Depoliticising Education for Global Competitiveness


As President Muhammadu Buhari prepares to inaugurate his new ministers on August 21, including the one that will drive the education sector for the next four years, stakeholders are calling on the current administration to depoliticise the sector to take the country out of the doldrums. Funmi Ogundare reports

President Muhammadu Buhari is set to inaugurate the 43 ministers-designate earlier confirmed by the senate. Among these will emerge as the minister of education who will direct the affairs of the sector.

On May 29, 2015, when the president took the oath of office, part of his campaign promises for the education sector, especially, was to ensure a full review of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act with emphasis on gender equity in primary, secondary school enrolment, while improving the quality and substance of schools.

Other campaign promises include targeting up to 20 per cent of annual budget for the sector, while making substantial investments in training quality teachers at all levels of the education system, enhancing teacher training and improving the competence of teachers in the light of the 21st century, providing one meal a day for all primary school pupils to create jobs in agriculture, catering, and delivery services, developing and promoting effective use of innovative teaching methods/materials in schools.

The administration also planned to ensure a greater proportion of expenditure on university education to improve the sector; establish at least six new universities of science and technology with satellite campuses in various states; address the out-of-school children phenomenon, as well as ensure that 30 million Nigerians become literate within three years.

Towards the end of 2017, the former Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu had said the Buhari administration needed N1 trillion annually to fulfil its campaign promises in education, and advocated for the declaration of a state of emergency in the sector.

He said all change must begin with education, adding that if the country gets it right, other areas of national life will also be right.

“These challenges are not insurmountable. What is needed is vastly improved funding accompanied by a strong political will. The strong political will needed to do all this is present in this government. What this government must now do is to make the fund available. Unfortunately, the annual budgetary allocation to education from 1999 to date has always been between four and 10 per cent.”

According to reports, about N727 billion had been spent by the federal government in the last four years on infrastructure development alone in the country’s tertiary institutions.

The minister attributed the poor quality of education in the country to “astronomical population increase”, saying that much of this funding went into the provision of hostel accommodation, classrooms, lecture theatres and laboratories in a bid to have more young people gain admission into these institutions, thereby enhancing or expanding access to tertiary education.

As it were, the challenges which confronted the sector during the first-term of the administration seem to be more than its achievements, which have brought it to his knees.

Some of these challenges include industrial actions by workers in tertiary institutions, especially the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP); College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU); and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU); more than 10.5 million school aged Nigerian children out of school, making the country one of the highest in the world; proliferation of unregulated private schools with dismal standard; decline in teaching profession.

About 50 per cent of Nigerians with post-secondary school qualification are underemployed or unemployed according to findings by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Only 450,000 of the nomadic school-aged children are accessing any form of schooling out of the estimated 3.5 million.

There is also the problem of poor database of the sector which has led to it missing out in educational grants, unabated decline in quality of education, insecurity in schools and higher institutions, among others.

As the president prepares to inaugurate new ministers by August 21, education managers and stakeholders scored the administration low, saying that the country cannot continue to sacrifice quality education on the altar of politics.

In his assessment, the President of ASUU, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi argued that the first term of Buhari’s presidency did not sufficiently address the problems in the sector, particularly in the tertiary education sub-sector.

He told THISDAY that all efforts by the union to make the federal government get back to the implementation of its needs assessment report of 2012, meant to address the rot and decay in public universities did not yield much positive result.

“For more than two years, government was unable to conduct visitation to federal universities as required by law. This made it impossible to assess the current state of affairs in these institutions and check the excesses of some vice-chancellors and pro-chancellors of our universities,” he stressed.

He expressed concern about the attitude of political elites turning universities into constituency project at the federal and state government levels, saying, “we cannot continue with the proliferation of syndrome in the name of equitable distribution. In no time, these universities of transportation, environment, water resources, among others, shall soon turn to crises centres because their creators did not take time to plan and provide them that is if the country or state really needs them in the first place.”

Ogunyemi asked why the government must create new universities if it claims it does not have the resources to cater for existing ones, as implied by its reluctance to implement the needs assessment report, saying that this must stop in the long-term interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.

The ASUU president said the union expects the incoming minister of education to refocus these and related issues to ensure that the education system in particular is revitalised and repositioned for global competitiveness.

The Chief Executive Officer, Brookehouse Learning Centre, Lekki, Mrs. Ifueko Thomas corroborated the ASUU president, saying that the country’s biggest problem is the politicisation of education, which has been manipulated over the years for political gains.

“It is glaring what the continuous and consistent political interference in university administration and the resulting intimidation of the academic community has done to our tertiary education: strikes, poor infrastructure and poor quality output.”

She regretted that public education is suffering because schools have been reduced to vehicles for implementing political mandates, adding, “no politician can possibly have the expertise and experience needed in all the many areas a leader must address. So they choose others to handle different sectors.”

Thomas opined that the country’s education system must reflect the fact that governors and presidents should not run schools, just as they are not suited to run hospitals.

“Sadly, because education is a major plank in their political campaigns, promises are made with little or no idea as to the implications thereof.

“One distinct flaw however is that in an attempt to satisfy their constituencies, people who have no or very little experience or expertise as educators or scholars are chosen to handle education leadership and are saddled with the responsibility for forming and implementing education policies and decisions, planning, financing, infrastructure, teacher cadre, resources, among others.”

She described education as a critical tool for the growth, development and survival of the nation, saying that leadership for education should be more than faithfulness and loyalty to the party or to someone.

“We need much more than political sagacity to take our beloved country out of the conundrum our education system is in. It will take more than four years to undo the damage, but every journey begins with one step,” the CEO stressed.

A Professor of Mass Communication, School of Communication, Lagos State University, and President, Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN), Lai Oso argued that though the government has not given any roadmap or benchmark to education at all levels, more attention should be paid to primary and secondary school, as well as technical education.

A former Rector, Lagos State Polytechnic, Chief Olawumi Gasper said the minister of education must correct the neglect of the six years primary education identified as the hub of individual and societal development meant to provide the Nigerian child with opportunities to acquire literacy, numeracy, creativity, communication skills, as well as the desire to learn.

“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 children.

He said the current administration must focus on reforms that must include knowledge, life skills and critical thinking to equip young people with the technological skills for the 21st century, adding the federal and state governments must review their funding to accommodate all tiers of education in spite of dwindling budget for the sector.

“The agenda must be strategic to ensure that the government fully concentrates on the development and funding only of primary education and hands off secondary and tertiary education. With this, they will concentrate on the development of an effective primary education system that will feed the junior, senior (including technical/vocational education) and tertiary institutions with highly literate, numerate Nigerian child who can effectively communicate in most languages,” Gasper, who is the President of Universal Learn Direct Academia (ULDA), stressed.

The Director of Accreditation, National Universities Commission (NUC), Dr. Biodun Saliu, however believes that the present administration has done a lot particularly with university education with the development of blueprint for the revitalisation of university education in the country; NUC’s collaboration with the National Education Summit Group (NESG); and the proposed curriculum review.

He stressed the need to give the administration a chance to complete what it started in university education in Nigeria.