By Bamisope Kupoluyi
Last year, I wrote a piece titled: “THE SAFE PLACE WE NEED” in celebration of the United Nations International Youth Day and the theme was “A safe space for youths”. This year, 2019, the theme adopted is Transforming Education. Nigeria currently has the highest amount of out of school children in the world with a figure at 13 million. Out of school meaning that they ought to be school but are rather involved with child labour, becoming child brides, internally displaced, living in abject poverty, victims of insurgency or having been conscripted by insurgents, discrimination as well as many others.
A problem commonly highlighted is the issue of insufficient funding. The United Nations recommended that all states allocate a minimum of 20% of their annual budget to Education. However, in Nigeria, since 1990 no government has allocated more than 17.5% to education. Why is this so? On the average, the Nigerian government spends more than half of its budget on recurrent expenditure which is majorly meant for the running and financing the government. In the 2018 budget, only 62 billion was allocated to education which was increased to 102 billion by the National Assembly. This amount still fell short of the recommended target of the United Nations. More money is allocated to water resources (147 billion) than to Education. Despite the fact we have two major bodies (River Niger and Benue) and numerous streams throughout the Nation. In Nigeria, it is one thing to allocate money to education and it is a totally different thing to spend money allocated. With the level of corruption in the country, monies and resources allocated to building and refurbishing schools are used to run elections and share Rice and Peanut cookies (Kuli Kuli) to the people of Nigeria whereas, in Ghana one-third of their budget is allocated to education. This explains why they recorded the highest score in the just concluded West Africa Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and that three Ghanaians, all from the Cape Coast Metropolis, received the Best Student Award in the whole of West Africa for topping the exams. For this reason, Ghana has become a centre for educational tourism for many young Nigerians. Also in many developed countries governments provide student loans, grants and scholarship schemes for tertiary institutions where they cannot provide free education. This is prevalent in countries like the UK and US. Students can apply for loans or scholarships that will enable them to continue their education.
Whereas in Nigeria, scholarships have been reserved for oil companies and many other Multi-national corporations operating in Nigeria as a means of fulfilling their Corporate Social Responsibility. Some state governments have initiated bursary schemes and programs for indigenes of the state. Notably, Seyi Makinde sometime this week approved 500,000 naira bursary for all Oyo State indigenes at the Nigerian Law School. This effort is commendable as the Nigerian Law School remains one of the most expensive institutions in the country. Other state governments should emulate such efforts. The Federal Government is also at the forefront of providing educational aid and support to Niger Delta indigenes sending them to the top educational institutions in the Country and even around world. However, in recent times, many beneficiaries have complained that they have been abandoned in schools and cut off from financial aid. This is why such beneficiaries engage in crime in order to survive.
As years go by quality education is steadily becoming a luxury service for the rich and influential in the Nation. Schools charge millions of Naira (thousands of pounds and dollars) for education that children in Developed Countries get for free. Countries like Germany and many Scandinavian countries provide free education up to Post-graduate studies.
The second problem identified is the constant change in the National Policy on Education. At a time in Nigeria we ran a 6-6-4 system which changed to 6-3-3-4 then finally to 9-3-4. These inconsistencies and disparities in application have caused so much confusion. There are even schools that run the American and British style educational systems concurrently. These inconsistencies are the effects of politicizing of ministries and government parastatals in Nigeria. A change in Ministerial leadership means a change in the educational system. There is little or no consistency or continuity especially at the primary and secondary level which are the most crucial stage of education. The educational system forms the bedrock of an efficient and progressive educational sector and so if the structure is not right, anything built on it will be a futile effort. There is no existent long-term development plan for education in Nigeria and this is the same issue with other sectors in the country. There is a need to develop a well suited and long-term educational system that will survive transition from one government to another. The formulation of this educational system should involve all stakeholders including students who will be directly affected by the educational system.
Another major problem is the lack of infrastructure and human resources. Many schools in Nigeria have a huge infrastructural deficiency. Libraries and science laboratories are non-existent in some schools in Nigeria. There have been several reports by various news stations revealing poor working conditions in various primary and secondary schools in Nigeria. Schools where students have no chairs to sit on or books to read. There are schools where classes have no roof or where the students are so many they have to conduct classes on an open field. Commendably, some state governors especially in the South-east have made efforts in improving the infrastructure of their public schools. However, the story is different in other parts of the country especially in the Northern part where the conditions are the worst in the Nation.
The Nigerian Curriculum is said to be good but it is not in tune with current technological advancements. The Curriculum is good in content wise but the procedures and methods of teaching are outdated. In the 21st century there is a need to introduce technology into the curriculum. Technology has taken the forefront in today’s society and our curriculum is decades behind. Elementary (Primary) school pupils in Finland and other European countries are taught programming meanwhile graduates of Computer Science in Nigeria know very little about programming. This is because they are taught mainly the theories of computers and with little or no attention to the practical aspects.
We are still failing to provide basic education at primary school to enable students acquire elementary literary and numeracy skills. How then will such students be able to cope with technological advancements? There is a need for a systematic plan to fast-track the learning structure in the Nation. Short-term and long-term goals will have to be set by the Ministry of Education. Technology should be introduced in each stage of the development plan. This can be done by replicating successful development plans implemented in successful nations like Singapore, India and China.
A few years ago, History was removed from the Nigerian curriculum. I was saddened by this because I was and still am a History student. I have grown to believe that if Mathematics, English and Biology are compulsory then History should be compulsory as well. History helps people to understand where they are coming from, gives them a background to their present situation and the necessary enablement to plan for the future. History gives students great analytical skills and broadens their horizons. An average American 7th grader can list all 45 American presidents. Whereas in Nigeria, many Degree holders do not know the President of Nigeria as far back as 1990 talk less of the colonial governors and the policies they introduced. History has been relegated to an Art subject. Our educational system values the sciences at the expense of art subjects, making students choose between Physics and History or Literature and Chemistry. Even school administrators contribute greatly to this problem by discouraging bright students from offering Art subjects like History and Literature after junior secondary school, saying it is for the average and below average students. This ultimately affects the mindset of those that end up offering those subjects making them feel inferior.
There is also a need to bridge the gap between educational qualifications in Nigeria. In Nigeria, any qualification below a University degree cannot secure gainful employment in the country. There is no difference between a secondary school certificate holder and a Primary school certificate holder in the employment scheme in the country. Both of them cannot be gainfully employed in the country where the unemployment rate is on a steady increase. There is a need to increase the value of educational qualifications in Nigeria. Not everyone can get a University degree or even one from a tertiary institution. Education is not limited to just conventional institutions it includes language centres and vocational skill centres. People that get trained under such centres can get certificated from an Accredited Institute or Association. Secondary school graduates can attend language centres to become proficient in various international languages. This skill can gain such persons employment all over the world as Interpreters.
Transforming education in Nigeria should be the foremost plan of every government. The educational system directly affects every other aspect in the society. Where education is poor the unemployment rate for skilled labour will be very high. Also the crime rate will be on the rise. It is no surprise that we have bandits, herdsmen and insurgents causing havoc around the nation. The world is evolving and so there is a need to change our mindset, educational system and the amount of funding. In today’s world technology has replaced many low-skill jobs.
Private individuals need to be more involved in the development process. More beneficial PPP agreements on education should be drawn up with major corporations and NGOs. The government cannot do it all but with the necessary support from the people we can bring about the much needed improvement. NGOs are frustrated by the cumbersome processes and approvals to set up. Many school children are getting quality and effective education because of efforts of these organisations. Nelson Mandela famously said. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. It is time we change our world. We cannot progress as a nation and change our situation if we do not improve our educational system. We need our educational system to build careers and not job-seekers.
There a need for a change of school management and administration. Many institutions are managed poorly. Ageism, Tribalism, Religious bias and sexism are propagated against students. Students are not given any form of independence or responsibility. The Nigerian Culture of oppressing young people has greatly affected the attitude of students towards school activities. These administrators grant admission to their friends and family at the expense of people who earn it on merit. They discourage entrepreneurship and skill acquisition. They only encourage students to read books and attend lectures, which in itself is not bad but very limiting in this modern age. Fortunately some people are changing the trend, in recent reports the VC of University of Abuja announced an employment scheme for students of the university who meet up with some qualifications to get employed within the University setting. In Covenant University also, a new policy has been implemented that will ensure all the businesses operating on its campus will be owned by students of the University. Also in Covenant University, all new architectural plans are drawn up by the students. These policies and schemes help students develop life skills that will help in building their careers and what they will contribute to the society after school. But in many institutions such initiatives and schemes are not encouraged because of the Nigerian mantra of “Face your Books”. Reading and preparing for exams are important but it is not enough in this present times. This is why in many developed educational systems, skill acquisition is equally as important as Knowledge acquisition. Knowledge is being aware of what, where, and how to do a particular thing, Skill is having the ability to make that thing a reality. It has been realised in Nigeria that Polytechnic students tend to be more skilful that university graduates yet they are discriminated against because they do not have a University degree.
W.B.Yeats once said, “Education is not filling a pail it is lighting a fire”. When I heard these words they struck a nerve. Education is not about memorizing information and churning out what is already in status quo. It is about igniting a fire which brings about light in your existing environment. It is about identifying the grey areas that need to be refined in the society. We now live in a world where skills are appreciated more than degrees and certificates. Employers look out for problem solvers and not walking libraries and orators. Education is not about learning every word in the book; it is about understanding its content and using it to solve real problems in the society.