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60 years on, education still Humorous

Nigeria at 60
60 years on education still Humorous

 Today, 60 years after independence, experts say things left undone still undermine Nigeria’s education system, report KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE and DAMOLA KOLA-DARE.

If Nigeria were a civil servant, she would have retired at 60.  Someone of such age is expected to have been well-trained and enjoyed a rich and illustrious career.  However, experts say six decades of underfunding, policy summersaults, poor leadership in education and other sectors have left the country under-developed.

Without fixing education, stakeholders say that Nigeria’s efforts to be competitive on the global stage would remain a pipe dream, especially with 13.2 million out-of-school children, poor infrastructure, incessant strikes by workers’ unions that disrupt the academic calendar, perennial underfunding, and abysmal virtual learning infrastructure, among others.

Thus, some stakeholders have reiterated the need to declare a state of emergency in the sector, which continues to be a hotbed of problems.

COVID-19 exposes decay in education

When the COVID-19 pandemic invaded the shores of Nigeria in February, it caused the closure of schools at various levels and forced governments and educationists to seek alternatives for learning to continue until regular school could safely resume.  Even more developed countries had challenges. However, the neglect of Nigeria’s education system over the years showed in its response. While the private sector education providers, especially those serving the well-heeled, were able to roll out technology-dependent distance-learning programmes on short notice, the public sector had difficulties keeping learners dependent on public education learning.  Even where content was made available for free by the Federal Ministry of Education, especially for primary and secondary school pupils, the cost of devices, internet access, as well as poor power supply connived to shut many pupils and students out of virtual classrooms.

Ministries of education at the state level also created e-learning programmes as different platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Zoom, Google classrooms and others were deployed in teaching.

The tertiary level seemed to have fared worse than the primary and secondary levels.The virtual learning infrastructure of most public tertiary institutions was almost non-existent such that some schools did not even attempt virtual classes.Those that started were unable to continue as a result of poor network, high cost of data, and poor handling of course content, among others.

In other climes, virtual learning was already operational in schools before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. But the pandemic exposed the country’s unpreparedness and abysmal e-learning infrastructure.

Speaking on the issue at the Total School Support Education (TOSSETECH) webinar, Chief Executive Officer, The Education Partnership (TEP Centre), Dr. Modupe Adefeso-Olateju, said Nigeria missed an opportunity to invest in education when it earned a lot of revenue from crude oil.

“We missed the opportunity to invest heavily in technology, including last-mile tech to schools at a time crude oil earning would have enabled us to do so and now we are in a bit of challenging situation when it comes to crude oil exports and really scrambling when it comes to funding education. We missed opportunities to collaborate, share resources, platforms, tools to increase robustness of our services. We did not realise how much of an enabler technology is,” she said.

Registrar, Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), Prof. Josiah Ajiboye, noted that post-coronavirus education would be driven by technology. But it remains to be seen if the country’s public tertiary institutions can adapt.

Students complained of ineffective online classes while some kicked that there was no provision for it in their school.

Some urged the government to provide free data for students of public higher institutions to make the online learning workable.

In a chat with The Nation, former Academic Staff of Union of Universities (ASUU) Chairman, University of Ilorin, Dr. Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju, charged the government to  overhaul the education sector post-COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is another wake-up call for the administration and overhauling of the education sector in Nigeria.The need for a solid educational base as a way of staving off disaster has never been more glaring.  And this concerns every level of education,” he said.

Chief Executive Officer of Teach for Nigeria (TFN), Ms. Folawe Omikunle, said the decay in the education system was such that no immediate miracles could repair the damage.

“Even if the government decides to invest, fix it, prioritise education, it is not going to happen overnight. We are not going to see things get better overnight because the issues are so vast, so complex.  We need long-term investments.We need investment in leadership. When you think about the different agencies in charge of education, we need to have the right people with the right capacity, with the right mindset to drive policies, to execute and implement those policies,” she said.

Funding an education sector in crisis

With education in a parlous state, its adequate funding is crucial. However, poor funding has been identified as the principal problem afflicting the nation’s education sector. The yearly budgetary allocation continues to be low.With the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Government has mulled a slash in the sector’s budget. It had budgeted N111.78 billion for Universal Basic Education Commission before sending a revised budget to the National Assembly.  The proposed slash generated outrage from stakeholders.

Speaking on funding, Ms. Omikunle said Nigeria could not afford to cut back on its education budget even in the face of COVID-19-induced economic hardship.

On the other hand, she said it was important to also ensure that whatever was allocated to education would be well utilised.

She said: “A lot of people are cutting down globally because of the pandemic.  But when we think of where Nigeria was before – we haven’t even surpassed more than seven per cent of our national budget towards education. And now that we are cutting cost and cutting budget, again it is going to be clear that we will cut budget for education as well.

“I think one of the things that we can do, which falls back on leadership is how we ensure transparency and accountability and the use of these  resources.  First, we need to increase the resources for education because that is the only way that we can have a skilled society and a well-educated society that would contribute to the development of our nation. So, we need to invest and prioritise education. But with the resources we have as well, we need to spend and invest it judiciously, be transparent and accountable.”

Perennial underfunding remains an albatross such that various unions like ASUU, Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), Senior Staff Asociation of Nigerian Universties (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and others continue to lock horns with the government over non-payment of their dues. When the COVID-19 struck, ASUU embarked on a warning strike. And as of now, there seems to be no end in sight to it as they attempt to negotiate with the government.

Last month, Colleges of Education lecturers lamented that the government had abandoned the institutions. They also complained of lack of funding.

COEASU President Nuhu Ogirima said the government had refused to fund colleges of education despite their efforts.

He said: “The gross under-funding of COEs has been abysmally consistent with the Federal Government. Quite unfortunately, state governments toe the line of the Federal Government in this regard. It could be said that the Federal Government encourages irresponsibility towards funding obligations.

“The issue of funding affects the system in all ramifications. For example, between 2012 and 2017, the funds released as capital allocation to COEs by the Federal Government stood at just about 56 per cent of the budgeted sums.

“A little while before the period in question, especially from 2006 to 2008, the totality of allocation to COEs relative to other sister institutions, was appalling.

Experts say as the nation continues to grapple with challenges in the education sector, the government should refrain from paying lip service to the sector, adding that  the sector is quite crucial to nation building and development.



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