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WE DON'T NEED THIS POLICY SOMERSAULT

By NBF News
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Nothing dramatises the policy confusion in the nation's tertiary education sector better than the recent pronouncement that the Federal Government will phase out colleges of education. This treatment will also be extended to mono-technics and colleges of technology. The policy shift came as a surprise to many Nigerians. There is no doubt that strident public outcry against the unpopular decision must have informed the government's swift denial of the plan.

According to reports, the Minister of State for Education, Mr. Kenneth Gbagi, had on November 11, 2010, said that the government was considering phasing out the colleges of education in the country.

To give bite to the decision, the minister constituted a 12-member committee, under the headship of the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie, to make recommendations on the future of colleges of education, polytechnics as well as the newly approved federal universities.

Following the outrage and threats of strike by some stakeholders in the sector, the government bowed temporarily by publicly denying its earlier position on the matter. But, we are not persuaded by the government's recent statement that rather than scrap these middle level manpower-producing institutions, it was considering strengthening and upgrading them to become responsive to current challenges.

It should be recalled that this is not the first time the education sector is witnessing policy somersault and inconsistency. We hope that this will, indeed, be the last of such policy hiccups that do not add intrinsic value to the quality of education in our schools.

During the tenure of Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili as the Minister of Education, part of new changes introduced was the scrapping of the junior arm of Unity Secondary Schools, otherwise known as Federal Government Colleges; converting some of the nation's colleges of education and technology to universities, and the nine years of basic primary education which terminates at the Junior Secondary School level (JSS 3). It was that policy change that gave birth to 9-3-4 system of education, which was seen as the harbinger for the recent calls to jettison the 6-3-3-4 system, which was introduced in the 1980s. Those calling for the abrogation of the 6-3-3-4 system said that the system has failed the country. But, we are yet to understand their rationale for the proposed phasing out of colleges of education and other middle level manpower producing tertiary institutions.

Now, government has restored the junior arm of the Unity Schools. None of the colleges of education and technologies given university status has taken off. Yet, government is going ahead with plans to establish six brand new universities at one fell swoop.

We bemoan the policy inconsistency of our government, especially in the education sector. These changes have not brought about any significant improvement in the sector. Rather, poor academic standard and decaying infrastructure are the order of the day in these institutions. Most of the nation's tertiary institutions are seriously under-funded.

We urge the government to jettison the plan to scrap colleges of education, monotechnics, and polytechnics because it is not in the best interest of the nation's education system. It is a known fact that these tertiary institutions were set up to produce middle level manpower to help in the socio-economic development of the country. There is no doubt that the nation still needs the services of the products of these institutions.

The nation's secondary and primary schools are in dire need of suitably qualified professionals which only colleges of education can produce. The extant National Policy on Education gave a certain time-frame within which National Certificate in Education (NCE) will be the least qualification for teaching in the nation's primary schools. We have not met that requirement and yet, we want to scrap the institutions that produce such cadre of manpower.

Similarly, the nation's march to industrialization will not be complete without the input of products of our colleges of technology and monotechnics. Scrapping of these institutions as is being contemplated will do more harm than good to the country's education system and development.

Instead of phasing out these schools, they can be better organised and managed for effectiveness and optimum utilization of their products. The recourse to paper qualification and the penchant for degrees in denigration of other qualifications in the country should be decried.