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ENDLESS FIDDLING WITH THE EDUCATION SYSTEM

By NBF News
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Nigeria is, once again, on an educational system amendment journey. The Federal Government, based on the recommendation of the Presidential Task Force on Education, has unfolded plans to change the 6-3-3-4 education system to a new 1-6-3-3-4 model.

The Minister of Education, Professor Ruquayyatu Rufa'i, disclosed the new policy direction during the inauguration of the Education High-level Committee set up to implement the recommendations of the presidential task force.

Under the new system, there will be one compulsory year of Early Children Education (ECE) for five-year old children, six years of primary education, three years of junior secondary, three years of senior secondary and four years of higher education. The new system, which further affirmed the jettisoning of the model that provided for nine years of continuous basic education, has been approved by President Goodluck Jonathan.

The frequent shifts in educational policies in the country are unhelpful to stability in the system. It goes without saying that where there is no stability in an endeavour, there cannot be much progress. Managers of the nation's education system need to give pride of place to stability of the education system. What we have had of late borders on anarchy, as the system keeps changing like the weather. If the fundamental constitutional framework for education in the country is perpetually in a state of flux, it will be difficult attaining our educational objectives.

The Federal Government has not told the nation the shortcomings of the 6-3-3-4 system that necessitated this new change. For us, there is nothing wrong with the system other than the failure to properly fund and implement it. The government has not displayed the discipline required to implement the system effectively. We also really do not see any reason to add one year of compulsory early children education to the system. In many developed countries, a child must be at least six years old to be enrolled in primary school. Those below six are regarded as not mentally and physically ready for formal education. They are taught in private institutions by teachers who are specially trained to do so. It is sufficient to just ensure that children start primary education at age 6.

Parents who wish to enroll their children in private schools for nursery education between ages of three and five are already doing so. Indeed, many of such children are already in primary 1 at the age of five. It, therefore, remains to be seen how a policy that would revert such children to the compulsory Early Children Education (ECE) could help the system, or further the nation's educational objectives. The ECE is no innovation, and it does not add any value to efforts to improve the educational system.

The 6-3-3-4 system is good in that it provides ample opportunity for pupils that are not very good in academics to take vocational courses at the senior secondary school level. The system was scuttled due to lack of adequate infrastructure and teaching personnel for the vocational courses. This problem persists till today and providing solutions to it should be the primary pre-occupation of managers of our education system.

Again, there is inexcusable infrastructure gap at all levels of education. Children in many states learn under trees, many sit on bare floors in dilapidated classrooms. Many classrooms have leaking roofs while numerous schools are flooded whenever it rains. There is serious dearth of teaching materials. Performance of students in public examinations is dwindling. Teachers are not motivated to do a good job because of poor pay and the general culture of disrespect for the teaching profession in Nigeria. These are serious issues that should be of great concern to our education authorities.

The Federal Government must be careful about the speed with which it approves proposals for changes from all sectors. Let the present system be operated effectively. There is no need to mandate or formalize early children education. It is okay for children to start formal education at age of six when they are more mature and this is what government should enforce, not education at the lower ages, when many children are not ready for it.

We also doubt if government has considered the cost implications, and the personnel and infrastructure requirements for the ECE component of the new scheme. It is not just enough to introduce one year of early education. What about the teachers who will teach at this special level of education? Instead of this early education venture, we advise government to properly implement the 6-3-3-4 system and enforce age 6 as minimum entry level into primary schools.