UNILAG Lecturer: Educational Imperatives For Nigeria – Adetokunbo Pearse

Education, the systematic training and instruction designed to impart knowledge and develop skill is arguably the most important single factor in the advancement of a ASUU-strikesociety.

The centrality of education in our national consciousness was underscored recently by the wide spread interest in the strike action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Everyone had an opinion, because everyone was affected in one way or the other, directly or indirectly.

Even the hitherto hallowed Chambers of the National Assembly felt the impact. Pressure built in some sectors threatened to garnish the bloated salaries of House of Representatives, and Senate law makers to make up for the financial short fall in higher education.

Contrary to the impression given by some sensational media headlines, the ASUU strike was not all about money. The N1.1 trillion to be disbursed to the Universities over a five year period will not go toward salary increases, but is to be used to improve infrastructure, purchase and maintain updated equipment, develop staff capacity, and provide educational materials. No doubt, these are laudable goals for which ASUU held its ground for four months.

Students, staff, and the members of faculty will all be better for it. It is all in the interest of enhancing qualitative education for Nigeria. Looking at the issue critically however, it must be said that noble as ASUU’s actions have been, they do not ever begin to address the real problems with education in the country.

When the universities have been upgraded, and all their academic departments are accredited and operating at international standards; when these institutions are equipped with modern state of the art equipment and their students no longer huddle together, sitting on make-shift planks in classrooms that look more like market places, one major problem remains. To what extent are these students prepared to take advantage of the new improved facilities?

The fact of the matter is that National Examinations Council (NECO), and West African Examination Council (WAEC), the primary sources of university intake are both in an appalling state. NECO students are failing Mathematics and English at an average rate of 70%, and WAEC failure rate is about 60%.

It is good policy to strengthen the University system, but improvement of the University without a simultaneous improvement of primary and secondary school system does not make much sense. The poor performance of students at the Secondary School stage is reflected in their abilities in the university. Ask any lecturer, and they will tell you horror stories of undergraduates who can hardly spell their own name.

They cannot tell you the difference between a fragment and a run-on sentence, or how a paragraph is constructed. What do you make of a Nigerian student in the humanities who has never heard of Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, or Ahmadu Bello, or one whose only knowledge of the U.S.A is that it has a good looking President named Obama, and that it is a country “flowing with milk and honey”. How many of our science students had ever seen a science laboratory in their schools and how many experiments did they conduct before gaining admission into the University? The picture is bleak, but it is our reality.

There are a number of steps which government can take to alleviate this unpleasant state of education in the country. The first, and most fundamental of these is funding. It is because the United Nations Organization understands the essence of education in the growth, and even in the survival of nations that its educational arm; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) sets its millennium goal for education at 23% of a developing country’s annual budget. Currently, Nigeria spends a paltry 3%-5% on this vital sector. This figure must increase to 15% in the next five years at the rate of 2% annually if we are to stave off disaster in education.

Too many students with good grades in WAEC or NECO find it virtually impossible to pass JAMB. This brings suspicion on the authenticity of the O’level examinations. Others sail through JAMB under suspicious circumstances.

Both scenarios call for government vigilance. Admission into academic institutions must be merit driven. Cheating at these examinations should be regarded as a crime. Not only the guilty student should be punished, but the university personnel, and the parents who aide and abet such behavior should be severely sanctioned by law.

The Government must return to a supervisory role in education because of its poor record in direct intervention. Private investments must be encouraged, allowing academic institutions at all levels to be independently run. The high level of politics introduced into education in Oshun State in recent times, and the sheer incompetence of local government’s role in Lagos State education provide good evidence for easing government from direct administration of education.

Another imperative for improving the quality of education is a renewed emphasis on technical and vocational studies. The current attitude by which the government treats technical education as a step-child is counter productive to National development.

Technical education is a strong instrument for promoting environmentally sound sustainable development. It is a practical method of facilitating poverty alleviation. At the developmental stage of every successful nation, the focus has been on Technical and Vocational education; whether it’s America, China, or the United Kingdom.

Consider the case of Malaysia, a country, which was at a similar developmental rate with Nigeria some fifty years ago. Malaysia decided to adopt a policy of targeted skills development and the country grew exponentially. The facts speak for themselves: in 1960, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 14.19 billion USD, that of Malaysia was 16.63billion USD. While Nigeria’s GDP grew to 207.12 billion USD by 2008, that of Malaysia rose to 221.77 billion USD. Also, unemployment rate today in Malaysia is only 9%, while as much as 35% of Nigerians are unemployed.

These statistics become more revealing when we remember that Malaysia is a country with a population of 15 million while Nigeria’s population could be as high as 150 million. Clearly a national commitment to Technical and vocational education has assisted Malaysia in achieving astronomical National growth, and an advanced quality of life for its citizens.

The Nigerian government should not have to wait for the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) to become as radicalized as ASUU in demanding serious and fundamental changes in the country’s educational system. The government should realize that the first step in the development of a nation is the training of a skilled and literate population.

In any society, University education is for the 10% academic elite.

The remaining 90% of citizens will only be able to cater for themselves and contribute to society if they are provided with Technical and Vocational training, after the mandatory primary school attendance. Research has shown incontrovertibly that a paucity in education will reflect a paucity in the body politic and that an inadequate educational system is likely to contaminate every other sector of life.

Pearse is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English, University of Lagos.

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