Our educational system: any respite?

Source: huhuonline.com
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A few days ago, the nation was awakened again to the reality of the abysmal performance of the students at National Examination Council (NECCO). Worse result was recorded a few months ago with West African Examination Council (WAEC), but informed  individual especially in the educational sector remained as usual pretentious as if problems do not exist.    

  On the 12 th of September 2010 , THE NATION news paper ran an editorial on the educational system in Nigeria . In it, the President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Prof. Ukachuku Awuzie had revealed that the country spends up to N1.5Trillion on their children education abroad. Yes, that is not only true, but the information is coming a little late.  

  Nigeria is leading the pack ahead of other countries in sending their kids to study in nearby Ghana today! A recent survey by 'BottomLINE' Newsletter confirmed that Nigeria alone enrich Ghana 's economy with over N54 Billion in university intake alone annually. Nigerian students constitute the largest number of students after the host country.  

  Looking at the Nigerian educational sector today, it is indubitable that we are bedecked with all forms of conceivable problems. That is why we have inharmonious tones between the government- Federal, State and Local Government councils and the private sector initiatives in our educational system. Quite frankly this writer feels strongly that a total cleansing is needed to move Nigeria forward and put paid once and for all to all the wrangling that beclouding reasoning of our leaders.     

  After the failed attempts by the Obasanjo administration to privatise government school, through the former Minister for Education Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, the problem is rearing its head again. But this issues stem from the fact that in our desire to quick fix problems always. We do not ever attempt to deal with the root of problems hence all cosmetic approaches have continues to fail. We cannot achieve our full potentials if we decide to place high premium on outsiders to develop our educational system. The challenges are as enormous, as we have left the issues unattended for so long.  

  Today the educational system in Nigeria is upside down. We have left the 6-5-4 system to the now 6-3-3-4, a project which ought to identify as well as separate technical and academic students from JSS 3. When was the last time this system was reviewed and/or improved upon? When was the last time Prof. Jubril Aminu the ex-minister for Education, under whose tenure this system was introduced and approved, lectured us on the successes or failures of the system or what need to be done? It is the vogue and in fact a status symbol now for middle class families in Nigeria to send their wards to Ghana or Togo to acquire academic laurels and have them graduate as and when due with the necessary knowledge, having been provided with necessary equipment and laboratories that enhance quality training. Do we have such facilities here even in the so called universities/institutions of higher learning? If not, why? What has kept the system in Ghana and other places working, and ours always failing? What in practical terms have we done to improve the standards in our schools? We are where we are because the political class prefer a pauperized a people devoid of knowledge and so question nothing. This is the nugget of this write up. The Holy book tells us to train up a child … It also informs us to spare the rod and spoil the child!       

  Nigeria inherited a sound educational system from the British colonial masters and it remained so until the Military got involved in Nigerian politics ostensibly as corrective government. They ruled by Decrees not the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and through it, just a few, usually the senior members of successful coup executors become members of the ruling class, which over time became the nuovo rich. Though they came from different military formations in their various barracks, the with success of each coup, they gain recognition and out of necessity, started mingling with all strata of the public. The military men did not fit in as politicians, nor were they academicians or business gurus. To be relevant in the system therefore, they carved a niche for themselves. Earlier they were inexperienced in business. But money was at their beck and call and they siphoned as much as possible, did business and governed at the same time.

  The military government was extremely selective and urbanised in approach. They caused a drift from rural to urban areas for people to eke out source of livelihood. Of course this produced fresh issues relating to congestion in the cities especially in southern Nigeria not only in house rent, causing Rent decrees and Edits, but naturally, school formation began as evening/lessons, because government primary and secondary schools were too far between, and could not cope with the population explosion. The few existing schools could not cope with their number of pupils despite having morning, afternoon and evening sessions in cities like Lagos, Ibadan and Benin City to mention a few. It is on record that Alhaji Lateef Jakande as Governor of Lagos 1979-1983 within that period alone took the dynamic decision to establish more school and stopped the shifts system. Late Air Commander Gbolahan Mudasiru was to improve on it, then Bola Tinubu of late. Other than these feats, government failed in its responsibilities to establish more schools which in the South West and then Bendel State were free.  

  Again, Gen. Obasanjo in his first adventure, handed schools owned and run by missionaries back to government introducing confusion. He threw caution and decency to the wind with co-educational schools where missions ran separate boys and girl's schools and populated schools with pupils. This was how schools, which before the military incursion was a social responsibility of the government, became a business venture with registrations at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) producing annual balance sheet and profit and loss statements for their proprietors.  

  'The Supreme Military Council' (SMC), or 'The Armed Forces Ruling Council' (AFRC) or what ever name called, whose member were essential carrier military personnel did as the liked. Thank God that we have what looks like democracy now. They enacted decrees and gave rights and privileges to a pocket of about twelve (12) men who decided what ever the fate of the nation should be, hence General Babangida, for fear of touching their estate asked his governments Constituent Assembly to leave untouched certain provisions he made and called them 'No go area.' But what goes around comes around. Children from the barracks who were used to military hard wares because ordinarily they had their schools in the military barracks became exposed to the outer publics. Their parent's involvement in politics exposed them to outside world. Suddenly, their wards were being sent to public schools with results that the barrack kids corrupted the pupils in public schools with stolen guns, trinkets, large sums of money etc from their parents. And in the quest of the military officers desire to hide their wards, they arrogantly beat up the class teacher who after, were instructed not to, for any reason, punish the kids and if punished already, the teacher, principal or head of school got reprimanded openly.  

  The novo rich class has been created and the plebeians ought not to mingle with their wards. The result was that they built an empire for themselves and left the poor to themselves. School which was predominantly a social and civic responsibly of government became a business.  

  But system that encourages nothing will produce nothing and will receive nothing also in return. In the computer language it is called 'garbage in, garbage out'. Generally in Nigeria , the principles of business do no apply. We want a quite fix for every thing. Businesses have growth stages like in farming, and are called life cycle. All these take natural course between one to five years. Not so in human development. Sorry, I am not about taking a class in Business Organisation 101. But now we see people without any formal education flout degree certificates of various descriptions from all kind of institutions. We are talking about our educational system - tough luck.  

  On Thursday January 15, 2009, the Minister of State for Education Hajia Aishatu Dukku while inaugurating the Teachers Radio 102.I FM owned by National Teachers Institute Kaduna, told her audience that the ministry would chunk out 145,000 retrained teachers and recruit 45,000 NCE teachers under the Federal Teachers Scheme by the Universal Basic Education Commission. This is a programme designed to increase the number of teachers at primary school level. It made an interesting but laughable story if it were to be for countries as small as Ghana , Sierra Leone and some West African countries it would have made an interesting reading. But it is a programme for Nigeria a country with at least 190,000, people. Now take the two figures and divide by 36 state plus Abuja with a meager 5000 government schools per state what do we have, about one (1) improved teacher per school! Good radiance to bad rubbish. There are no breading grounds any more. No training and retaining schools in fact most of the school proprietors/promoters are so corrupt that they always do the exact opposite of what they see overseas from where they seem to have copied.  

  How is education run and funded in Nigeria ? Currently, almost everything used in schools are paid for exorbitantly by the poor students and the parents/teachers Association yet organized private companies are made to cough out 1% of their gross profit as Education Tax in addition to annual Budgetary Allocations. But our voracious ministry officials keep making mince meat of all these funds, diverting them to items they were not meant for in the first place, and outright fraud.  

  Yearly, budget in and out, officials have kept paying lip service to training and retraining of staff, equipping of schools with new and improved laboratories as well as establishment of new and befitting institutions at all levels. The existing schools while suffering from under attention have their teachers and lecturers' owed back log of salaries/allowances, courtesy of Ministry staffs placing some of these funds in fixed deposits in friendly banks for their personal gains while the owners are on the brink of death. It made news few years back how the Senate President, Senator Adolphus Wabara and others treated the nation to a show of shame in their Fifty Million Naira (N50, 000,000.00) kick back saga. But that was a tip of the iceberg. Almost Ninety percent of the annual budgets usually end up in the pockets of Ministry officials as unspent funds, while much more works are left undone.    

  The current and existing staffs in our schools are half baked and without basic teaching qualification. Most of those parading themselves as qualified teachers in true sense of the word are beneficiaries of examination malpractices, godfatherism, cultism, bribery, fraud and the like as a means of passing their various examinations. Hear the Chairman NUT Lagos State Chapter Mr. Michael Alogba in an interview '… majority of the elite private schools in this country are owned by Senators, Council Chairman, Governors, ( former Presidents ) italic mine, and their wives and other powerful people… They siphoned funds meant to develop public schools in order to establish their own schools … they come out with confusing policies just to create markets for their own schools … their wives and politicians in their quest to fetter their class introduced private universities. They copied the idea of schools found else where in the globe, but do not breath the same love, enthusiasm and character as is common from where they copied ... Education is a social service, it is immoral and ungodly for those at the helm of affairs to establish schools … '  

  The military on their own, in their quest to define their entry in to the body polity of the nation introduced their class from the back door. What the class handed down is corrupt school system as is seen Queen Amina International Sc hool in Minna, America University in Yola, Bell University in Ota, Heritage University Kaduna etc - all with exorbitant fees, seeming state of the art equipment, but actually and mostly refurbished equipments from somewhere in Europe. But the teachers remain those denied necessary tools. They are the products of the almost extinct Teachers Training Colleges (TTC), Colleges of Education (COE) and old under funded faculty of education in State and Federal Universities . What is the position of these schools in today's educational development? What are the budgetary allocations for education and by extension, each of these training institutions annually since 1980? With the high turn over of students from schools what rate of improvement is recorded or replicated in the training institutions? Considering the turn out of graduates ( Ogun State alone has over 20 universities), how many new Colleges' of Education, Teachers Training Colleges have been established even in the north that has been in the dire need of education since 1960? If nothing has been done and it is truly so, when was the first time our private universities sent their academic staff for any form of training in or outside Nigeria (there may be some few exception here)?  

  Take a pip into the Telecommunication Industry which is about ten (10) years old. This writer can authoritatively say that none of the service providers are sleeping. Every organisation is involved in one from of training or the other at least annually for their staff. Yet we still have substandard services compared to what obtains else where in the world. If this is obtainable and we are still yearning for more, need we say more about education?  

  It is ok for us to be deceived that the higher the school fees, the better the education. But as far as this writer is concerned, it starts and ends in bank balance of private school proprietors.  

  Now we have brain drain. Nigeria produced some of the hottest brains in academia in the 1980s and earlier. A product of any of our universities could compare with any graduate elsewhere in the world. Not so now. The middle of 1980s saw the highest exodus of Nigerian university teachers to other countries. Most of them never left the country because of their love for money; Nigerian Naira had lots of value then, but for the share desire to be appreciated. Those who went with the Technical Aid Group were shocked at the reception that waited them on arrival and through their stay. Others preferred smaller nations like Sao Tome . Jocularly, we pride ourselves today as one of the nations with the highest export of brains in almost every field, but did we achieve that feat by share desire or circumstance? Will the same set of scholars return to Nigeria now willfully?  

  The departure of capable hands introduced lecturers who, in their quest to sustain the same level in teaching and aids, had to produce hand outs copied from most of the departed teachers to compliment their efforts.    

  It is no news that, because of the aforesaid, most of the new promoters/proprietors of schools are money bags who can afford almost anything on the surface of the earth courtesy of their dubious source of fund. But establishment and management of schools is not a matter of affordability on the part of promoters. It must be remembered that it is more of a social service, a burning desire to provide that niche that is not found in the immediate environment but which is available - norm, not an exception. The question is in providing quality service at affordable price. Most of these promoters of schools are on ego trip. For example, the former military president Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, with executive fiat approved for himself the Heritage University in Kaduna , the same way former President Olusegun Obasanjo did Bell University of Technology. Some others did so to prove that they were some important persons while serving at the National University Commission etc.  

  What was the annual profit of late Dr. Tai Solarin at his MayFlower College Ikenne, Ogun state? Because of the profit intents of the proprietors they fail to employ qualified experts as they are not ready to pay. The dream goes on. Rather than provide well stock school libraries, inculcate reading habit and writing culture in student, we have their wards in hostels stock their refrigerators with   five alive, hot drinks, assorted beverages, flat screen TV sets with decoders etc. Can such students actually learn?  

  Any Positive Impact? While the children of the poor trek long distance to and from public school they are caused to learn so many things at a time and so have now become street wise. They are toughened by circumstances and so can absorb the heat the system has throws on them. Their creative senses are developed from day one, and so, are able to improve themselves using their imagination. The result is that they come out shining as stars. If in doubt take this check list. From which list do we get the best overall jamb candidate? Whose kids usually receive Academic Awards in mathematics, poetry, debates, tops in JAMB and WAEC result? That is how God is proving his word when He says that '… it is not he that willeth or runneth…' '… and it is not by might or by power… '. In the job market today which of the class of graduates are preferred? Are they mainly the children of the rich? I watched the MO programme one evening and was shocked to see a girl whose parents are not only poor but also unemployed. She participated in a competition she never prepared for and won the star price in poetry. Same girl confirmed that she could act, sing and write plays! But was a poor JSS2 student whose parents could not afford the school fees. Thanks to project MO, the girl went home that night with a scholarship.  

  Our educational system has gone comatose. Forget the state of the art of most school buildings; they are but whitened sepulchers - false evidence appearing real. If we really have first class schools, where are our universities among the first 1000 in world? What is more? It is most disappointing that all our leaders in Nigeria to date be they president or Heads of state, have very humble back ground. It is a tragedy that in the USA , their Presidents are among the self made rich who want the poor to have a feel of government. But in Nigeria , we do not want others to grow.  

Any Remedy  
  The Chairman Parents Teachers Association of Maryland Comprehensive School Lagos Mr. Kole Tagun captured it when he said that …'the fact that   government officials established private schools have clearly shown that they lacked confidence in the public educational system or their ability to put it right.'  

  In 1975, before General Muritala Muhammed took over government from General Yakubu Gowon, he handed his properties considered ill gotten wealth (12 buildings along Galadima Road , Kano ) back to Federal Government. In 1979, late Chief Michael Ajasin Governor of old Ondo State gave up his private school as he got into office; dittos Chief Reuben Fasoranti - current Afenifere leader,   who was a commissioner under Ajasin. These moves were made so that education would truly be free for all. Today these are not too big a price for our retired General, former Governors, their wives, friends and the political class to pay for better education in Nigeria and for posterity. Dr. Babs Fafunwa a former Minister for Education before his appointment donated some of his private buildings at Jibowu, Lagos to the Federal Ministry of Education. Our Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, you passed through this system. You were a teacher. This is your time. Do education proud. Let us heave a sigh of relief for once. We are watching.  

Mike O. Akpati a Public Affair Analyst writes from Port Harcourt