Dialogue, Funding, Reduction of Out-of-school Children Top Stakeholders’ Expectations for 2023

Four days into the new year, experts in the education sector have called for collaboration to achieve a sector-wide dialogue on education, to take stock and proffer solutions to the challenges confronting the sector in 2023. Funmi Ogundare reports

Last year, the education sector suffered another setback with the prolonged ASUU strike, which lasted eight months, and poor budgetary allocation.​ President Muhammadu Buhari had proposed N1.79 trillion, representing about 8.8 per cent of the total N20.5 trillion, to the joint session of the National Assembly, which was the highest he had made to the sector since he assumed office in 2015.

The president had proposed to spend N470 billion on public tertiary institutions and promised to pacify the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

However, not satisfied, the union embarked on​ an indefinite strike which lingered for eight months to press home its demands on the federal government to provide funds for the revitalisation of public universities to the tune of N1.1 trillion, payment of earned academic allowances, adoption of the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) instead of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS); payment of promotion arrears and the renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FGN Agreement.

The National Assembly, represented by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, waded into the crisis. After a series of stakeholders’ meetings with the union and National Assembly, the parties came up with a seven-point​ resolution that Gbajabiamila presented to Buhari to​ offset in full the arrears of salaries members were owed, issues on​ the peculiarities in the controversial UTAS and the involvement of the house committee on budget allocation, among others, which eventually led to the call-off of the prolonged strike.

Last week, ASUU President,​ Prof Emmanuel Osodeke,​ accused Gbajabiamila of deception by asking the union to call off its eight-month-old strike in October with a written promise that the government would, without delay, offset the arrears of salaries members owed.

Osodeke, who spoke on the backdrop of Gbajabiamila’s intervention in the current situation of their issues with the federal government, noted that ASUU had a soft spot for the speaker, which was why the union engaged him in a discussion as a welcome intervention to resolve the stalemate.

He stated that based on the speaker’s intervention, ASUU suspended the strike with the hope that his words would be matched with action, adding that the union praised him for his intervention without knowing it was deceitful.​​

Osodeke noted that ASUU members’ collective impression of Gbajabiamila as of today is that he tricked them into going back to work, saying, “But here we are till today, nothing has been done over the promise, and that is why the speaker did not say anything tangible since then at least on the issues let alone ensure that his promises are carried out.”

Osodeke added that the speaker would need to come out as he still has the opportunity to prove ASUU wrong on its impression by simply working out the implementation of his promises to the union. He pointed out that ASUU members decided not to down tools again despite the unfavourable treatment from the government as a sacrifice for students and parents as well as the country, while berating the judiciary for hurriedly passing judgment against the union and then adjourned the case until January 26.

The union’s leader further noted that the case between ASUU and the federal government, particularly with an interlocutory injunction, should have been addressed and given a speedy hearing and concluded without necessarily being delayed.

Osodeke described 2022 as a bad year for the education sector in the country, noting that great damage had been done to the sector across levels by the current administration. He expressed hope that the next government would be courageous enough to declare a state of emergency in education and fix the mess, which he described as catastrophic.

In a swift reaction,​ Gbajabiamila denied committing himself to offset the arrears of salaries. He stated that the house resolved to improve the welfare package of the lecturers and provide more money for the universities’ revitalisation fund. The lawmaker also mentioned that the house had been working with key stakeholders to facilitate the adoption of elements of ASUU’s UTAS into IPPIS.

“The public interest in ensuring a well-functioning tertiary education sector is a matter of paramount concern for all who understand the transformational role of education in any society,” said Gbajabiamila. “For this reason, the 9th House of Representatives has been consistent in our efforts to explore avenues for reform and improvement to the framework of public education in the country from basic education through tertiary.”

Stakeholders monitoring events in the sector suggested convening a sector-wide dialogue on education and a conversation that will take stock of the past 23 years, x-ray the gains and challenges, and proffer creative, productive and sustainable solutions for the next 20 years.

In his submission, a professor of Economic History and Development and​ Secretary General of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors in Nigeria (CVCN), Yakubu Ochefu,​ expressed concern that the system across all levels is not working. He said the philosophy of education, the ownership and governance models, the funding structure and the outcome need tweaking in 2023.

“The starting point for me in this review process will be the Education Committee Report of the 2014 National Conference, which addressed most of the current challenges. It can serve as a building block on which we can engage,” Ochefu stated.

He added, “All our fundamentals and parameters are in the negative. Education budget to GDP ratio, number of out-of-school children, teacher to student ratio, student to teaching and learning infrastructure ratio, research and innovation funding to budget ratio, training and retraining of teachers, quality assurance and evaluation and especially the low usage of learner analytics in our school system.​ Our governance models, especially in the tertiary sector, are different from the 21st models of running such institutions.”

Ochefu regretted that the laws establishing tertiary institutions contradict the laws establishing many professional bodies and regular public service. “The way we appoint principal officers to our tertiary institutions is flawed and politically charged and does not give us the very best in many cases. Equally so is the funding models. The compensation/reward system is over-centralized and archaic. That is why the conversation must be broad, deep and very frank,” he stated.

There is, however, some good news in the sector. Ochefu said after nearly 30 years, the country had rejigged the core curriculum for universities.​

“The new​ Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standards (CC-MAS) was unveiled in December and is the right direction for aligning curriculum with industry and the wider society. The new guidelines for trans-border education are also excellent,” he explained. “The push for a National Academic Research Repository and Academic integrity platform is also welcome. We also have witnessed a rise in women in top leadership positions in our tertiary institutions. These are the few sparks of light in a massively challenging system.”

In his expectations for 2023, the Dean of the Lagos State University School of Communication, Prof Yinka Alawode, stressed the need for stakeholders​ to remove instability and guile from the education sector and allow schools to charge reasonable fees to meet the financial needs of each institution.

Alawode also called for the payment of reasonable wages and emoluments that will be commensurate with living realities and standards and that the government should facilitate modern structures with up-to-date equipment for schools; fund research and conferences attendance annually locally and internationally; set up students loan board/bank in all existing commercial banks payable on employment as a long-term loan, either from the state or federal.

“They should also evaluate teachers and teaching procedures annually; remove politics from education as much as possible,” the dean said, adding that students’ loans should cater for tuition, accommodation, books and a small amount for self-sustenance monthly throughout the study, including the extension of study for carry over etc., for the maximum period allowed by the school. He listed the acceptance fee, admission letter and parental consent letter as mandatory requirements.

“Students loan is different from bursaries,​ grants and scholarships. All these must​ be made available to students and will help the country get serious with the census, BVN and NIMC (NIN) registration and collation of data,” added Alawode.

He also emphasised a stable school calendar that will be encouraged by successive governments and pressure groups, adding that schools holding out without strikes and ensuring work to rule should be given awards and prizes, including recognition to the government that best manages education.

In his contribution, a professor of Environmental Sustainability and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic, Research, Innovations and Partnerships (ARIP) at Osun State University,​ Anthony Kola-Olusanya, described the budgetary allocation to the sector as far too meagre compared to the amount needed to solve the problem of dwindling school enrolment and the retention of school children at the basic level or the funding need of tertiary institutions.

He pointed out that “by any measure, 2022 remained a challenging year for Nigeria’s education sector. The sector witnessed an increase in budgetary allocation from N742.5 billion in 2021 to N923.79, which translates to 5.6 per cent of the 2022 entire budget.​ The increase was far too meagre.”

​Kola-Olusanya regretted the lacklustre attitude of the government towards funding education in successive years leading up to 2022, blaming it for falling short of the African Union Agenda 2063 goal two and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) four.​

“The gaping holes in the sector continue to be underfunded from the basic to the tertiary levels,” he said.

The university don added that without adequate investment in education, health and other sectors are bound to suffer in 2023, urging the federal government should pay more attention to funding issues as he expressed concern about​ the growing number of out-of-school children, saying that the primary goal for 2023 should be a reduction in the population of out-of-school children and​ a massive investment in basic education by increasing the number of schools and teachers to match population growth.​

“As data suggests that one out of five out-of-school children worldwide is a Nigerian, the federal government must target its efforts to eliminate different factors preventing children from going to school and promote school safety to improve teaching and learning, to help them reach their full potential,”​ Kola-Olusanya explained.

In 2022, the federal government made moves to encourage more Nigerian youths to study education at the university to increase the number of teachers at the basic education levels, noted Kola-Olusanya, but stated without commensurate investment in school infrastructure, it will amount to a waste of time.

“As a result, there is a need for massive investments in school building construction and refurbishment to make the environment inviting for learning.​ Furthermore, there is a need to regulate the curriculum used in our primary and secondary schools,” added Kola-Olusanya. “The idea of running unregulated curricula in the country is capable of causing disruption and disorganisation in the national educational goals of the country. In 2023, I expect serious monitoring of private and public primary and secondary schools to regulate the implementation of the national school curriculum.”

According to him, strikes by university unions have marred the sector over the years.

The governments “need to make a definite and concrete statement and decide as appropriate regarding the repositioning of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions to make them globally competitive and reverse the exponential brain-drain, which in the long run, will diminish the country from reaching its full potential” said Kola-Olusanya.​

He stressed that the issues of salaries and allowances are critical in this subsector and “self-evident that these issues have been the root causes of the disruption of academics in our tertiary institutions.”​

Kola-Olusanya, added, “Finally, I will expect the governments (federal and state) to put their money where their mouth is and desist from paying lip service to education in 2023

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