Which Education And What Emergency?

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The education sector is in a crisis. We need clear objectives and measurable timelines to reform it

The crisis in our educational sector is so total and frightening that nothing short of a well thought-out strategy will do for any meaningful change to occur. That explains why we do not understand why an administration that has effectively entered a lame-duck stage would be canvassing emergency declaration whose scope and content remain unclear, even to the proponents. Besides, what has the federal government been doing for the past three years to revamp the sector?

Even with the benefit of the best background and information on our educational crisis, the idea of an emergency declaration by a government that in practical terms has only a few months left before the campaign season sets in seems very cynical. Ordinarily, it would take more than the next nine to 12 months to even understand what we are dealing with in the sector. What we therefore need are short, medium and long terms plan with clear objectives and measurable timelines to reform our educational system. We also need public input and international peerage to make any headway. Is the Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who is proposing declaring emergency in the sector in April thinking along that way or is this another political gambit for 2019?

As things stand in Nigeria today, nearly every segment of our public education system has collapsed. The primary and secondary schools in most states lack basic facilities from classrooms to instructional materials. Majority of the teachers, at practically all levels, have also relapsed into illiteracy for lack of training. That is aside the fact that many of them go unpaid for months on end. In fact, the Nigeria Union of Teachers on Thursday threatened to embark on another nationwide strike because 13 states have not paid the salary of their teachers, some for as long as 28 months!

In response to the demand for better quality, the last two decades have witnessed the emergence of a vibrant but expensive private education at all levels, especially in the urban areas. These institutions offer better quality, employ more qualified teachers and invest in modern facilities but at costs that are beyond the reach of the poor majority. Yet the products of these elite schools graduate into the same society where they are outnumbered by the less privileged products of our distressed public schools, a testimony to our inbuilt governance of inequality. In this process, we have inadvertently deepened the class antagonism that will haunt the future of our children.

At the tertiary end, employers are already discriminating between graduates of elite private schools and the products of our public universities. What that suggests is that this crisis goes back to the very fundamental philosophy that underpins our educational system.

What the British bequeathed here is a system that prepares young people to queue up for jobs. There was neither any entrepreneurial content nor room for creativity. What the current situation and our developmental challenges therefore dictate is a system of education to produce creators of jobs and opportunities. While there cannot be any meaningful educational reform without addressing this fundamental philosophical dysfunction, a mere pronouncement of some meaningless words in Abuja just to be seen as doing something will not make the crisis go away.

In addition to equipping its products to qualify to seek jobs, the British format of education perhaps envisaged that former colonies like Nigeria and India would develop into economies dominated by the public sector. As Britain itself was to rudely discover under late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the dominance of the private sector in the economies of the future was inevitable. The imperative of that inevitability was to quickly transform from an educational system that produced job hunters to one that served the end of an open market private sector- dominated economy. The education that we need in order to play competitively in the new global economic environment is one that produces creators, innovators, pathfinders and versatile enablers of opportunities. This is the urgent educational reform that challenges and faces us.

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What the current situation and our developmental challenges dictate is a system of education to produce creators of jobs and opportunities. While there cannot be any meaningful educational reform without addressing this fundamental philosophical dysfunction, a mere pronouncement of some meaningless words in Abuja just to be seen as doing something will not make the crisis go away