Opinion: Nigeria’s legendary lip-service to quality education

by Jide Ojo

Nigeria’s education system is in dire need of overhaul. Things are not just right in that sector. Unless something urgent is done to arrest and redress the rot in the system, the country’s future seems bleak. The leaders of tomorrow being prepared by today’s education authorities cannot sadly deliver global competitiveness. From the primary to tertiary level, the entire gamut stinks to high heavens. Am not being uncharitable with my assessment, the deplorable situation is glaring for all to see. Strip of all pretensions and lip-service, the country’s education sector is in need of redemption.

From where do I start to analyse the rot? Have you noticed the avalanche of private schools currently operating in all nooks and crannies of Nigeria? Many of these schools operate in very unsafe, unhygienic, dilapidated structures. Many are also unlicensed and are populated by unqualified teachers who are paid pittance at every month end. In many private schools, both legal and illegal ones, there is often high turnover of staff because of the absence of good working conditions by many of the Shylock proprietors. The sad thing is that most of these schools were established primarily for pecuniary purpose. In these schools, no teacher dare fail students. The creed is to help children to pass irrespective of whether they deserve to fail. Where are the education inspectors who are supposed to monitor and ensure standard? In many instances, once their palms are greased, the assessment exercise is going to be predictably favourable.

There are public schools. I mean government owned educational institutions. However, the deplorable situation of most of them made parents to prefer sending their children and wards to private schools both within and outside the shores of the country. In public schools, the facilities are overstretched with more students enrolled than the carrying capacities of these institutions. Thus, it’s now common to see pupils and students learning under trees or dilapidated classrooms and lecture theatres. The teachers and lecturers are more on strike than at work. At present, the academic staff union of universities is in their third week of strike over government’s non-implementation of 2009 agreement entered into with the union as well as several other memoranda of understanding signed in-between.

Let me cite some examples to buttress my point so that I don’t sound hyperbolic. In October 2016, a former vice chancellor of Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto, Professor Riskuwa Shehu disclosed that over 60 per cent of teachers in public primary and secondary schools in the state are unqualified. Shehu made the disclosure in Sokoto at a one-day training exercise for field officers for a pilot survey on schools’ needs assessment under the State of Emergency on Education initiative. He added that more than half of the structures in the over two thousand schools across the state are also dilapidated. The good thing about the Sokoto episode is that Governor Aminu Tambuwal has declared state of emergency in the state’s education sector and is trying frantically to clear the mess.

In February 2016, Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufa’i said that over 42 per cent of teachers in the State were unqualified. He stated this at the commissioning ceremony of a 1,500-seater capacity hall named after him at the Federal College of Education, Zaria, Kaduna State. The governor however said that despite the large number of unqualified teachers, he will not sack anybody, but will want them to upgrade their knowledge. Lest you think it’s all northern affair, in April 2017, Cross Rivers State detected 758 teachers with fake National Certificate for Education on its payroll. The revelation was made by the Chairman of the Cross River State Universal Basic Education Board, Dr. Stephen Odey. He added that: “One of the shocking revelations was the case of a head teacher who transferred his late wife’s certificates to his new wife and made her a classroom teacher, while some security men and nannies who had acquired the basic teaching qualifications were promoted to classroom teachers.” Rather than punishing these culprits, the state government granted them amnesty by asking them to go back to school and get their genuine certificates.

Nemo dat quod non habet is the Latin word which means “you cannot give what you don’t have.” There is no way unqualified tutors can impart knowledge into their students. Any wonder there is now mass failure of students especially in external examinations? Could the students’ general poor performance be the rationale behind the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board’s low cut-off mark announced last week for the 2017/ 2018 admission into Nigerian’s tertiary institutions? I thought I was suffering from auditory hallucination when JAMB announced that education stakeholders including university vice-chancellors, polytechnic rectors and provosts of colleges of education in Nigeria had agreed to a cut off mark of minimum of 120/400 for university admission and 100/300 for admission into polytechnics and colleges of education. I read the defence of JAMB’s Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede in last Friday’s edition of this newspaper wherein he said that Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination “is not an achievement test. It is not a qualifying examination; rather, it is a ranking examination.”

With due respect to the stakeholders who endorsed these retrogressive cut-off marks, they are not helping Nigeria’s education sector. It is better for Nigeria to revert to the pre-JAMB era when each universities set guidelines and conducts its qualifying examinations. What is the whole essence of the purported ranking examination when these tertiary institutions are still going to conduct post-JAMB examinations at a fee? If as Oloyede said, that with 200 marks as the lowest cut-off the admission quota are not being filled, so be it. We already have too many unemployed graduates such that if we don’t produce for the next decade we would not have any shortage.

There are estimated 10.5m out-of-school children in Nigeria and in order to incentivize them to get enrolled in school, the Buhari administration last year introduced the ‘homegrown school feeding programme’. Only about 17 states had commenced the scheme. Where this has commenced there has been exponential growth in school enrolment. However, there is no corresponding expansion of school facilities including classrooms, teaching and learning aids, and teachers. If the programme were well thought through, these should have been taken care off.

A recent discovery shocked me. While many states are complaining of lack of fund for education, many of them have failed woefully to provide the matching grant to enable them access the funds earmarked for them by the Universal Basic Education Commission. The fund totaling an approximately N60bn is idling away in the Commission’s account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. Ebonyi State has an unclaimed over N4bn followed by Enugu and Ondo with over N3bn each. As at March 31, 2017, only Borno and Rivers States have totally claimed their dues. What tenable excuse has the other 34 state governments and FCT have for not coming forward to collect this grant? If we’re going to get out of this morass, we need to do things differently from the way it is being done now by stop paying lip service to this all important sector. Government needs to properly fund education, curb examination malpractices and other sharp practices in the sector including admission racketeering, sex-for-marks phenomenon, fake teacher syndrome, and inconsistent policy framework.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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