Nigerian students are yearning for an improved education sector

As schools across the country prepare to resume academic activities after the Christmas and New Year holidays, with parents having to grapple with their children’s school fees, coupled with the recession of 2017, experts opined that there must be transparency and commitment to move the education sector forward. Funmi Ogundare reports

The education sector in 2017 has come and gone with its challenges, in spite of these, President Muhammadu Buhari has promised a better deal for the sector.

At a summit on education held in Abuja on November 13, 2017, he promised to strengthen the Ministerial Strategic Plan, saying that his administration is committed to revitalising the education system by making it more responsive and globally competitive.

He admitted that “our country is facing numerous challenges in education and other sectors as a result of historical abuses, mindless impunity and corruption.

“With an estimated 13.2 million children out of school, high illiteracy level, infrastructure deficit and decay, unqualified teachers and inadequate instructional materials, just to mention some of the challenges, we can clearly see the effects of decades of neglect that the education sector has suffered.

“We are determined to turn around the sector for the better, we are already making appreciable progress in this respect. This summit must therefore, among other things, sharpen our strategies for addressing the challenges of basic and secondary education, teacher training and professional development, technical and vocational education.

“The summit must work to enhance quality in, and access to higher education and other challenges in the sector that will debar us from attaining the SDGs and be among the top 20 economies in the world.”

Towards the end of the year, precisely on December 29, the president approved the constitution of the governing boards of agencies and parastatals under some ministries.

The constitution of the boards with the appointment of chairmen, according to a statement from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was a demonstration of government’s efforts aimed at building strong institutions of governance and improving the quality of policy formulation and supervision.

According to the statement, “the appointments take immediate effect and ministers are advised to inaugurate the boards after letters of appointment have been issued.”

Perhaps considering the remarks of the president, some experts are of the opinion that a way forward cannot be charted without considering the present situation and the limitations that currently exist.

Sharing his expectations for the education sector in 2018, a former Vice-Chancellor of Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH), Okitipupa, Professor Tolu Odugbemi stressed the need for the country to determine what suits it economically and socially, and be prepared to fund those ideas or actions relevant to societal needs.

He highlighted some of the factors hindering good standards in education to include bad planning of curricula of institutions, misconception of what the mission of various levels and types of educational institutions should be even by owners of such institutions, attitude of workers/staff which may in part be due to poor remuneration.

He expressed concern that most workers have to fend for themselves through alternative sources of income which may be legal or illegal, ethical or unethical because various owners, in particular government agencies do not pay monthly salaries and allowances of staff and their workers as and when due.

“It is counter-productive not to pay staff their salaries and allowances as and when due. Such situations result in an unproductive workforce. There is also the major issue of incessant strikes. Strikes due to many of the reasons already mentioned above. In order to get better and effective results for products of our institutions, there must be reorientation to provide insight or a way forward for government, unions and staff, students and other stakeholders, parents, employers of labour, among others.”

He stressed the need for political will on the part of the government which should be focused on quality, adding that it is not the quantity of universities in any area/state/nation that matters, but the quality.

“Universities for example are centres which thrive on the passion in knowledge gaining and transfer, and societal development. Our universities have to work hard with the right and eminently qualified staff with passion for education, excellence and break-through to impact the society positively. Many universities are not fulfilling their mandates of teaching, research and community development,” Odugbemi, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos said.

He observed that local communities see universities sited in their domains as local community institutions for employing all their community members at any time without recourse to the needs of the institutions or budgetary allocations and societal relevance.

“In the past, our universities in Nigeria recruited top scholars and administrators from USA, UK, India, Canada, Egypt, Ghana and other commonwealth countries, furthermore students from these other countries come to our tertiary institutions to study.”

Odugbemi expressed concern that Nigerian students now move to other countries where they pay heavily to attend institutions abroad to cover accommodation and tuition.

“I must point out that these institutions situated abroad are really well-equipped with assorted learning resources. Universities are supposed to be international and contributions should not be of mean value.

“There is an urgent need for reorientation of various communities to note that universities located in their communities will certainly influence their communities one way or another through outstanding research output that will make the outlook of university towns better.”

The former VC argued that appropriate criteria for appointments and promotions of principal officers, staff and administrators are often bent by ill-qualified university leaders, stressing that “we must make our universities truly universal and of highest standards to make them solve societal problems.

“Universities need to be properly funded to make institutions have solid infrastructure and attract and retain good and great staff and push out meaningful research findings.

“There must be orientation programmes that will re-educate communities to raise funds to offer scholarships to their needy indigenes and donate in cash and in kind to achieve desired positive results.”

He however noted that funding remains a big challenge in Nigeria and even in developed countries like Canada, USA and UK, adding that with great institutions, funding is critical which includes exploring all other sources to make institutions viable and optimal.

Aside government subventions, he listed other potential sources of funding which must be explored to include government grants and interventions (to address specific matters, school fees, levies, PTA support, donations, IGR, partnerships, contributions from alumni and alumnae, taxes, as well as research findings through patents and consultancy).

“Generally, individual institutions should carefully consider their funding needs and the governing boards/councils should apply what suits their own context so far the end-products will be relevant in making the society better. As with any organisation, the principles of teamwork, transparency, courage, sincerity and welfarism are required to move our education sector forward,” Odugbemi stressed.

A lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, Lagos State University (LASU), Dr. Tunde Akanni recalled the unprecedented record set by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), saying that the move by the board to spring reassuring hope means that it will impact on the youths, as well as the country.

“Those who are JAMB’s clients are the supposed leaders of tomorrow, so if JAMB springs some reassuring hope, it will be trans generational as this will inevitably impact on our young ones that all hope is not lost and that efforts of individuals like Professor Oloyede will hopefully enhance the country’s glory.”

He expressed concern about the uncertainty of teachers’ fate in the hands of government agencies across all levels, while recalling the indictment of TETFund for MRA (Media Rights Agenda) hall of shame.

“TETFund has become one habitual disrespecter of the rule of law. Many university teachers have also expressed total loss of confidence in the agency for lack of transparency and efficiency which it can’t controvert.”

Akanni stressed the need for the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu to pay more attention to public comments and yearnings on the performance of agencies under his ministry.

The Director of Edumark Consult, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde said: “I have often said the country should embark on a nationwide training of teachers using technology, adding that this would inspire and build their confidence.

She added that with commitment and will to drive it, the country could create a culture among educators that will turn them to real nation builders.

“A lot of things are not really about money, it is more about ideas and strategies. It is about putting the right people at the helm of affairs. It is about selling hope to the people and showing that we can do it. We need to embark on a train-the-trainers programme.

“We need to revisit the quality of those who are making policy decisions on education and create a vision for the sector to motivate everyone and show that truly things are changing. We need to provide basic infrastructure for our children. 2018 is a year that we must begin something,” Ogunde said.