“No nation can remain which does not recognize the importance of education.”
The state of education in any society is a combination of many factors, including the resources committed to the educational sector and the quality of personnel assigned to manage the system. This article, which revisits the much-vexed issue of state of education, defines education in terms of its relevance to the individual and the overall impact on Nigeria’s global competitiveness.
Education is as old as human being and Nigeria, as a nation, has a long history with education. The nation’s educational system has transited from the indigenous system where mature men instructed the youths in personal, good citizenship and community responsibilities to the formal Western education brought by the missionaries in the mid-nineteenth century.
In the 1960s (and before) schools were properly administered and discipline was enforced. The quality of graduates was high, and certificates awarded by the schools were equal to those awarded by schools in the West. However, things went sour and education was neglected in the late 1980s and the quality of graduates has since been compromised. There is no facet of the society that has not been affected. It has impacted the economy and governance, science and technology, medicine, religion, individual responsibility and Nigeria’s global competitiveness.
Lack of funding, lack of teaching tools and modern classrooms, poor remuneration and “acute shortage of qualified teachers” contribute to the falling standard of education in Nigeria. About 2,015 primary schools are without buildings and classes are conducted under trees. However, mostly children of the poor who cannot afford good, but expensive, private schools attend these schools. What type of education would one receive under such a harsh condition?
Higher institutions have similar problems. Demand for higher education increased during the oil boom of the 1970s and the number of students increased without commensurate funding. In the 1990s, some of the loans from the World Bank for education were used to purchase irrelevant books and “expensive equipment” that could not be maintained.
It is no longer news that the percentage of federal budgetary allocation to education has been dwindling. It was 7.2% in 1995 and 4.5% in 2004.The condition becomes more pathetic when Nigeria’sGross National Product (GNP) allocation to education is compared with those of less affluent African nations that allocate greater percentage: Cote d’ Ivoria allocates 5% of its GNP to education, Kenya 6.5%, and Nigeria 0.76%.
However, because the primary school teachers are unmotivated and because secondary school graduates are unprepared for higher education, cultism and examination frauds have been rising unabated. And, combined with corruption the quality of university graduates has since been declining. Especially revealing is the 2006 ranking of African universities in which Nigerian universities that were once highly rated were behind universities in poorer countries. A poor quality education is a reflection of bad government, as a good quality education is a reflection of good government.
The failure of the government to implement its agreement with university teachers prompted the 2003 ASUU strike that lasted for about six months. This exacerbated the mass exodus (‘brain-drain’) of experienced Professors to countries with better working conditions. Not much has changed because ASUU is still warming up for strike more actions.
The quality of education and level of educational attainment of the people determines the quality of its leaders, the pace of economic development and the nation’s global competitiveness. Thus, one of the ways to gauge how serious a society is is to appraise its educational system and the quality of individuals appointed or elected to run the affairs of the nation. In other words, the state of education is one of the most important indicators of national development.
One cannot ask enough questions here. How would Nigeria ensure a sustainable growth development without investing in the educational sector? How can the society train the critical and creative minds to manage her democratic process without investing copiously on human capital development? How can Nigeria compete effectively in the global market place without giving the citizens the skills and knowledge to produce high quality goods and services? Some-thing is obviously wrong with any society that does not take its educational institutions seriously.
Nevertheless, a good system and good education could refine or change the life of a non-serious individual. Great schools offer extraordinary gift of wisdom to those who are willing to receive it. Great schools train great minds that make great societies! And great teachers make great schools, ceteris paribus! Some if not many, Nigerians are deemed unproductive, as the state of the economy indicates, because individuals without relevant qualifications and experience are allowed to pilot the affairs of the nation.
There has been some anti-education sentiment or misguided comments about higher degrees, which was triggered by the resignation of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from the OBJ administration. And some of them were colored by utter contempt for a people. This writer is not here to join issues with those shallow-minded individuals guided by political expediency. The fact of the matter is that no matter how hard this group may try, no sane person can discount the importance of good quality education, experience and exposure (acquired locally or abroad). And this could strengthen a person’s innate ability. Knowledge, skill and good exposure matter! Any nation that does not appreciate her citizens with creative and innovative ideas will hardly progress.
The political leadership should, therefore, stop appointing the “minds unfurnished with ideas” (Samuel Johnson) to run the affairs of this great nation. As it were, every dog has its place! The quality of services in government today is dismal mostly because many of the managers are employed in areas they lack expertise. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons for the failure of constitutional government in Nigeria.
The battle for restoring the lost glory in higher education in Nigeria must be waged holistically. Thus, to improve the standard of education and her global competitiveness, Nigeria must first educate the educators and improve their level of “psychological satisfaction.” And Nigeria should begin now to appreciate and reward excellence! Poor working conditions dissuading talented youths from entering the teaching profession.
Nigeria is capable of reversing the trend and produce enviable world class scholars if the leaders can sufficiently fund the schools, motivate the teachers and students by providing good teaching and learning environment and create employment for the teeming population. Nigeria cannot benefit from the emerging global economy with the present poor state of the educational sector.
The school should be equipped with functional libraries and laboratories; and classrooms should have modern instructional technologies-computers connected to the Internet, projectors, audio-visual and video conferencing equipment, et cetera. Teachers should not be expected to perform miracles without the necessary teaching tools. Primary and secondary schools, which are the foundations of higher education, should be adequately funded and properly staffed. However, university admissions should be strictly on merit and schools should offer relevant courses that prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century economy.
Higher institutions should be granted full autonomy and allowed unfettered hands to source funds through private sector partnership. However, as this writer has noted elsewhere, students should be required to pay tuition (and other fees), as higher education should not be free in Nigeria. One could rightly complain about the quality of education (or any other service) if one pays for the service. How could one complain about the quality of something that one gets freely? Academic competition would enable the institutions to attract better quality teachers and to “rebuild a culture of scholarship” that has been neglected in the society.
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