OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM: MATTERS ARISING
The issues associated with the Nigerian educational system are so multidimensional that each time one tries to analyze any one of them, one identifies too many interrelated issues that negatively affects the system. In attempt to proffer solutions, it is imperative that the negative detractors be discussed and constructive criticisms offered to help clarify the thoughts of those at the helm of affairs of our educational system. This piece thrusts into the very important issue of providing and encouraging education for all.
That is possible and we have the resources. The second issue which is tangential to the first one and which most state governments and the federal government could be held culpable is the lack of intent to develop the manpower that the educational sector needs. By that I mean the lack of efforts to provide meaningful, adequate, and purposeful professional development for teachers and lecturers. These two issues will be discussed one at a time.
In a recent occasion to highlight the vision of Chief Awolowo regarding free and quality education, all of the speakers had common comments to the effect that free and quality education is possible in Nigeria. The late sage had always opined that the resources available to us are enough to ensure free education to the citizens of this nation. He knew exactly what he was talking about. He was in government circle and had ideas about the funds coming to the coffers of the Nigerian Government. During his time in government, he embarked on free education that many of us in the South West and South South benefited from. The agenda of the then UPN enabled us posses free textbooks that we returned at the completion of a class.
I remembered the school sessions slated for students that the regular day session could not accommodate. They came in the afternoons to get their education. Prior to that time, admission to secondary schools was limited to a few. There was a common entrance examination and interviews to filter in those the schools want to admit. Then, it was difficult getting into a secondary school because of the many students vying for too few spots. For instance, I was supposed to start my secondary education in 1977 but wasn't able to secure admission into any school. I tried again in 1978 and got lucky. Suffices to state that many prospective students weren't always lucky in securing admission and that problem was directly related to availability of classroom structures.
The afternoon sessions introduced by the UPN in 1979 ended all the hullabaloos associated with getting into secondary schools. The program afforded everyone the opportunity to get a secondary education in the states run by the UPN. Most of the present-day policy makers benefited from the program. Why should we not emulate such popular programs? Those in charge of decision making in the sector should see the wisdom in and the benefits to gain from an educational program that encompasses all. An instance that should register with everyone is the Jankande Schools in Lagos state at that time.
Those schools were the scorn of some elite who usually could influence putting their children in schools like Baptist Academy, Igbobi, Methodist schools, and etcetera. Mr. Jakande, following the manifesto of the UPN then made sure that there were enough schools for the citizens of Lagos by constructing structures. Today, there are a thousand and one graduates that owe their success to a Jankande School. Needless to say that the category of people who benefited from these schools include lawyers, doctors, accountantants, engineers and university professors. Our leaders in charge of education should see the need to invest in education that benefits all citizens.
I want to see a situation in which everyone who wants to attain education to the highest level can do so without the hindrance of non availability of a school to attend and without the hindrance of lack of resources. Provide funding in whatever form appropriate to those who need it. Provide scholarships, endowments, and even loans to those aspiring for higher education and do not have a means. Government should invest in physical structures in existing schools. Also, the public and private sectors should invest in erecting more schools. It is evident that what we have right now isn't enough at all levels (primary to university).
The second issue which of course cannot be isolated from the first one discussed above is development of the manpower (teachers and lecturers) in education. In most other countries, professional development for teachers and lecturers is a routine practice. In such countries, teachers are made to participate in professional development activities which help them acquire news kills, make them better teachers and lecturers, and expose them to ideas that are current in their field. Usually, funds are budgeted for professional development by these countries. Our leaders should emulate the practice of exposing teachers and lecturers to ideas beyond their own. That's one sure way that teachers and lecturers could grow professionally. Governments and universities should budget for and expend money on teachers and lecturers professional development that will ensure their effectiveness.
Apart from exposure, professional development activities for teachers and lecturers ensure that our own teachers and lecturers can also share what they possess as experts. The practice can help one build and establish a self-esteem that boosts morale. Central to the benefits of an engaged professional development is improvement in student learning and achievement. When teachers and lecturers have the opportunity to change their instructional practices for the better through involvement in professional development activities like training programs, it transforms into better teaching methods consistent with current constructive tendencies. Governments and universities should invest in the human resource (teachers and lecturers) that's necessary to move education forward.
On the positive side, it is worth acknowledging that a few states are putting the education of their citizens at the cornerstone of the state's programs. First is the Lagos state government under Mr. Fashola that has underwritten fees for students in the state, just like his Delta state counterpart at one time or another to enable them take WAEC and NECO exams. In addition, Lagos state has distributed free textbooks to students and pupils in public schools. Kaduna state is venturing into free education and has announced their End Well Scheme which is geared toward teacher's retirement. The state governor directed a needs survey to know what requires immediate attention with primary and secondary schools.
They are also working to provide teachers with housing accommodation especially in the rural areas. In Jigawa state, reforms to boost the educational sector were put in place and actually received kudos from Britain. For example, the Universal Basic Education Intervention Fund (UBE-IF) has been used by the state to commence classroom construction and furniture acquisition to ease problems of overcrowded classrooms and dilapidated structures.
All state governments in Nigeria should go the extra mile of making education accessible to all of its citizens. State governments, Federal Government, and the private sector should invest in education and change the current situation whereby only the nouveau rich have access to quality education to that in which all people including the less privileged have equal access.
•Dr. Bobby Ojose is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Redlands, California, USA.