The Imminent Collapse Of The Nigerian Public Education Industry

Makoko Primary School serving more than 300 students seen here waiting for their canoe home. Image via CNN

NIGERIA (PUNCH)--Since my continuous engagement at home and abroad with the education industry for nearly seven decades, things have never been this bad with the Nigerian primary, secondary, and tertiary education, all at the same time and virtually to the same degree. This is not an alarm being raised by some frivolous journalist. It is also not a funded article by some opposition politician or political party. Not at all. Rather, it is by a beneficiary of the Nigerian public education system and a serious stakeholder, who has taught at every level of the system and is anxious to ensure that his grandchildren may find a good public school, college, or university to attend in their fatherland.

Admittedly, it is not all bad news. There is no doubt that the number of public primary, secondary, and higher educational institutions has grown tremendously in the last 30 years. Reasonable investment has gone into their establishment. There also have been flashes of brilliance from some students and some teachers of some public institutions in the country.

Nevertheless, there is overwhelming evidence of the underachievement of the majority of the products of these institutions. Clearly, their achievement has not kept pace with the numerical growth of the institutions. Nor has investment in education kept pace with the required infrastructure, needed facilities, and their maintenance. Moreover, the rate of expansion lags behind the exponential growth in the population of admission seekers. What is worse, there are no indications of a policy directive to reverse the ongoing downward trend.

On the contrary, the present administration has been investing less and less in public education. The highest budgetary allocation to education by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was eight per cent in 2016. It was slashed to just over seven per cent in 2017 and further down to seven per cent in 2018. This allocation is barely enough to pay salaries and overhead costs.

The states have not fared any better as many of them struggle to meet up with the payment of salaries to their workers, including teachers. This means that there is little or nothing left for capital expenditure, including the purchase of books (if only for the libraries), laboratory equipment, and other facilities needed for effective teaching and learning.

A visit to any public primary, secondary, or tertiary institution will readily reveal the inadequacies and the neglect of depreciating facilities. Yet, students are enrolled beyond the capacity of these structures, without a corresponding increase in the number of teachers or lecturers employed. The teachers or lecturers themselves are as neglected as the facilities, because there are no funds for research, conferences, and capacity building workshops.

At the end of the day, both teachers and students fail to measure up to standard. This is reflected, for example, in the rate of failure in the WASSCE and NECO results in which the majority of the students fail to obtain credit in five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics. Doubts persist even in the true ability of those who do, as many of them fail to obtain 40 per cent pass in university entrance examinations, which utilise the same syllabus. Worse still, many of them perform poorly in the university and are considered unemployable by the labour market.

The present downward trend in the educational system comes with serious consequences. For one thing, elite parents and others who can afford it have taken to education tourism for their children as they do for medical tourism for themselves. This translates to the economic flight of billions of naira every year and the continued neglect of the nation’s educational and medical facilities.

Many of the children trained abroad do not return to Nigeria. Rather, they join the large team of Nigerians in the Diaspora, who find it difficult to return to an insecure and economically depressed country. At the same time, the failure rate of those trained at home leaves little or no room for developing the manpower for tomorrow. This means that the vast majority of Nigerian youths will be unable to hold gainful employment or take over in the various professions as the ageing population retires or dies. This is a ticking time bomb for a nation with 70 per cent of its population below 30 years old.

The situation is, however, not completely hopeless. There are a few states in which the investment in education has yielded world class facilities. Osun State provides a good example of state-of-the-art physical facilities and environment for primary and secondary education. This investment, however, has yet to be matched by appropriate attention to teachers and teaching facilities due to funds limitation. In response to this challenge, the Osun State Government recently mounted a three-week workshop for teachers of English Language and Mathematics in the state’s secondary schools. Moreover, steps are underway to respond to the teachers’ suggestions for improvement during the workshops.

Moreover, within the last 25 years, the private sector has been coming to the rescue of federal and state governments. There are now private primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions trying to make some impact on human capital development. The problem is that they are still not strong enough, especially at the tertiary level, to bail out the declining public education system.

Many private universities suffer from similar financial constraints, infrastructural deficits, and staffing problems. The few private universities, which boast world-class facilities, have yet to meet their admission quota and maximise their staff strength. This is especially true of Elizade University, where the environment is exquisite, the management excellent, and facilities world class, especially for Law and Engineering.

The problem remains as to how to rescue the declining public education industry. The first requirement is appropriate leadership not just at the national level but also at the ministerial level. Ever since Prof. Babs Fafunwa was in charge of education, the ministry has not been manned by the appropriate minister.

Besides, partisan, ethnic, and other sectional interests have always thwarted efforts at achieving either equity in the system or in enforcing the appropriate policy. Such parochial interests prevented Fafunwa from implementing the Mother Tongue education policy for which he gained international renown as a pioneering researcher.