REFORMS IN EDUCATION: THE ROLES OF ALUMNUS: A PAPER PRESENTED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, SENATOR LIYEL IMOKE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA NSUKKA
“Education is core to whatever we want to do as a nation. Nigeria cannot make much progress towards the attainment of its Vision 20-2020 unless we strengthen our educational system". President of Nigeria, Jonathan Goodluck, May 21st 2011.
It is my delight to be here today to present this paper on REFORMS IN EDUCATION: the role of alumnus. Let me firstly thank the organizers of this event for affording me the opportunity to address this esteemed audience. The alumni of any heritage higher education institution is to be respected. Even more so if that institution happens to be the first indigenous University in Nigeria as is the case with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. For many of us of a certain generation, attending university was less of a compulsion and more of a life-changing experience. We were formed and molded not just academically; the experiences we encountered at University shaped our personalities and characters. For those of us of that generation, it goes without saying that our experiences developed in us and almost ethereal affiliation with these institutions which played a fundamental part on determining who we are today. It is for this reason that I want to applaud the Alumni of University of Nigeria Nsukka for working to maintain links with their parent institution. Having this as the background for this event, the topic of this paper would have particular resonance with this esteemed audience.
Ladies and Gentlemen, although I served a short-stint supervising the Federal Ministry of Education under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, I do not feel as qualified as one should be to address an audience such as yours on a topic such as this. I will, however, try to offer some insight into the mechanics for reform of the education system from the perspective of an administrator.
This paper will examine political economy of the Nigerian educational system with particular reference to policy direction when it comes to reforms. I will briefly go through history of educational reform at all levels but with a specific focus on the Tertiary level as this seems more apt for our discussions today. I will then talk about what role alumni can play to improve and enhance the system and I will finish this paper with a frank look at the controversial topic of private involvement in the educational system.
As I am in learned company, I will desist from mundane definitions and offer opinion and perspective instead. There are over 80 Universities in the country, about 65% of which are publicly owned, to serve a population of over 150 million. The curriculums at most of the institutions are not robust and dynamic enough to meet the changing needs of our economy. The institutions are grossly oversubscribed and the management and governance of a lot of these institutions have a lot to be desired. As is all too obvious, the system needs root and branch reform. Education Reforms are representative of a conscious evolution of policy regimes which are capable of bringing a significant revolutionary change in the sector. The intent of such reform is to make it more responsive to the needs of the people. It is also important to know that education is a public good, one which benefit non-proprietors. An educated workforce is a vital component of a dynamic economy and all its stakeholders both educated and non-educated.
Modern societal conditions are reshaping education the world over in a rapid and profound manner. Modern technologies coupled with global economic forces, have contributed to an intense and pervasive level of individual, organizational, and international inter- dependence. These new societal dynamics are altering Education every bit as much as they are challenging the home life, workplace, lifestyle and political economy of virtually every person, in every village, in almost every nation. This point cannot be overemphasized as the world increasingly becomes a global village, driven by a knowledge economy. It is becoming more evident that human capital has become an increasingly valuable asset in the race for industrialization and thus the management of policy concerning this most vital sector has become more important, necessitating the need for constant review and reform. These reforms can be broad, as was the case in 1954 and the implementation of a change to the whole educational system changing from 8-6-2-3 to 6-5-2-3, or they can be specific to the relevant level such as the setting up of a quality assurance mechanism for higher institutions.
In response, Education, as we know is evolving in several ways and this evolution is mostly driven by reforms which according to Prof. Michael Omolewa in a 2007 article entitled “Education reform for what?” “Emanates from the basic conviction that considerable progress can be made in a nation by its people through careful engineering of the Educational process”.
Small improvements in education theoretically have large social returns, in health, wealth and well-being. The reform of a system might be structural or radical. Such reforms tend to alter the basic character of the layers of the educational system – the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. An alternative perspective on the necessity of reform is based on a historical examination, on the premise that the main problems of the educational system are derived from some decisive historical experiences. Although this perspective has some merit, it doesn’t excuse the paucity of any clear articulate policy direction in the last 50 years.
EDUCATIONAL REFORMS IN NIGERIA: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE:
The first significant reform agenda for the Nigerian educational system came as early as 1954 when the nationalists advocated a change from a 8-6-2-3 system, (i.e.8 year primary, 6 year secondary, 2 Higher School Certificate and 3 year University to a new 6-5-2-3. The change resulted in reducing the number of years at the primary and secondary school levels.
After independence, these reforms continued and in 1969, there was a National Curriculum Conference held in Lagos. Participants, eager to set a new path for the future of the country’s education, claimed the inherited colonial system lacked the relevance and vitality that was needed for Nigeria to compete globally as a force to reckon with. Accordingly, the Conference recommended the adoption of the American 6-3-3-4 system Japan ably copied in 1945 and succeeded. Perhaps the major setback has been the implementation of the system without adequate planning. As rightly observed by Professor Pai’ Obanya, the Chairman, Presidential Task Team on Education, the problem is not with the 6-3-3-4, rather it is with the implementation. If Nigeria is to achieve its aspiration to play a leading role in the community of nation, she needs to review the strategy employed in the implementation of 6-3-3-4.
Ever since the introduction of the 6-3-3-4, there has been no comprehensive analysis into educational reforms in terms of the policy change and its ramifications on the people and the economy. However, there have been a series of sub-sectorial reforms in the Education sector which have not added to the whole.
Early this year, President Goodluck Jonathan was quoted to have said that the 6-3-3-4 system of education has failed the nation, calling for its review. Consequently, he set up a Presidential Task Team on Education to look into the nation’s education system and its components with the overall aim of reforming the sector to meet the aspiration of the citizenry and the developmental needs of the nation as a whole. Prior to that, the President had convoked a Presidential Summit on Education and Commissioned a-one-year Road Map for the development of the Education sector, all in an effort to make the education sector more pragmatic and responsive to the nation’s need in 21st century. The need for this is paramount and overwhelming.
However, let us try to put this into perspective. It can be said that education policy the world over, no matter how well thought out, is always subject to review and reforms. There has been a building clamor to review the standards of “A” levels in the UK in the light of consistent improvements in the percentage pass rates for the past 5 years for fear that the examination isn’t as challenging as it ought to be, much to the chagrin of students and teachers alike. More interesting is the reaction in the US and Europe to the improvements in numeracy and literacy in children in Asia as evident by studies of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES).
Back to the home front, some of the emerging issues which necessitate reform in Nigeria are to do with access, infrastructure, human capital, equity, discipline and quality assurance. The failings of primary and secondary education will inevitably have a negative cumulative effect on the tertiary or higher institutions. Poor implementation of the 6-3-3-4 system at its inception particularly affected the primary and secondary schools with issues such as ill-equipped classrooms under-qualified and under-staffed teaching force. The absence of specific agenda for the Nigerian education manifested itself in the tertiary institutions. These institutions especially universities became disorganized with closure of the universities and badly managed labour relationships becoming the norm much more so under military rule. This creates an inconducive teaching and learning environment, coupled with poor motivation and threat of sanctions all tend to demotivate staff and students alike. All of which made that experience of attending university, which I referred to earlier, an elusive commodity. The process became more transactional rather than transformational. It became more about the certificate than about the knowledge.
When we assumed office in 2007, we met a school system bereft of any significant infrastructure and devoid of sufficiently qualified and motivated staff. It was apparent that if we were to improve the socio-economic development of our State, we had to start with the Education sector reforms. Some of these reforms are:
• The Development of standards/guidelines for the establishment of schools in Cross River State.
• Centralization of policy on Continuous Assessment and Termly Examinations.
• Stringent Quality Assurance measures to ensure that the end product of the system is better equipped to deal with challenges of a dynamic society.
• Effective monitoring of schools through well trained Inspectors.
• Annual training and retraining of teachers to meet the challenges of teaching in 21stcentury schools.
To provide a model of the type of institutions we expect in our State, we embarked on Comprehensive Renovation of schools to bring them up to our State Standard with 4 Laboratories for Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Computer Science, a Library, Assembly/Examination hall furniture for students and staff and adequate accommodation complete with recreation facilities. The world over, technology is now an integral part of learning; we have commenced the process of introducing e-learning/ICT education in all our schools with complimentary training for students and teachers alike.
EDUCATION REFORMS IN NIGERIA POST 6-3-3-4 EXPERIENCE
The Education sector in Nigeria has over the years been influenced by a number of factors. A clear perspective of these factors is a necessary first step in understanding the conditions under which specific reform policies and programmes have failed or succeeded.
The Universal Basic Education Act which came into force in 2004, seems to have altered the 6-3-3-4 in favour of a 9 – year Basic Education Programme. The Act whose provision seeks to reinforce the national Primary Education goals and set targets for attaining primary Education within the Global Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) context by year 2015, provides for free and compulsory universal basic Education for all children of primary and junior secondary ages in Nigeria. The Act also makes primary education tuition-free, universal and compulsory. With the declaration of the UBE in 1999, the six-year primary Education constitutes the first part of the 9-year basic Education programme.
Basic Education administrative and management, even though on the concurrent legislative list, is the responsibility of the State Government under the supervision of the State Universal Basic Education Boards, the Federal Government has an oversight functions with respect to policy formulation, quality assurance including curriculum development. Some capital projects are however jointly funded through the UBE Matching Grants.
The 9-year Basic Education Programme is a major reform recently initiated by Government to universalize access and participation in basic Education in Nigeria with an extended scope to include the first three years of Junior Secondary Education. This is in line with 1948 United Nations Human Right Act which provides that access to functional quality primary Education is a fundamental human right of all citizen.
SENIOR SECONDARY: The 2004 National Education Policy prescribes that transition from Junior to Senior Secondary School shall be on the bases of streaming the ratio of 60% to Senior Secondary School with academic based curriculum, 20% to technical vocational school, 10% to vocational training centres while the outstanding 10% are to enroll in open apprenticeship schemes. This prescription is however not enforced as most completers of Junior Secondary Schools generally transit to Senior Secondary School. As a consequence, in 2002, the Federal Ministry of Education upgraded Technical Vocational Colleges to Science Technical Colleges as a strategy to increase participation within the sub-sector.
Three major reforms seem to have been put in place to ensure greater participation in Technical Education. They are:
- Introduction and implementation of the 9-year basic Education and the post-basic Education curricula that emphasize quality technical and vocational training at these levels with the introduction of basic science, technology studies and computer studies as core and compulsory studies.
- Introduction of two Initiatives, Vocational Enterprise Institutions (VEIs) and Innovative Enterprise Institutions (IEIs) to stimulate and strengthen private sector involvement in the delivery of technical and vocational training and to enhance the overall quality of technical and vocational Education.
- The upgrading of Yaba College of Technology and Kaduna Polytechnic into City Universities of Technology and the integration of Polytechnics into existing Universities as a means of enhancing the image of improving quality and popularizing technical and vocational Education in Nigeria.
This encompasses all organized learning at the tertiary level. Education at this level includes those offered by Universities, Polytechnics, Monotechnics and Colleges of Education. The goals of tertiary Education in Nigeria as captured in the National policy on Education (2004) are in consonance with those envisioned by the world Declaration on Higher Education at the Conference on Higher Education held in Paris, October 5-9, 1998. The Conference re-affirmed Education as a fundamental pillar of human rights, democracy, sustainable development and peace. It should therefore be made accessible to all throughout life.
Perhaps, nowhere have we witnessed sub-sectorial reforms in recent time in the Education sector than at the tertiary level. At the Universities level, many writers have cited the effort at reforming them through Commissions and Committees set up by Government. Prominent among them are the Gray Longe Commission, the Etsu Nupe Panel, the Cookey Commission, the ASUU – FGN Agreement (1992 and 2001). The ASUU –FGN 2009 Agreement also raised a number of issues.
One significant reform in the tertiary Education is in the area of quality assurance. Quality assurance in Nigerian Higher Education is subject to internal and external inspectorate mechanisms. The external mechanism is involves accreditation conducted by the statutory regulatory agencies and professional bodies. This is fundamental for setting of standards at all levels and that is why we are in the process of implementing an accreditation programme for all secondary schools in the state. In the University system, Act No.16 of 1985 empowers the NUC to lay down minimum academic standards for all academic programmes taught in Nigerian Universities and accredit them. The same goes for the National Board for Technical Education and the National Commission for Colleges of Education which have responsibility to lay down minimum standards and accredit programmes of Polytechnics/Monotechnics and Colleges of Education respectively. The laws establishing these bodies have been amended in response to the challenges of providing quality Education required by a developing nation in the 21st century.
Some recent reform initiatives are:
Education governance and politics - increased funding to Education during the democratic regime has made transparence, governance and management of resources imperative. A governance and politics task area was established to develop initiatives aimed at improving transparency and governance in tertiary institutions. Key initiatives include:
- Consolidation of Federal tertiary institutions
- Public presentation of visitation and panel reports
- Standardization of the appointment of Vice-Chancellors, rectors and Provosts
- Design of a framework for appointment of members of Boards of parastatals in Education and Governing Councils of federal tertiary institutions
- Census of University Consultancies and their activities
- Design of a strategy for greater participation and transparency in the governance of tertiary institutions e.g. the publication of decisions taken by Governing Councils.
THE ROLE OF THE ALUMNI
How do you feel as an alumni when you engage with or hear that a fellow alumni has bagged a degree from your alma mater but cannot string together an articulate, coherent sentence? The alumni are critical stakeholders in this whole process. Your support is critical to the conceptualization as well as effective implementation of these reforms. The alumni represent a significant and vocal constituency in the university community. Individuals who actively participate in the alumni association are openly exhibiting the ethereal affiliation between themselves and the institution that molded them. They are a strong and powerful voice which could exert a considerable amount of influence on the policy direction of education reforms. As an alumnus, your involvement in this association is an overt expression of concern and regard for the future of the institutions and its survival. Having spent some time elucidating on the particular challenges of the education sector, the call to action on my part is to urge you to ponder how and where you as an individual or collectively as an alumni association can facilitate or intervene to ensure development and progress in the education sector. Those who graduate from university today should be better equipped than we were when we graduated. They should be more competitive and better prepared for active participation in the knowledge economy. But can we frankly say that is the case today? The general tendency is for us to abdicate our responsibilities to government expecting it to handle all the burdens. As we grow in our democracy, what will become clear is that democracy is a partnership between the government and the people. Collaborative endeavours between the two parties are going to become increasingly commonplace especially for the provision of public goods such as an educated workforce. Strong alumni associations have been known to determine and influence the education policy and curriculum of their alma maters. They have provided the financial support to drive change and development.
As members of the Alumni Association, you have a critical role to play. You are the bridge between the past, the present and the future. Your involvement in the governance of these institutions brings with it a wealth of experience from academic as well as the “real” world. In the US, it is not uncommon to see higher institutions gaining from wealthy benefactors who happened to be alumnus of said institutions. However, as explained, your support needn’t be financial. Such supports can include the provision of infrastructure, stocking of Libraries and Laboratories, you can even avail your institution of your professional services, pro bono.
The Alumni members as individuals who have passed through these Universities and Colleges are best placed to advice on the relevance of the curriculum to the demands of the professional workplace. They can volunteer their services for seminars and workshops. The Alumni members also play a significant role in the evaluation of the reform outcome. They can assist in monitoring and evaluation of the Educational reforms.
Distinguished Alumni, you will all, without doubt agree with me that the bedrock of our development is education. We all have a part to play to ensure that we preserve the values and credo of our higher institutions. In the face of global competitiveness, an increasingly valuable knowledge economy, corruption and indiscipline in the governance of our institutions, deficiencies in the curriculum and the dearth of development in the sector as a whole, it is fair to say that our task is gargantuan. In concluding, let me deliver some more food for thought. How would the privatization of the sector affect the once prestigious, heritage institutions such as University of Nigeria, Nsukka. As at 1970 there are only six universities in Nigeria, they rose to thirteen in 1979 now we have eighty nine. The growth shows federal government has 27 is opening new institutions in all the states, States governments are responsible for 30 and private sector 32. To establish as many qualitative universities is not just necessary but also desirable and with private sector involvement would come the necessary efficiency that the industry so desperately needs. However, would these private institutions be directed for the good of the nation or for the benefit of the proprietor, whatever that may be. Private institutions are also more likely to adhere to a monolithic agenda with regards to curriculum and policy direction. Our tasks, distinguished alumni, are to ensure we play an active role to support our heritage institutions so that they not only maintain their place at the helm of academia but also make advancements to ensure their sustainability.
In conclusion, this paper has examined the concept of Education reforms. It was argued that reforms in Education are deliberate intervention by way of policy review or new initiatives geared towards repositioning the sector for optimal performance. It further argued that more often than not, the dynamic in the society necessitates reforms. Some of the reforms implemented in the Education sector in Cross River State were cited. The paper has emphasized the role of the alumni in helping to identify and implement these reforms.
It further argues that alumni members are in vantage position advice their institutions where necessary. The paper stated that, in addition to the traditional roles of the alumni in providing infrastructure, career counseling and other support services, the roles of alumni can be at the initiation, implementation and monitoring and evaluation stages of reform. It is therefore our responsibilities as alumnus members to reposition our alma mater for the challenges of providing Education that will meet the global demands of an evolving and dynamic global economy.
As a matter of fact, reforms in the Education sector can hardly be conclusive, mostly at the sub-sectorial level. The question we need to leave here pondering over is, are we playing the roles we should be playing or are expected to play in engendering education reform as alumni members?
Thank you for listening.
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