Adequate Funding of Education Tops Experts’ Expectations in 2019

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Biodun Ogunyemi

With the dawn of a new year, stakeholders in the country’s education sector agree that proper funding will enable the sector to compete favourably. However, while other foresee a bleak year, others think 2019 will be one of the best years in funding education in Nigeria in recent times. Uchechukwu Nnaike and Funmi Ogundare report

Year 2018 has gone with its attendant problems top among them is the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and its polytechnic counterpart (ASUP). The unions and the federal government are still at loggerheads over sundry issues.

For instance, the last negotiation meeting between the federal government and the leadership of ASUU ended in a deadlock. The ASUU delegation walked out of the meeting which lasted for hours at the instance of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.

The ASUU President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, who wore a gloomy face, had declined comments on the reason for staging a walk-out from the meeting.

Similarly, ASUP would be meeting with the federal government’s negotiation team on January 10 to continue discussions aimed at resolving the ongoing crisis which brought about an indefinite strike on December 12 over non-implementation of needs assessment report; payment of CONTISS 15 arrears; implementation of the scheme of service; non-payment of salaries in state-owned institutions, and victimisation of members, among others.

The issue has remained a source of concern among stakeholders, who have stressed the need for the government to be alive to its responsibilities in 2019.

Highlighting his 10 expectations for the sector this year, a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Peter Okebukola said 2018 was one of mixed blessings for the country’s education sector, as it was a year where increasing attention was paid to burning issues facing the sector by the National Council on Education and the National Economic Council made up of state governors and chaired by the vice-president.

“Some positive elements in the education report card include release of basic education funding to states and greater attention to teacher capacity development by the Universal Basic Education Commission and increase in the carrying capacity of the Nigerian university system through licensing of more private universities and recognition of more state universities by the NUC.

“NUC was also able to significantly improve its quality assurance operations and expand its open and distance learning services. The Rasheed Revitalisation Plan for the Nigerian University System (2018-2023) was activated in 2018. NUC also broke the backbone of data drought by publishing the latest statistics of the university system, as well as publish the 2017 State of University Education and the Directory of Full Professors in the system.

“Towards the close of the year, government at all levels, declared a state of emergency on education. Government also reduced the cost of purchase of JAMB and NECO examination forms to the joy of candidates and their parents. In 2018, the model of public service accountability and transparency was also a feature of the Oloyede-led JAMB. JAMB emerged the gold standard in the use of public funds and the conduct of public examinations.”

On the downside, he said the issue of the large army of out-of-school children continued to linger; so also is the generally-poor performance of students in the senior school certificate examinations. “A spate of strikes by academic staff unions in tertiary institutions dimmed the otherwise bright horizon when the year ended.”

In 2019, Okebukola said 10 features of the education sector are anticipated. Acco4ding to him, it is expected that the ASUU strike will not last beyond the early months of 2019 because of the deft moves of the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu and the Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Abubakar Rasheed to end the spate of strikes. “Unknown to many, these leaders are working tirelessly behind the scene to get the universities reopened again. When reopened, the universities will have a long spell of uninterrupted academic calendar. Historical trends confirm that when a national strike is called off, the system will have a long recess from strikes. The year 2019 will fall within the recess period so we should expect a rather peaceful year with regard to stability of academic calendar.

“The second feature is improved funding for the education sector. UBEC is poised to continue its release of funds for basic education to states. TETFund will gallop swiftly in its admirable match on intervening in physical development of our universities, polytechnics and universities. The dividend of the ASUU strike will be huge injection of more funds into our universities. The declaration of a state of emergency will also cause states and the federal government to pay more funding attention to the sector. Consequently, 2019 will turn out to be one of the best years in funding education in Nigeria in recent times.”

He said the third feature which will be a collateral benefit of the second is that because of improved funding, schools and universities will have improvements in physical resourcing. “The welfare of staff in the universities will also be enhanced. These will translate into improved productivity in the system and more likely than not, improvement in quality in the delivery of education at all levels.

“The fourth anticipated feature of 2019 is the attainment of not less than 60 per cent of the objectives of the Ministerial Strategic Plan 2016-2019. January 2019 will also witness the formal launch of the Rasheed Revitalisation Blueprint for Nigerian universities and the active pursuit of its targets on access, quality, governance, research and innovation, curriculum renewal, ICT deployment and reduction in academic corruption.”

The Distinguished Professor of Science and Computer Education added that as shown by trends in election years, the 2019 general elections will impact positively on the education sector as the winners will strive to impress by trying to fulfil their election promises to the citizenry in the first year of assuming the reins of power or renewing their mandate. “Thereafter, we cannot be too sure as our politicians are too quick to forget promises they make to the electorate.

“Sixthly, 2019 will not see a significant drop in the number of out-of-school children in view of the recent rise in insurgent activities in the northeast. Happily, the president is taking steps to address the challenge and our armed forces are gallantly winning the battle.”

The seventh forecast he said is that more private universities will be licensed in 2019 (at least four) to further enhance the carrying capacity of the system. “NUC will sharpen its quality assurance teeth in 2019 and implement codes of good practice in governance and quality delivery of conventional and open and distance learning systems.

“The eighth expectation is on security and safety in schools. The National Policy on Safety and Security in Schools in Nigeria will mitigate the insecurity in the education sector. It is important to augment the services of uniformed security officers in our schools with other security measures such as establishment of vigilante group and community neighborhood watch.”

Okebukola’s ninth expectation is the re-establishment of State Education Development Fund (SEDFund) and other funds to create additional but sustainable funding source to improve education service delivery in post-basic schools for the achievement of 2030 Agenda.

“The tenth expectation is reduction in incidence of sexual harassment in our schools, especially in our universities brought about by the national searchlight on the phenomenon and the well-publicised sanctions on persons caught in the act.”

While stating his expectations for the sector, the Deputy Director, National Institute of Cultural Orientation (NICO), Mr. Ohi Ojo said in this new year, institutions in the country should be able to churn out research findings that will be beneficial to the society, adding, “government too must learn to keep to agreement and promises to the lecturers so that we can have a rancour-free year and even beyond.”

A former Vice-Chancellor, Fountain University, Osogbo, Osun State, Professor Bashir Raji regretted that funding of higher institutions has continued to be a major problem in the country; arguing that 2019 may not be better than what obtained in 2018 considering the look of things.

“With about N47.29 billion as capital allocated to the education sector and number nine on the list among other sectors, nothing better should be expected.”

He said institutions in the country need an education bank to provide funds so that qualified candidates can access the 600,000 spaces as indicated by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), adding that creating more universities with the meagre allocation to education will worsen the manpower and infrastructural deficits.

“There is a need for more universities in Nigeria, but the major focus should be quality control, accessibility of available spaces especially in the private universities and adequate funding. To me it seems our leaders don’t understand the enormity of the infrastructural decay and manpower gap and the systematic approach to tackle them.

“ASUU’s struggles for the system would definitely continue in 2019 and I can foresee more strikes in 2019. If with election approaching, the government is not too concerned about our students being out of school, after elections the situation will get worse. NUC would need to be up and doing to sustain the little gains from accreditation of courses and ensure that quality is maintained in terms of curriculum, manpower and teaching infrastructure.”

A former Rector of the Lagos State Polytechnic and pioneer Executive Secretary, Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB), Chief Olawumi Gasper expressed concern about the neglect of primary education in the country, saying that it is the most important tier of the education system, hub of individual and societal development.

“This is the foundation meant to provide the Nigerian child with opportunities to acquire literacy, numeracy, creativity, communication skills, enjoy learning and developing the desire to learn, but unfortunately has not met the nation’s aspiration.”

He said funding of all tiers of education with the meagre resources available to the government must be reviewed in 2019, noting that the 6-3-3-4 system as currently and constitutionally enshrined and the identified inadequate funding, poor quality assurance/monitoring and absence of professionalism in teaching are the major impediments to achieving the desired goals for education in the country.

“Further to this is the obvious fact that government’s meagre resources have been deployed to funding all tiers of education in spite of the dwindling budget for the sector in the last decade. This undoubtedly has led to decay in infrastructure in schools, little or no attention to the quality of teaching staff and failure to identify generational goals for education in line with future needs for the country.

“The current system has lost steam and focus in the delivery of quality education and has encouraged the emergence of ‘half baked’ graduates littering the streets of the country most of whom are unemployable both locally and internationally because though certificated, they lack requisite and basic skills to compete globally.”

Gasper suggested that a new approach to the development of primary education should be conceived and adopted for the review of the country’s education system to enhance and strengthen it, adding that it must be recognised as the most important tier upon which the entire education system rests.

He stated that the constitutional provision for local governments to be in charge of primary education must be reviewed, adding that primary education must be the sole responsibility of the federal government with exclusive funding from the FG through tax and other creative sources of funding.

“It has been decried as unacceptable and calls have been made for a review, as most state governments under whose purview the local governments operate don’t pay full attention to this very critical aspect of our education system.

“A constitutional review should be initiated to accommodate a free compulsory six years primary education for every Nigerian child under the exclusive legislative list and solely funded by the federal government, with sanctions imposed for refusal to enrol children in schools.”

He also called for a review of the existing Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) law to cater exclusively for primary education, adding that other tiers of education at junior, senior, technical and tertiary education levels will be for interested state governments and other private sector interests.

“The federal government would therefore have to hands-off secondary and tertiary education and fully concentrate on the development and funding only of primary education. With this, government will concentrate on the development of an effective primary education system that will feed the junior, senior (including technical/vocational schools) and tertiary institutions with highly literate, numerate Nigerian child that can effectively communicate in most languages. “Therefore, all federal government’s efforts and funds will be to ensuring the development of this critical foundation of the education system.”

With this move, Gasper affirmed that quality of teachers and their remunerations will be competitive enough to attract the best that would then be trained and certified as professional teachers. “This initiative of strengthening our primary education will also bring out the best potential of every child and identify early in the education cycle, exceptionally gifted, creative and innovative child.

“The initiative is further expected to birth very confident and professional teachers and students, who would by the end of the first six years, be ready to choose which career path is desirable to them and would encourage more children to be enrolled in the schools; as the schools will not only be free, the system would bring to end private ownership and operation of primary education in the country.”

On his part, the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Is’haq Oloyede emphasised the board’s key achievements in 2018, which include being able to manage its resources and improving on its technology, adding that this year, the board intends to improve the services of the CBT centres across the country.

“We want to pay attention to the facilities at the state level and provide incentives for our staff. We believe that some of them are forced by necessities to do unethical things. We believe that if we increase their pay, we will have more legitimate grounds to sanction those who do what they are not supposed to do.”

Ahead of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME), he said blind candidates will be adequately catered for, adding, “we have special centres for them, we are looking at how to use technology. Some of our officials will be in UK where all the assessment bodies that are attending to the exam will meet to get the best technology for candidates at the cheapest price.

“Those who will use braille will use it and those who do not have, we are going to deploy methods to assit them. We want to be as inclusive as possible and that is why we have set up a committee of experts under Professor Peter Okebukola to look for all inclusive methods.”