‘Effective public education sector critical to national growth’
Professor of Comparative Religious Studies at Harvard University, Cambridge, United States, Kehinde Olupona, has described effective public education as the concept of “the true change” that Nigeria requires to get out of its present socio-political and economic quagmire.
Olupona, who spoke on the topic; “Educational Reform and Nation Building in Nigeria,” at the University of Ilorin Public Lecture recently said making public schools an appendage of the private institutions in the country was an antithesis to social reforms and national growth.
The university teacher who opined that private education can never be a good substitute to a virile public education, told the capacity audience that included the chancellor of the institution/Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumini Usman; Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari; the Chancellor of Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin, Chief Raimi Oladimeji and former Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, that Nigerian educational system should not be profit oriented.
According to him, “One solution that many committed and well-meaning Nigerians have found for this problem of lack of both quality and availabilty is to use private education to fill in the gap left by the public system.
“However, private schools are not accessible to the entire population, and if we do not want to perpetuate a cycle that reinforces socio-economic stratification, we must ensure that Nigerians of all backgrounds-economic, geographic, religious, gender and otherwise-have equal access to quality education. If only the rich can afford good education, how will anyone else ever elevate themselves in our society? In addition, private schools by and large treat education as a commodity.”
He added, “ Although this in itself does not present a problem, when too much of the educational burden is placed on private institutions, the idea that education is a constitutional right and a public good is severely undermined. The private sector has been growing rapidly over the years, and while I appreciate the great contributions that private institutions have made, the fact remains that the public school system should be viewed as the standard and the norm, with private schools viewed as an alternative for those who desire it.
“Currently, private education is viewed as the standard, and the public system the alternative for those who can no longer afford a world-class education. We need to reform our public educational system so that public and private institutions in our nation can prepare our students equally to become citizens of the new Nigeria.”
Olupona recommended a redefining of the nation’s educational curriculum to be rich in financial literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, and entrepreneurship, noting that the itemised modules are required in any growing economy.
The guest lecturer, noted that it was ironic that many graduates from Nigerian tertiary institutions were not only unemployed, but are unemployable “due to no fault of theirs,” adding that the haphazard education system has failed them rendering their skills as unfit for the economy the nation strives to build.
He added, “graduates of tertiary institutions make up 20 per cent of youth unemployment, and this represents a crisis for our country. These graduates often remain unemployed for upward of five years after graduation. In reforming our educational system, we must search for a new model focussed on skills acquisition. By learning and practising these skills while at University, regardless of their programmes of study, our graduates can make a smoother transition into the workforce.”
Olupona, who viewed lack of quality education as the bane of the youth involvement in Boko Haram scourge, canvassed a return to simple religious knowledge and awareness or more nuanced logic and reasoning skills.