2016: Progress in Education Hampered by Recession, Says Experts

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With few days to the end of 2016, Uchechukwu Nnaike and Funmi Ogundare recount some of the major events that shaped the education sector, as well as stakeholders’ assessment of the sector in the outgoing year

2016 is no doubt an eventful year which Nigerians will not forget in a hurry, as the current recession in the country reflected in all sectors of the economy, including education. However stakeholders think the sector fared well this year, but could have done better but for the inflation and forex scarcity, which were fallout of the economic crisis.

At the tertiary level, only the managements of few federal-owned institutions have come out to openly state the grueling impact of the recession on their operations, while many, afraid of being sanctioned by the government, have remained taciturn. Even those that elect to divulge details of their sufferings prefer to do so anonymously.

At the basic education level, many parents who grappled with unpaid salaries, half salaries, companies whose accounts have been blocked, retrenchments, among others, were forced to withdraw their children from private schools to public schools, even as some private schools had to increase tuition fees with the rise in exchange rate to sustain teachers’ salaries.

The proposed 2017 budget, which President Muhammadu Buhari presented to the National Assembly formed and will be the subject of many discourse in the outgoing year, as some stakeholders contend that the N448.01 billion allocated to education is still way below the UN benchmark, while others were full of commendation for the government for allocating a large percentage of the total budget to the sector.

Just as the president promised to address the chronic shortage of teachers in public schools across the country by partnering state and local governments to recruit, train and deploy 500,000 unemployed graduates and NCE holders, in his May 29 Democracy Day broadcast, he formally launched the unprecedented social investment programmes already provided for under the 2016 appropriation by his administration.

The 500,000 Teacher Corps, nicknamed N-Power Teach on the portal, is one of the three direct job creation and training schemes Nigerians have started applying for since June 12.

Others are N-Power Knowledge which will train 25,000 Nigerians in the area of technology, and N-Power Build, which trains another 75,000 in the areas of building services, construction, utilities, hospitality and catering, automotive vocations, aluminum and gas services.

According to the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, the presidency would start taking applications online for positions in the 500,000 direct teacher jobs scheme, adding that all trainees would be paid for the duration of their training.

He said the training would be a paid volunteer programme for two-year duration.
“Unemployed Nigerians selected and trained will play teaching, instructional, and advisory roles in primary, and secondary schools, agricultural extension systems across the country, public health and community education-covering civic and adult education.

“Besides their monthly take home pay estimated at about N23,000, the selected 500,000 graduates will also get computer devices that will contain information necessary for their specific engagement, as well as information for their continuous training and development. They get to keep the devices even after exiting from the programme.”
The federal government also launched a new three-year education strategic plan known as ‘Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan 2016-2019’ for the country.

At the launch, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, said it was strategic to the Buhari administration’s change agenda. “No nation can achieve economic prosperity without a sound and functional education system; and knowing full well that the security and stability of our country depends on its ability to provide functional education to its citizens; bearing in mind the key to fighting unemployment.”

He expressed concern that while the world is producing professionals, Nigeria is still grappling and leading the world with the highest number of out-of-school children, adding that the new plan seeks to address the various existing gaps in the sector to attain optimum results.

The Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwukah on his part said the new plan seeks to enthrone equity and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, as declared in the global education agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 4 and would ensure that the vulnerables are included.

A major incident that rekindled the hope of Nigerians in the outgoing year was the release of 22 of the over 200 Chibok girls that were kidnapped by insurgents in 2014. They were reunited with their parents by the Buhari administration.

According to reports, the young women were freed in October after Switzerland and the International Red Cross made a deal with Boko Haram.

Also in the outgoing year, the conduct of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) generated dissatisfaction among candidates and operators of CBT centres, who called for the resignation of the erstwhile JAMB Registrar, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde for incompetence, among other allegations levelled against him.

Tertiary institutions’ admission processes also caused confusion and uncertainty among the UTME candidates, as they became unsure of the possibility of securing a hitch free admission to study their courses of choice in any Nigerian university.

Parents and guardians were worried about the educational destiny of their children, particularly as it concerns several policy somersaults of the government; the most worrisome aspect was the issue of post-UTME exams being conducted by individual universities for the purpose of testing the candidates’ academic and intellectual competence.

Perhaps to put to rest insinuations of exploiting candidates under the guise of the post-UTME, the minister announced the ban on post-UTME describing it as a well-orchestrated means of defrauding candidates. The statement unsettled most universities and also generated mixed reactions from stakeholders.

The minister, apparently working on information available to him insisted that post-UTME exams should remain scrapped, describing the exercise as illegal, unconstitutional and well-orchestrated platform for schools to defraud candidates, thus throwing more financial burden on parents and guardians.

He maintained that JAMB is the only statutory body that has constitutional backing to conduct admission exams into public tertiary institutions and under no circumstance whatsoever should any institution take over that responsibility by proxy.

In 2016, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) recorded improved performance in its May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) as a total of 878,040 candidates, representing 52.97 per cent of the 1,552,758 candidates that sat for the examination obtained credits in five subjects and above, including English Language and Mathematics.

According to the Head of the Nigerian Office (HNO), Mr. Olu Adenipekun, the performance of candidates was encouraging compared to the 31.28 per cent and 38.68 per cent recorded in 2014 and 2015 respectively. He attributed the improvement to better commitment on the part of students, teachers and governments at all levels.
In the Nov/Dec diet, the 2016 result also showed an improved performance as 38.50 per cent of the candidates obtained credits in five subjects and above, including English Language and Mathematics as against the 29.37 per cent and 20.5 per cent of 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Another major occurrence in the sector in the outgoing year was the federal government’s drastic decision with the sack and replacement of heads of 17 agencies and parastatals in the education ministry. The affected agencies are: National Universities Commission (NUC); Nigerian Institute for Educational Planning and Administration; Universal Basic Education Board (UBEC); National Library of Nigeria; National Examinations Council; National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education; Nomadic Education Commission; National Business and Technical Examination Board (NABTEB, among others. The move generated positive and negative reactions among stakeholders.

When the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and sundry groups deplored the inclusion of all federal government-owned educational institutions in the blanket implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the federal government on the ground that it was crippling their efforts to deliver on their set objectives, not many thought matters would get worse soon.

To protest the inclusion of universities in the TSA; the non-implementation of the recommendation of the needs assessment on universities, among other issues, ASUU embarked on a one-week warning strike which grounded academic activities in most federal and state universities across the country. Thankfully, the government resolved the TSA issue and made other commitments to prevent an indefinite strike.

In his assessment of the sector in the outgoing year, the Chairman, Governing Council of Crawford University, Ogun State, Professor Peter Okebukola stated that many are unaware of the strings of activities in the education sector since January 2016 ostensibly because of the posture of the education ministers of not making much public noise of their achievements, which he said have been noteworthy.

“I have taken special interest in monitoring progress in the sector since I was part of the 2015 Obasanjo Presidential Library technical group on the roadmap for education for Nigeria, post-2015. I have been ticking away items on our to-do-list and by December 26, 2016, concluded that the Buhari administration has taken off to a fair start in education especially in such areas as increasing access to university education through licensing of eight new private universities; reinvigorating the NUC through the appointment of Professor Abubakar Rasheed as Executive Secretary; re-positioning the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and improving teacher numbers and quality.
“Other specific achievements are the schools for the girl-child; transfer of IDP children to federal government colleges on full scholarship; and school census which is in progress to ensure acceptable data that meet international standards in quality and scope.”

He said the country has had a relatively peaceful year in the sector with little disruption to academic calendar due to strikes; perceptible drop in the incidence of social vices on our campuses especially cultism and a greater degree of transparency and accountability induced by the Treasury Single Account (TSA).

“We must also not lose sight of the launch of the four-year education strategy and the administration’s school feeding programme which will impact enrolment, participation and achievement of basic education pupils.
On the downside, the former Executive Secretary of the NUC said: “Many states could not pay the salaries of teachers for months impacting negatively on motivation and attendance. This will take a short and long-term toll on quality.

“On the combined indicators of quality, relevance, efficiency, equity and international competitiveness, I will score the sector 59 per cent with an entry in the remarks section as ‘can do better with improved resourcing, handicapped this year by the recession.”

Okebukola stressed that the assessment of the education report card of 2016 should be read within the context of the recession to which the Nigerian economy is subjected. “Nowhere in the world is performance in education spared when recession kicks in.

“The 18.6 per cent inflation rate and the dollar exchange rate of close to N490 was a recipe for disorganising the education delivery system. Costs of school consumables and equipment jumped out of the roof. Costs of maintaining school plant and machinery became prohibitive. For those who were paid, the salaries of teachers and other school staff were eroded in terms of value. It has been a rather harsh year for the economic drivers of education.”
The Rector of the Lagos State Polytechnic, Mr. Samuel Sogunro, expressed concern about the paucity of funds in the sector, saying, “when you look at it from the budget presentation, the percentage allocated to the sector is below the UNESCO standard which is 26 per cent. I cannot remember when last Nigeria met that benchmark.”

He said many institutions would have collapsed if not for TETFund, adding that it has been used to support infrastructure and other facilities. “So many institutions cannot pay wages of staff, most of the infrastructure are decayed and facilities are obsolete. Most institutions don’t have enough personnel; both teaching and non-teaching, most of them don’t have equipment in their laboratory, furniture for their staff, most infrastructures have been there that need to compete with the modern world for years without any changes, so funding is basically the major thing. If you have enough funds and good personnel, the tertiary institution will begin to do research; we tried to develop capacity with TETFund which has been assisting in the area of academic staff training and development.”

He commended the Lagos State Government for funding the institution saying, “with what they are doing, other states are still struggling to meet up and it continues to improve to make education conducive for learners. I know they can do better.”

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Management Services, University of Lagos, Prof. Duro Oni, also commended the federal government for its impact in the sector so far, as well as in the institution saying. “We have done quite well, as usual there are plus and minuses but we keep doing very well. The sector has done very well; the government is giving us the attention that it can though the recession has not helped matters because it has made the money to be severally limited.

“I have always told people, there are so many contending factors trying to access government; the health, transport, education, among others, with all of these, what is important is prudent management of resources and I think we are doing quite well.”

Despites the plus and minuses in the sector, it is believed that more funding and prudent management of resources will go a long way in building infrastructure for quality teaching and learning.