By Peter Okebukola
For a long time in Nigeria’s history, the education sector in an election year did not witness a disruptive quake at the federal level as a result of change in leadership. Malam Adamu Adamu was Minister of Education before the election and emerged Minister of Education after the election. The importance of this should not be lost on us. Projecting from the traditional trend, a change in leadership would have translated into a halt in the direction of the trajectory of Adamu Adamu. The new actors would begin to set new course for themselves. By year’s end, we would be left with a disarticulated system, fragmented in purpose, vision and orientation. What we saw play out in 2019 as a consequence of Malam Adamu Adamu continuing as Minister of Education is a steady course from January to December. What course?
The course that the education sector was steered in 2019 was consistently in improving access and quality. Impact was also made in other areas such as equity and relevance. It was not a rudderless course as the Ministerial Strategic Plan 2016-2019 rapidly gave way to the Education Sector Short- and Medium-Term Blueprint/Work Plan 2018-2022. Where a goal stopped in 2019, the goal continued in the 2018-2022 Plan with an expanded scope. I have not seen a document which empirically measured the level of achievement of the goals of the 2016-2019 Plan but from a rough assessment by my research group, we returned a mean score of 69.2%. The 2018-2022 Plan attempted some assessment of the situation analysis as at 2019. Pervasiveness of out-of-school children and funding challenges to the sector depressed performance.
How did the sector fare in 2019? At the local government level, data is sparse. This level of government would seem to be least visible in education sector provision. At the level of the states and FCT, performance was low to moderate on account of the mid-year shift in focus to electioneering and the change in leadership of the education ministries after the elections. Building of more schools, recruitment of more teachers, provision of school furniture and equipment, school feeding and payment of SSCE and UTME fees are some of the achievements some states announced to the world. The impact of these on quality is yet to be empirically documented. Today, not less than 90% of the States and FCT have new heads of their education ministries mostly rubbishing the projects of their predecessors and cracking their brains to start theirs. The disruptive cycle continues.
At the federal level however, the story is markedly different. On the access front, it is gladdening to note that through a combination of strategies, the number of out-of-school children was reduced from 12.7 million to 10.193,918. This drive down of the figures needs to be sustained. Data available to my research group also confirms other achievements in 2019 to include construction of 2,493 classrooms, 2,457 Ventilated Improved Pit toilets (VIP), 19 laboratories, 91 boreholes, renovation of 1,266 classrooms, procurement of furniture for 192,985 pupils and 10, 038 teachers. The federal government also procured and disbursed instructional materials in 36 States and FCT; trained 4,092 special education teachers in 36 States and FCT; recruited 4,884 teachers from the FTS and posted them to schools in 36 States and FCT; trained and retrained 488,873 teachers and educational managers in 36 States and FCT; procured and distributed 13,630,191 library resource materials to schools; constructed 194 e-Libraries in Federal Government Colleges; conducted the National Assessment of Learning Achievements in Basic Education (NALABE) in 36 States and FCT; procured and supplied 185, 000, Mathematics, English and Social Studies textbooks for ECCDE and to schools.
With regard to teachers, a total of 1.8 million teachers were registered in 2019. Out of this number, 780,000 have successfully gone through the process of licensing. To improve the relevance of the curriculum, History was disarticulated from Social Studies at the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) level. On the equity front, 60 Junior Model Girls Schools were constructed for second chance education opportunities. Female scholarship scheme was introduced to improve enrolment of girls in technical, science, vocational and tertiary education. Science and technology was given due prominence in 2019 with the training at the federal level of 948 STEM and TVET teachers, 37,000 primary school teachers nationwide through the strengthening of Mathematics and Science Education (SMASE) programme and 800 laboratory technicians.
At the tertiary level, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) continues to be a model in Africa for the conduct of matriculation examination to our colleges of education, polytechnics and universities. The deployment of technology by JAMB and the sanitisation of the examination process continues to win national applause.
Further on tertiary education, in 2019, NUC was in the frontline of quality assurance of the processes and products of the Nigerian university system. The implementation of the 2019-2023 Blueprint for the Revitalisation of University Education in Nigeria took off to a fine start. Noteworthy is the establishment of Federal University of Agriculture at Zuru, Kebbi State; 6 new Colleges of Education and Polytechnics; and the adoption of Public-Private Partnerships and endowment as options for infrastructural development like provision of hostel accommodation to students. Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards were reviewed at all levels in line with emerging trends and best practices.
ICT was also given prominence in the delivery of education. In 2019, the National Policy on ICT in Education was reviewed and the national guidelines for its implementation was developed. A total of 100 computer hardware and accessories were purchased for the Federal Ministry of Education and a data centre was established for the Ministry; 420 mobile tablets, 334 laptops for 17 FUCs and 1,230 laptops to 50 Federal Government Colleges were provided; 932 digital classrooms in 23 Federal Government Colleges were established; internet access was provided for 104 Federal Government Colleges through Galaxy backbone; and MoU was signed for the establishment of Oracle Academies in 10,000 schools and training of 1.5 million students.
In sum, the 2019 national picture of the education sector (local, state and federal) presents a tolerable showing, though still uninspiring, beclouded largely by funding constraints and the phenomenon of an election year. The impact of the declaration of a state of emergency in the sector is yet to be seen. Hopes are high that 2020 may herald better days for the sector in some states where budgetary allocation to education has received slight boost. Not so for the federal level where the allocation is still unacceptably low. The hope of many Nigerians is that with the quality of leadership of Malam Adamu Adamu as Minister, a lot of mileage will be squeezed from the meagre funds, supported by UBEC and TETFund and other interventions, to push the sector a notch or two higher in terms of performance.
*Prof. Peter A. Okebukola is a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC).