Hopes, doubts over sector’s prospects in 2019
Discussing the way forward for the country’s education sector in 2019, being an election year, and Nigerian undergraduates sitting idle at home for over two months now with their teachers threatening fire and brimstone, was a tough one for many stakeholders. Notwithstanding, stakeholders say all hope is not lost. UJUNWA ATUEYI writes.
With 2019 as a general election year, coupled with the current industrial action by university teachers, there are fears and doubts about what government could achieve in the New Year as far as public education is concerned.It was really difficult for stakeholders to express their wishes and discuss how to fix the sector in the New Year following all that has played out in the out-gone year, even up till now. Everyone seems to be exhausted discussing same issue over the years without tangible results.
But the situation many contend is still redeemable if only government would demonstrate great commitment and match words with action in revitalising the country’s ailing education sector.The consistent poor budgetary allocations to the sector and the fact that several recommendations made over the years by experts were not implemented, worries many Nigerians. Hitherto, the sector is yet to witness stellar ratings.
From the estimation presented by President Muhammadu Buhari at the National Assembly in Abuja, the Federal Ministry of Education has been allocated 5.71 per cent of the 2019 budget by the Nigerian government. Of the total N8.83 trillion budget, the education ministry is proposed to have N462.24 billion as its share.Asides poor allocations, lack of qualified manpower, teaching and learning aids, decayed infrastructure, poor policy implementation, among others, rank highest on the list of factors that aid and abet the malaise in the sector.
These factors, many argued, are hurting the nation’s education, which is the bedrock of national development. Since a literate population is the pivot around which democracy revolves, education, they said, must be rightly placed.However, whether the sitting government remains in power or not, experts say there should be a renewed effort in tackling all the challenges confronting education and move it out of its gory state.
Former Vice Chancellor of Caleb University, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, who expressed hope for the sector, said change could only happen when government is ready to revamp the system.On what should be prioritised, Olukoju said there should be a renewed focus on technical education on the German model; skills acquisition in the artisan trades, especially plumbing, automobile electronic and electrical sections; massive open and distance learning education on South African model; moratorium on licensing of universities; rationalisation of all tertiary institutions with facility; staffing and funding benchmarks; declaration of emergency in primary and secondary education sector to raise literacy and numeracy studies.
If all these are effectively implemented, he said, the nation would begin to witness and reap the dividends of education.Echoing Olukoju’s view, a distinguished professor at University of Lagos, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, called for a totally new revamping and a fundamental change that will restore the place of education in nation-building.“A total no to all the strike and negotiation; poor infrastructure that is leading to increasing number of out-of-school children. Honestly, the menace of out-of-school children brings no attraction to the country, and it has to be eliminated totally. But we need a strong leadership that understands that there is a need to do all these. I don’t think we need to go on strike to be able to achieve the objectives of public education. That should not happen in a country like Nigeria with all its natural and human possession.
“So, government and all the people involved in governance should eliminate those attitudes that have brought us to this rather sorry state because I believe this country has sufficient attraction to get to where we are going. We have all it takes to be a great country; all we need do is change the style of our leadership,” he said.
Meanwhile, President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, is wondering what a government that vehemently refused to give attention to education could do in this injury time.He regretted the attitude of the present day government towards the sector, adding that until education is accorded its rightful position, the country will continue to suffer under-development.
“Nigeria needs an education that will produce quality human resources, people who will inspire the economy, build the ethics of the society, shield us from external aggression, improve on our global ratings and help to shore up our human development index. Qualitative and public-funded university education is not an option; it is inevitable if Nigeria ever wishes to banish poverty, ignorance, squalor, insecurity, diseases and corruption. It is also imperative if Nigeria’s aspiration to join the league of developed nations of the world is to materialise.”
On his wish for the sector, he said: “My wish for education sector in 2019 is that government will get serious about education. Federal and state governments will give education the desired attention because education is the catalyst for development. The low budgetary and poor rating of education in the annual budget should be reversed. In the last three years, the Federal Government has been giving seven per cent to education consistently and what they presented for 2019 is even less and that will not take Nigeria anywhere.
“The government of the day promised they will give 15 per cent allocation to education, but that promise did not see the light of the day. All over the world, two sectors always enjoy priority because they affect other sectors, and that is education and health sector. But it appears Nigeria has consistently played down on education. Perhaps, it was because we are glued to this lip service to education and that is what has led to destruction of public education in Nigeria.
“I call on Nigerian government to do a rethink. Two years back, precisely November 2017, there was an inter-ministerial retreat in Abuja where government said it would declare a state of emergency on education, but as we speak, that emergency has not been declared. Last year, the minister said the government will increase budgetary allocation to 15 per cent, state governors also made pledges, but as we speak now, we have not seen those pledges being fulfilled and that is why ASUU has consistently challenged government. The neglect in the sector will not take Nigeria anywhere. We will continue to battle with under-development for as long as we relegate education to the background.
“Look at Ghana, in the last 20 years or so, they have consistently budgeted not less than 20 per cent to education, whereas in Nigeria, in the last 10 years, it has been less than 10 per cent. So, for as long as we continue like that, our youths will continue to go to Ghana, South Africa, Egypt to seek quality education because what we have in public education today is a tale of declining fortunes, and until we change the trend and reverse the pattern, Nigeria will be nowhere even in Africa, not to talk of the world. It is not too late for Nigeria to do a rethink.”
Speaking on how the union is dealing with alleged government’s insincerity, the ASUU boss said: “We will not be tired of their insincerity until we get the right calibre of leadership for the country. What we have now are members of the same club under different names. They are decamping and recamping to decamp again. And so, this game will continue. Education is the strongest weapon we can use to build the society of our dreams.
“If we miss education, we miss development, we will end up being enslaved the second time. That is why we say the struggle continues until we get to the point where we can dislodge all these political hangers-on. We have not really come clear about the leadership we need for this country. We owe that responsibility to this society to liberate ourselves and we can only do that by giving the right kind of education which will give the values, ideological orientation and those who will embrace the process of getting quality into governance.”
However, the National Co-ordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Taiwo Hassan Soweto, has predicted that from all indication, 2019 would be a turbulent year for public education.According to Soweto, “Whoever wins the 2019 general elections between the two main pro-capitalist presidential candidates of the ruling APC and PDP will definitely underfund education and unleash more anti-poor education policies like tuition fee hike, increase in accommodation charges, ban of unions and victimisation of activists. This would in turn engender mass resistance and agitations by ASUU, ASUP and other staff unions are likely to be carried over into the next dispensation.
“Therefore, 2019 will most likely be a turbulent year. And this will continue to be the case so far capitalist elements continue to rule Nigeria. As we have explained previously, any hope that a neo-colonial capitalist government can fund public tertiary education adequately is a mirage. As a neo-colonial capitalist economy dominated by imperialism, capitalism in Nigeria has no need for a highly educated populace. That’s why the IMF, World Bank and other capitalist institutions often harp on free education only at primary and junior secondary levels.”
To ensure public education is adequately funded, Hassan canvassed a successful socialist revolution that would lead to the overthrow of capitalism and the enthronement of workers’ and poor peoples’ government armed with socialist policies. “Such a government, he further explained, “would put the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working people to free the resources to provide fee and functional public education at all levels.”If this kind of socialist revolution occurs in the New Year, then 2019 can indeed be a happy one for public education, Hassan assured.
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