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Re: Making Basic Education Matter

By Iregbenu Paul
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Reading through the article, 'Making Basic Education Matter' (cf. The Nation, 2nd June, 2013), I was taken aback by certain claims of the writer. Probing further into his status, I had to pass the write - up as a mere propaganda. Moreover, I decided to critically look into what he has written with the view to bringing him a bit closer to the reality of education in Nigeria and what his ministry should really focus on in order to remedy the situation.

First, the understanding of the goal three of the millennium development goals rendered in the said article is questionable. The goal three of the MDG clearly focuses on the promotion of gender equality and empowering women. This particular goal of MDG took cognizance of the reality of women's inaccessibility to education in Nigeria perhaps due to cultural and religious demands. Hence, it aims at eradicating unmitigatedly the event of gender inequality in terms of accessing education in Nigeria. However, the understanding of this goal three found in the article can be summed in the following words, 'In essence, gender parity between girls and boys in terms of accessing basic education should be eliminated. Again, the target is 2015'. With this, one cannot but ask: What is the target of the current ministry of education by 2015? Is it really to uphold the goal three of MDG or to augument the obnoxious reality of denying Nigerian women the right to be educated?

No doubt, the current term of Goodluck Jonathan administration tally with this critical era when the entire world is heading towards ensuring that basic education is accessible to all, bearing in mind the goal two of the MDG which specifically talks about attaining Universal Primary Education for every child by 2015. What has Goodluck Jonathan administration really done? According to Nwakaudu, the administration ab initio, made it clear that it was committed to addressing the fundamental basic challenges that adversely affected the development of the basic education sub - sector in particular and the entire education sector in general. Hence, making real this commitment, the administration, reeled out a four - year strategic plan, running from 2011 - 2015, so as to completely re-position education in this country. A cardinal objective of this plan is to ensure that Nigerians at all levels have access to education. A strategic plan with such objective for me, is spot on, that is, perfect.

But the question is how much of this plan has been realized? Answering this, Nwakaudu claimed, 'Since 2011, the administration has completely re-positioned the basic education sector. Two years down the line, the steps taken by the administration are now yielding positive results and Nigerians from all works of life are keying into the plan of the Federal Government to ensure universal basic education for Nigerian children'. I find this claim very presumptuous and perplexing due to the quickness of the self-praise for a plan that is yet to fully succeed by 2015, such claim if not considered carefully would lead one to an indefensible position in terms of education in Nigeria.

Credit was given to Hon. Ezenwa Nyesom Wike, the current minister of state education who according to Mr. Nwakaudu, is the mastermind behind the Federal Government's revival of basic education in the last two years. Two philosophies are noted to have prevailed in the Minister of State Education, which are, not seeing the running of education in Nigeria to be business as usual and working assiduously and not bureaucratically, towards attaining results.

Consequently, he has intensified the monitoring and the evaluation of projects and programmes geared at augmenting the enrollment of less privileged Nigerian children in basic education institutions. The said major projects of the federal government include, the building of Almajiri Schools in the North, constructing of the special girl-child schools in most parts of the country and the out-of-school project for children in the South-South and South-East.

Alongside these major projects of the federal government are projects like Teacher capacity development, the Housing for All Teachers Programme, the distribution of free textbooks and instructional materials to these school children, the phased rehabilitation of Federal Unity Colleges, the contruction of e - library in selected unity colleges, sponsorship of self-help infrastructural programmes in communities. Having seen these projects as outlined, let's turn to considering how far and well the Federal Government has gone in accomplishing them.

For the Almajiri schools project, Mr. Nwakaudu purported that over eighty percent of Almajiri schools have been completed and are ready for commissioning. This means that about twenty percent remains to be built before 2015, hence, earning the Federal Government a pass mark. But one begs not to render one. Why? The eighty percent claimed gives a pseudo picture of what the federal government has attained in this area so far. The eighty percent is barely 124 primary schools constructed (Daily Trust, 29 May, 2013) comparing with the population of the Almajiris in Nigeria estimated at about 10 million by the Ministerial Committee on Madrasah Education.

This frivolous reality calls for drastic action rather than sheer propaganda so as to really reposition Nigerian basic education sector. Relying on this eighty percent as an accomplishment is mediocrity, which must be eschewed by the federal government. More Almajiri schools have to be built. These schools must be boarding so as to solve the bane of Almajiri, which is economic. This is paramount since no one gets education with an empty stomach. One hopes that these completed Almajiri schools are not just mere physical structures without equipment like fans, chairs, tables, blackboards, pencil, chalks etc needed to facilitate education acquisition. This is so because the situation in most government schools in the North is alarming where one sees students seating on the floor while they are being taught.

With regard to the out -of - school and girl - child school projects, the Federal Government has launched these projects in Enugu for the former and in the South West for the latter. The aim of the former is to bring back boys-drop out to school and that of the latter is to grant the girl-child access to education. For the latter, Nwakaudu claimed that by the ending of June, 2013, all the schools would have been completed. The veracity of this claim is yet to be verified but be that as it may, the construction of these schools is not ample. For it is one thing to have these schools built, and another to attract the right students to these schools.

This is to say, the problem of disparity in terms of the girl-child accessing education in Nigeria can be solved by vigorous sensitization and motivation. This is where the government must intensify. These girl-children at times, do not have their wills to decide. They act on their parents' decision. This being the case the government has to draw up sensitization programmes for these children's parents and incentives to attract these girl-children to these already built schools. And for the out-of-school children issue, an enabling and favourable economy could solve the issue. The Federal Government should concentrate on making education attractive by making education rewarding, that is, empowering those who have undergone the education process with jobs. When the end of the tunnel is dark, there would be no drive to reach the end. This explains why this problem of out-of-school exists.

Well, it appears that the four year strategic education plan of the Jonathan's administration is concerned mainly with the enrolment of less privileged Nigerian children in basic education hence the high rate of schools it aims to accomplish by 2015. However, the stark reality of the high population of out-of-school children in Nigeria faces the administration. This made Nwakaudu to admit realistically and defeatingly, 'The good news is that with the level of commitment by the administration, if the target is not met by 2015, the percentage of work left undone will be minimal. The Federal Ministry of Education and other stakeholders are working towards achieving 70 percent reductions of out-of-school children by 2015'. Such realism is what is needed as the Federal Government tries to grapple with the issue of out-of-school.

While quantity is being chased by Jonathan administration, supposedly quality is not left out. Hence, projects like teacher capacity development, the Housing for All Teachers Programme, the distribution of free textbooks and instructional materials, the construction of e-library in selected unity colleges, sponsorship of self- help infrastructural programmes in communities etc are embarked on by the Jonathan administration. These projects, if adequately substantiated, will yield a surge in the quality of education in Nigeria. However, it is the case that in things like this politicization, tribalism and nepotism are the order of the day. The Nigerian factor (man-know-man) comes to play, making these projects difficult to attain. Stories one normally hears are, for instance, that the teachers from a particular tribe are trained and given houses while the others are denied these. Also, that some schools are favoured with textbooks, instructional materials, e-library, others are not. To forestall and keep these vices in check should be the priority of the Ministry of Education, which Mr. Nwakaudu works for.

This leads me to the most salient task of the Federal Ministry of Education, which is the employment of more teachers. It is not enough building schools, having a high supply of free textbooks and instructional materials and constructing e-libraries without sufficient teachers to guide and teach these students. From my experience in the North, one will see that most of these teachers who teach these students are corpers who are not trained in education and at times, find it difficult to impart the right knowledge on these students. There is the need of employing more teachers so as to avoid the scenario of having a teacher teaching a particular subject in four other schools. Also, it is important that there are sufficient teachers which these students can access and develop a beneficial relationship needed for acquiring knowledge.

At this juncture, it is pertinent to observe that fundamental goals of the four year strategic plan of the Federal Ministry of Education, as Mr. Nwakaudu reminded us, are the creating access to education across all levels and maintaining quality. These goals have been highlighted on in this discourse. Mr. Nwakandu went on to claim, 'These two principal goals have been achieved from the basic through to the tertiary level of education'. Well, to this claim of his I have some reservations. Yes, the Jonathan administration has established 12 New Federal Universities and released funds to all Federal and state Universities for the development of infrastructure through TETFUND.

However, the reality on ground shows that the Jonathan's administration is concerned with realizing the first fundamental goal of its four years strategic education plan, even at the tertiary level. Quality should be emphasized more. More lecturers have to be employed, those lecturing already need to be catered for and be re-equipped with new information, many of these tertiary students are indigent and need the government aid in the form of scholarship and bursary awards and those students that have distinguished themselves should be encouraged to further their studies. My advice here is that if these are beyond the capability of the government, the government should solicit the aid of the multi-national firms plying their trades in this country.

Finally, to avoid being termed as cerebrally fixated by Mr. Nwakaudu, I must say that education under Jonathan's administration has grown but more need to be done. Jonathan's administration needs to avoid mediocrity which past administrations are guilty of. Pertinent to note here is that I do not intend to assess the nation's education sector under Jonathan's administration with those preceding it since I consider government as a continuum. What I have done so far, is not just doling out criticism for the sake of it but I have tried to remind the Ministry of Education of the enormity of the task on ground and not be carried away with the little achievement recorded by the ministry. I believe that with such realism postulated in this write - up, the government would sit up and concentrate in its efforts in revolution of the Nation's education sector.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Iregbenu Paul and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."