As President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration ends in the next 85 days, stakeholders, given the numerous challenges bogging down the education sector, have tasked the presidentelect to reset the government’s priority through conscious and deliberate commitment to develop the sector, if the nation is to make any headway in the next four years. KAYODE OLANREWAJU writes
There’s no need for a new national education summit –Don
ASUP: We expect president-elect to hit the ground running
Less than three months to the inauguration of a new government for the country, ending the eight-year rule of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, attention of education pundits and stakeholders has shifted to the education sector in the new dispensation. This is as the stakeholders expressed anxiety over the state of comatose of the education system, which to them requires urgent rebranding and total overhauling to save the sector for its imminent collapse due to years of neglect. The anxiety is heightened given the level of rot, sloppiness and other challenges confronting the sector, owing to poor funding, incessant strikes, unhealthy industrial relationship between government and university unions, rising brain drain syndrome, dearth of facilities, poor student-teacher ratio, overstretched infrastructure, growing number of out-of-school children, among others.
The nation’s education sector, which is the bedrock for national development, has continued to suffer neglect by successive administrations at the state and federal levels over the years. Worried by sectoral ills, the stakeholders said that their utmost concern is how the Federal Government under the new Presidentelect would tackle the numerous challenges besetting the sector and set it free on the path of reckoning for renewed hope, global standards and expectations.
The education sector, superintendent by the Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who hitherto admitted failure of the sector in the last eight years under his watch, as it may, apart from the prolonged disruption of academic calendar in public universities due to over eight-month strike by ASUU last year, is also inundated with the challenges of rising figure of out-ofschool children reported by the UNESCO to be over 20 million children (one of the highest in the Sub-Saharan Africa region), as well as obsolete or outdated curriculum.
Within 2020 and 2022, the nation’s public university system was closed down for over 18 months due to incessant strikes by the various university staff unions – Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non- Academic Staff Union Educational and Associated Institution (NASU) – over the unresolved unions’ demands and other critical issues in the system, resulting from the refusal of the Federal Government to address the palpable rot and lingering industrial face-off in the sector.
But, conscious of the state of comatose of the nation’s education system, believed to be the bedrock of national development, and its attendant threat to the overall growth of the country, the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had in his election manifestos promised an education reform, which to him, remains a major factor that would determining how the country’s economy would perform and be driven.
Against this backdrop, proposed to introduce student loans and a special education fund, consisting of zero coupon federal bonds to ameliorate the financial burden of students and parents; new standardised teacher training courses and examinations with minimum standards strictly enforced; a school management system for federally funded schools. According to the President-elect, an enduring education sector would be achieved by his administration through quality, access, adequate funding, management, effectiveness and competitiveness of the nation’s institutions.
Besides, Tinubu also promised to invest better in educational infrastructure and provide adequate resources to improve the educational environment; while on accreditation standards, and curriculum development, he said that a permanent committee, comprising representatives of the private sector and leaders in the education sector which will be created will help in the new accreditation standards to be developed for all institutions from the primary to the tertiary education level.
Under the new dispensation, all institutions of learning in the country would ultimately be required to comply with the new standards based on a reasonable period of adjustment; while the Federal Government under his watch will constitute the committee that would be tasked with developing a curriculum that will match the education instruction with the actual and projected needs of the private sector with a view to reposition and taking the country to the next level of its developmental aspirations. Meanwhile, on teacher training, there is a strategy by the Presidentelect to introduce new accreditation requirements for teachers in federally funded primary and secondary schools across the federation, as standardised teacher training courses and examinations would be introduced with minimum standards that will be strictly enforced.
There are also plans to introduce a School Management System for federally funded schools where schools are managed by a board of education, which shall consist of members of the local communities. The boards, under their purview, expected to oversee the management of all government schools within a given locality and the maintenance of the new minimum standards set by the government. On technical, vocational education, the new government expressed commitment to reform technical and vocational institutions with a view to stimulating Nigeria’s natural entrepreneurial spirit and empower more individuals towards self-reliance.
The Federal Government, the President-elect stated, would focus and invigorate training students in the 21st Century growth industries such as in information technology, software development, artificial intelligence and robotics, while priority attention would also be focused on restructuring of tertiary institutions. Under this, the new administration will rationalise the governance structures, funding, and compensation structures of tertiary institutions, even as the Presidentelect proposed to put in place student loans, and the introduction of a special education fund and incentives for students who study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Through new legislation, the special education fund consisting of zero coupon federal bonds that will be set up, will help in a long way to properly fund the universities, while reducing the per capita tuition cost increase on the average student. Piqued by the number of outof- school children, the Federal Government, the President-elect, would be given the highest priority by checking the growing problem of out-of-school children throughout the country.
To tackle this challenge headlong, tens of thousands of children would be given a chance at education they otherwise would have foregone, as this will also reduce the number of disaffected youth who might fall prey to recruitment by terrorists and other violent groups. “A task force headed by a special czar will be created to address this problem. And, will be tasked to review and strengthen the scope of measures such as the school feeding programme established to keep atrisk children in school,” he stated.
But, based on the rot ensnaring the sector over years of neglect by successive administrations, stakeholders are bemused of how these propositions and strategies will be articulated, and not end on the shelf like other proposals and recommendations of the various education summits in the country. However, given the above scenario, described and robust, the former Vice-Chancellor of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Ado-Ekiti, Prof Dipo Kolawole, expressed regrets that the problems in the education sector have been allowed to fester for decades. On his expectations for the education sector in the new government, he lamented that every emergent leadership during electioneering and immediately after assuming power promised to address the problems, but which they failed to realize, or better worse compound the problems.
“Ironically, after the period of power honeymoon, the tendency is to engage the leadership of the unions in the universities, particularly ASUU in adversary relationships. Some ministers of Education, and Labour and Employment tend to wear oversized garments of superiority as we witnessed under the current President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration,” he noted.
The retired don, however, chided them for readily forgetting their mandate and embark on unnecessary combative power competition with unions thereby leaving the education sector worse than they met it. Unfortunately, the President, who should regulate their behaviours, according to him, is too taciturn to provide the desired leadership.
Despite the inglorious periods witnessed by the nation’s education sector, Prof. Kolawole, who expressed optimism that all hope has not lost, after all, said that the onerous task ahead of the new government is for the new leadership to study the situation and avoid the pitfalls of the past.
Therefore, as a way forward, he pointed out that first there should shift from holding a new national education summit, as the don noted that “there was no need for any time and resource wasting under the guise of a national education summit.”
Curiously, Prof Kolawole, who listed the problems confronting the sector to include lack of adequate resources in the nation’s tertiary institutions to meet their mandate of being called colleges of education, polytechnics or universities; suggested the urgency to review the national budget through supplementary budget to assist the institutions. The former Vice-Chancellor said that the government therefore need to evolve a new effective means of holding the institutional gatekeepers to accountability such that the quantum of resources devolved are responsibly utilised for purposes for which they are meant, as doing so will eliminate corruption in the system. Prof Kolawole, however, expressed the urgent need for the review of the school curriculum from the primary to university level to align it with global best practices, and insisted that such deliberate effort had become expedient so as to internationalise the nation’s education system for effective service delivery.
While setting an agenda for the incoming government, he said the unresolved issue of incessant strikes in the university system, which has been condemned and described by stakeholders “as retrogressive and a threat to the delivery of quality education,” should be methodically, meaningfully and realistically tackled by evolving a proactive, rather than a reactive approach to crisis management being employed by the government in resolving issues in the system. Still, on the way forward, Kolawole, who flayed lack of full autonomy in the university system, said: “The institutions of learning especially the universities should be granted full autonomy without unnecessary interference from government, while the university Governing Councils should be populated by well-informed, competent and resourceful individuals.
“It should and cannot be a dumping ground as a compensation for political support during electioneering. Also, the university Chancellors must be people who command respect in society, and who can measurably impact positively on the universities through their contacts.” University Chancellors, according to him, must not be people whose presence and entourage would be a drain on the universities and distractions during the period of convocation. Appraising the situation, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Mr. Anderson Ezeibe, in his remarks, said as a union, ASUP expect the President-elect to hit the ground running immediately he assumes offices, given the plethora of challenges and crises in the sector.
He wondered that the various ASUP’s demands before the Federal Government over the years had not been implemented due to lack of the political will on the part of the government. The leader further stated that the contentious issues between the Federal Government and the union, which are well-documented and are yet to be resolved, are expected to be addressed by the Federal Government which should take deliberate action in meeting these demands to ensure permanent peace and stability to be restored to the polytechnic system. “As a matter of fact, ASUP expect that the President-elect on assumption of office would address the myriad of problems confronting the nation’s education sector, particularly in terms of funding challenge; dichotomy between polytechnic graduates and their university counterparts; and other critical issues affecting the overall development of the sector,” he added.
Similarly, a former Dean, Faculty of Arts at the University of Ibadan (UI), Prof Ademola Dasylva, while taking a cursory look at the sector in the last decades, said it might not be appropriate to address the issue of education in isolation of other equally critical sectors of the economy or national issues. However, the Professor of African Literature and Poetry, said for the sector to gain its anticipated development drive, he expects a top notch improvement across all the tiers of the country’s education system, with a wellfunded and better improved university system in the best global practices.
The retired don, who attributed the crises bedeviling the Nigeria’s education sector over the decades to what he described as poor leadership, however, regretted that it is unfortunate that democracy in Nigeria, at best and given the experience so far, could be defined as a periodic civilian coup d’état by the political class against the masses of the people, to select a set of rulers. He, therefore, blamed the current government for having destroyed every known legacy and value; killed the morale of the country’s intellectuals and conquered, as it were, the nation’s university education system in order to serve their selfish interest by deliberately making the public universities inaccessible to children of the poor in this country.
“This is one of the evils that ASUU has fought against over the years,” he stated. Looking at the most recent development, Dasylva, who hinted that the emergence of Presidentelect under the All Progressives Congress (APC) evokes an understanding that the country is going to have a different, and apparently a more clear-headed “Captain” at the cockpit, albeit of a rickety jumbo jet. Given the anticipation and high expectation of Nigerians of something new and different from the new President, the retired don cautioned that Nigerians should be patient, and see how seriously the President would handle the healing process of a hurting citizenry for obvious reasons. For instance, he spoke of the withheld eight months’ salary of ASUU members, and other forms of injustice perpetrated on the education sector by the outgoing Federal Government.
Thus, he stated that “going by the President-elect’s acceptance speech, we want to see top notch improvement across the tiers of the country’s education system, and a well-funded, better improved university system in the best global practices.” “I believe that restoration of hope to a despairing polity can be achieved depending on how the new president tackles the ailing economy using very competent hands and minds this time around. On the issue of insecurity, again the need to use competent hands; as well as the challenge of deficient infrastructure, and much more, and all that needed to be fixed in his tenure of four years, provided there is the political will.”