Sustaining Basic Education Policy, Ensuring Accountability

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Ensuring that there is strict adherence to the legal and policy framework for programme implementation of the Universal Basic Education policy, as well as accountability through monitoring of projects and activities within the sector by all stakeholders, were the focus of the 2017 annual national education summit of the Education Writers’ Association of Nigeria. Funmi Ogundare reports

Primary education has been regarded as very important and most patronised by people. This perhaps may be due to the fact that it is the foundation of the whole educational pursuit and is expected to provide literacy and enlightenment to the people and should be regarded as fundamental to success in life.

However, in spite of government’s goal of making education accessible to Nigerian children through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) policy, there are some challenges confronting its success, which include lackadaisical attitude of many state governments to the promotion and development of the basic education sub-sector, among others.

With this in mind, stakeholders drawn from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), NAPPS, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and schools across Lagos converged on WAEC Academy Inn, Ikeja, for the 2017 annual national education summit of the Education Writers’ Association of Nigeria (EWAN) with the theme ‘Whither Basic Education in Nigeria’.
The summit, designed to draw attention to the myriad of problems confronting basic education in the country, was an interventional initiative by the association, a body of journalists across print, electronic and online media that cover education.

The event was chaired by Nigeria’s former Representative to UNESCO, Emeritus Professor, Michael Omolewa, who believed that education can make a difference if attention is paid to the children, and expressed delight that the association brought the topic to the fore by focusing on basic education.

In his keynote address, the Executive Secretary of UBEC, Dr. Hammid Bobboyi disclosed that a total of N76,119,051,481.86 representing 20 per cent of the total matching grants of N380,052,513,491.76 released to the agency as at October 31, 2017 is yet to be accessed by state governments.
Bobboyi, who was represented by his deputy, Dr. Sharon Oviemuno, said N303,933,462,013.90, representing 80 per cent of the total matching grants has been judiciously utilised to revive the sector.

He listed challenges confronting basic education to include the huge figure of out-of-school children and youths, including the almajiri and children with special needs, as well as getting them into basic education schools; low level of budgetary allocation to basic education at state and local government levels; dwindling government revenue at all levels; general insecurity in schools occasioned by insurgency, kidnapping, rape, among others.

He said the commission had always ensured that the money disbursed was well used through rigorous monitoring, adding that the country must build on a rich intellectual culture to ensure a robust educational future not only for the states, but for the entire populace.

Bobboyi also highlighted key areas that need intervention to include expanding access for out-of-school children; paying attention gross and net enrolment ratios; bringing down qualified teacher/pupil ratio for all levels; and sustaining progress being made by the government.
The executive secretary also emphasised on quality assurance, saying that there should be improved mentoring, monitoring, supervision and inspection; building synergy with other quality assurance staff, engaging key stakeholders in the process of quality assurance at the school level.

In order to attain the objectives of the UBE programme, he said there is need for strict adherence to the legal and policy framework for programme implementation; constant review of operational modalities to address emerging issues; stakeholders’ interest in and involvement in programme implementation; paradigm shift in public perception of the programme from that of government sole responsibility to that of a collective interest of all facets of the society.
According to him, “there is need for a more proactive mechanism for interpreting, applying and enforcing programmes, laws and policies.”

Earlier, a Professor of Counselling, Faculty of Education, University of Lagos, Ngozi Osarenren, commended the association members for coming up with the programme, saying that the theme was apt at this point in time.
She said until stakeholders decide to give children the best education standard, the country would not be able to meet up with global practices, while expressing concern that those who are unable to meet the cut-off marks for other programmes are the ones rushing to study education in higher institutions.

“If you admit a sub-standard candidate, what will he give? Admission seekers jump into studying education because they could not meet up with cut-off marks of the initial course they wanted to study. They are the ones that will teach in our basic schools.”
Osarenren, who was a Commissioner for Education in Edo State, regretted the dysfunctions in school systems, which are impinging on the proper implementation of basic education, adding that the quality of teacher that will teach the children is imperative.
“Mass failure in some subjects for instance is because teachers skip some topics which they don’t know. We should be bold to tell our teachers that you cannot give what you don’t have. Teachers that are not versatile enough cannot teach our children,” she said.

The National President of the NUT, Michael Alogba-Olukoya, who was represented by the union’s Deputy Chairman, Lagos, Chapter, Adedoyin Adeshina, described education as the bedrock for national development, adding that for teachers to put in their best, they must be well remunerated.
“Anything that will affect the pension and salaries of teachers the union does not take it likely. A teacher that is not well remunerated will not put in his best it will be garbage in garbage out.”
He also said the funding of basic education should not be handed over to local government as being proposed, while urging stakeholders to intervene.

The Chairman of EWAN, Mr. Tunbosun Ogundare argued that basic education hardly gets a fair share of attention from stakeholders, especially the government, regulators and parents, noting that attention has always been on tertiary education.
“That is the essence of the summit. As journalists, we cannot say exactly which government agency is in charge of basic education, we are not also clear about the roles of local government at the lowest level of education,” he said.
He affirmed that over N60 billion belonging to various states is lying idle with UBEC/CBN, adding that governors are complaining that there is no money in government treasury, while using that to justify their failure to provide functional and effective basic education to the children.

“Just of recent, UNESCO put school age children who are out of school in the country at 8.7 million, yet most of our so-called education policy makers are still quoting 10.5 million which was the previous figure. This shows how unimportant it is to them in getting the children can to the classrooms.”

Participants in a communiqué issued at the end of the summit stressed the need for stakeholders, including parents, government and corporate organisations and the media to support basic education and ensure accountability through monitoring of projects and activities within the basic education sub-sector.

They also stressed the need for continuous training and retraining of existing teachers on modern learning and teaching techniques for improved impact and review of admission procedure to discourage enrolment of unwilling applicants into the education department.
They also called for a review of lopsided agencies of governments and parastatals with conflicting and overlapping responsibilities, as well as reduction in the number of competitive examinations being conducted for pupils in the country.