jos conducted its supposed Post-UME from the 3rd- 8th of August 2009 in a manner that shows the insensibility of the university administrators to the plight of prospective Nigerians seeking admission into the institution. First, against the directive of the Federal Government, the University charged each student N2, 300. More disturbing is the fact that the University invited not less than 30,000 candidates, when it has the capacity to admit approximately about 4,000 students per session inclusive of Remedial, Direct Entry and UME. What then is the moral justification for such a scenario? The University also invited all those who made it its second choice when it can hardly absorb those who made the university its first choice. This further lay credence to the fact that the whole exercise was a money spinning venture for a few.

Secondly, for security reasons the exams ought to have been postponed as it was conducted at a time the nation was yet to come out of the shock of the Boko Haram insurgence. Some candidates could not attend the exams because of the general fear of their safety. The fears were of course reasonable owing to the events in the northern part of the country. Not putting the security situation into consideration was a serious insensitivity on the part of the institution.

Thirdly, the Post-UME for the first time was conducted with computers. This sounds like good news considering the global advancement in technology and growing popularity of computer usage all around the world. But where is the place of Nigeria in that global technology? How many students (apart from children of the elite, those in the urban centres, and those in highly unaffordable private schools) are familiar with computers? For many of our brothers and sisters who had their education in rural communities where there are no good schools, roads, electricity, etc the only avenue of seeing computers is on the pages of textbooks. Therefore, the adoption of computers as a means of examinations conferred undue advantage on candidates from private and urban secondary schools over those from public and rural schools. And this means automatic failure for candidates from rural areas and thus establishing nothing but social injustice. It might interest the management of the University of Jos to know that majority of students and staff of the university and many enlightened Nigerians cannot use computers even for leisure not to talk of using them for exams.

Another fundamental question begging for attention is why would University of Jos, that prides itself as a leading ICT centre in the country contract the 'computerised Post-UME' to a consulting firm of individuals that are relatively unknown? Before now a lot of us thought that the essence of the Post-UME is to provide a platform for candidates to interact with lecturers to ascertain if they were the ones who actually took the JAMB examinations. It was also to provide an opportunity from that interaction for the character of candidates to be ascertained. The written test hitherto, was to establish the suitability for admission of candidates from their grammatical construction and presentation.

We are saying it loud and clear that the present Post-UME exam in the country is a far cry from what is expected of it. We therefore urge all authorities concerned: the federal ministry of education, the NUC and the National Assembly to as a matter of urgency make deliberate efforts to sanitise the post-UME exercise in the country. We also call on the EFCC and ICPC to focus their attention on 'our universities' with the aim of knowing how much they have generated in all Post-UME and how those monies were used. It is a very dangerous trend when the soul of the society, i.e the citadels of learning are turned into market squares. For the growth and development of any society, trust, responsibility and accountability at all levels serve as a panacea to underdevelopment. The Universities must be the arrowheads of this transformation and thus, cannot be enmeshed in this murky water. For University of Jos, we call on the management of the institution to refund the sum of N1,300 to all the candidates who were made to pay N2,300.

It sadden our hearts to note that teachers in public schools in Plateau state have been on strike for over three months to push home their demand for enhanced welfare. Strikes in whatever form have always had negative effect on the development of any state and with particular reference to the on going teachers strike, its damage to the growth and development of the state and on the lives of innocent supposed future leaders cannot be quantified. At the moment the pupils and students have missed out on their promotion exams, common entrance, junior secondary examination and a lot of them are indulging in risky activities.

It is a trite knowledge that the place and position of education in the growth and development of any society can never be over estimated, education is crucial for human capital development of any society. Education has a vital role in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitative and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment, and controlling population growth. It is the only vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities and the act of governance.

Education, we must keep in mind, is a universal phenomenon. Its means of transmission requires the ability to read, write and communicate in the generally accepted languages of communication fluently. Every child, we must not forget, deserves quality and comprehensive education and it is the responsibility of parents, teachers, governments and other stakeholders to provide the child with such. Majority of Plateau children receive a quality of education that is extremely poor, leaving them without the skills and knowledge they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

Therefore if these children in public schools are not given quality education and it is nobody's business because they are children of the poor and the have-nots, it will become everyone's business when they become nuisance to the society as we shall all become victims and casualties of their nuisance activities. But more fundamentally, how do we get quality and credible leaders that would move Plateau state and Nigeria forward if the quality of teaching is disrupted at will.

It is a known fact that few years back the education sector in Plateau State was like a sick baby in critical condition at the intensive unit of a paediatric specialist hospital. Parents, teachers, non-governmental organisations and other concern stakeholders all cried foul over the fallen standard of education in the state. The situation was so critical that the state rating in all national examinations was on a decline yearly. In addition, the state lost some grants meant for education due to lack of accountability and counterpart funding by the state government, the morale of teachers was at its lowest ebb due to lack of promotion, training, none payment of salaries and other allowances. This alarming scenario no doubt was an offshoot of insufficient human, financial and institutional capacities in the sector; lack of policy coordination between all levels of governments.

It was however quite relieving, when this present administration declared a state of emergence on the educational sector and when credible, highly experienced and expert individuals were appointed to serve in the educational sector. This singular innovation brought about a lot of sanity in the educational sector of the state as they infused new blood into the sector. We have on records that education secretaries were properly screened and appointed, financial entitlements of teachers in the legal payroll of government are being paid regularly, qualified and experience teachers are sought after for teaching jobs, there was training and retraining for English and mathematics teachers and instructional materials for the schools are properly managed. These are efforts in the right direction as they have the potential of transforming the educational sector of the state for the better. But they are by no means an end in itself.

The challenges of education in the state can not be adequately addressed in an atmosphere of strikes and rancour. Now is the time for relevant actors in the educational sector to direct their energy towards addressing the underlying mechanisms that necessitated the current teachers' strike in particular, incessant strikes in the sector and other issues that have affected the delivery of quality education in public schools in general- especially at the primary level of education. This is especially so, when we understand that primary school education is the foundation for the success or failure of all other educational enterprise since other higher levels of education are built upon this foundation. Therefore, government at all levels must take appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial and other necessary measures towards the full realization of the right of every Nigerian Child to quality education.

It must be noted here, that apart from the general problem of brain drain in the Nigerian education system, recent developments on the Plateau revealed that a lot of teachers prefer working with other organizations including the Local Government Authorities where they get better monetary motivation, pay less tax, and get their salaries every month end even when they do less work and only report for work at their own conveniences. This trend must be prevented if we really want to preserve and improve on the quality of education in the state.

As a way forward towards achieving Education for All, meeting the UBE and MDGs goals on education, reducing the current rate of strikes in the educational sector and placing the state among the best three most educational advanced states:

 It is a sine qua-non for the state government, as a matter of urgency to codify a law that will mandate all government officials from the rank of Assistant Director and above to have their children attend public schools. This way, one has some level of assurance that government will give more attention to the distressed public schools.

 Parents, religious/traditional leaders and respected members of the public should form the habits of visiting government schools during school hours to attend classes and to listen to what the teachers are teaching the pupil/students.

 NUT should at all time consider the future of the Plateau child who is the victim of the current situation and the future of education in general before finally embarking on strikes. As with all labour organizations, strike should always be the last resort of their demand strategy.

 Government at all levels must be proactive on all issues that border on education.

 Government and NUT should speedily resort to a round-table dialogue to iron out their differences amicably. We call on both parties to do whatever is possible to resolve the ongoing strike by teachers in the State.

Other critical actions that must be taken by this government in relations to its ten point agenda on improving and providing quality education and human resource development include:

 Ensuring prompt payment of teachers' salaries, promotions and allowances including annual increment.

 Adequate provisions and maintenance of teaching and learning facilities in the schools across the state especially in the local government and rural areas.

 The current training and re-training of teachers should be sustained.

 Budget increment for education to meet the UNESCO demand of 26% of budgetary allocation to the education sector.

 There should be regular dialogue between government and other stakeholders, which we think will build and bring about trust.

As stakeholders interested in the overall development of education in the state, it is our desire to see us all collectively with this present government forming a common front that will better the lot of children on the Plateau with respect to the quality and quantity of education in the state.

Less than 20 months to the general elections, we are yet to take any concrete steps towards electoral reform. Considering the steps involved in amending the constitution and the slow pace at which the National Assembly is going on constitutional amendment, it is largely in doubt if we are serious about doing anything to make 2011 better than 2007. Even the unrepentant INEC chairman has foreseen doom if nothing is done to reform the system. Whether this was a sincere alarm or not, one thing is sure, we are about to break the 2007 record of electoral fraud unless something urgent is done. The Senate has condemned Mrs Clinton for telling us our problem is failure of leadership; this is the time to really tell us they are ready to do something different. Let them expedite actions on the various bills before them that have bearing on elections in Nigeria. They must equally ensure that the voice and wishes of Nigerians as expressed in the Uwais Report find full and complete expression in this process. Nigerians have spoken; they have the sacred duty and responsibility to say 'YEA' to the voice of Nigerians.

University students in the country are still sitting idle at home and wasting away courtesy of the endless ASUU strike. So much blames have been traded between ASUU and Federal Government, but it is important to note that those bearing the brunt are the students who watch helplessly as some essential parts of their lives are going into waste, their helpless parents, our dying education sector and our nation. It is equally important to state that most of our decision–makers at federal, state and local government levels have their children in expensive private institutions or better still, foreign institutions. For them, whether our Universities are closed down for years, it is nothing of concern. Where do we go from here?

Shamaki Gad Peter

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