Education Still In A Shambles Amid Poor Funding, High Drop-Out Rate

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Education in Nigeria, at least in the public sector, is in a state of dysfunction. Its human capital is in disarray, so is its physical infrastructure. The nation’s standard of education totters as the government continues to talk more about the crises facing it rather than act on resolving them. The students are disillusioned with public education. Their teachers are frustrated in the face of poor motivation and ramshackle facilities. As the rot deepens, so does the attention paid to the sector wanes.

If there is one thing successive Nigerian governments have succeeded in doing, it is organising summits or conferences to consider issues that have been thoroughly analysed and solutions proffered. In Nigeria though, history is a fall guy; nobody learns from it. The repeated calls for a declaration of state of emergency in the education system corroborates that point.

For how long this huff and puff will go on nobody knows. What is clear is that successive governments in the last five decades have paid lip service to revamp a sector bedevilled by low budgetary allocation, poor incentives for teachers and dilapidated infrastructure. It is for those reasons and more that the country’s education system is in a mess, education experts say. It is difficult not to agree with them.

To illustrate: Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world. From an estimated 42.5 million people in 1960, its population has grown to 200 million people in 2018. According to the United Nations’ projections, by 2050 the country will be populated with 399 million people and that is not good news for the country’s education sector in which severe cuts in financial allocation for the sector have done more damage than good.

At the moment that is not good news for the education sector in Nigeria. Severe cuts in financial allocation for the sector have done more damage than good.

For instance, in the proposed budget presented to the National Assembly, President Buhari allocated only 7.04 per cent of the N8.6 trillion 2018 budget to education. The total amount allocated to the sector is N605.8 billion with N435.1 billion for recurrent expenditure, N61.73 billion for capital expenditure and N109.06 billion for the Universal Basic Education Commission.

That allocation is lower than the 7.4 per cent the government earmarked for education in the N7.4 trillion 2017 budget. The breakdown of the N550 billion allocated in 2017 was N398 billion for recurrent expenditure, N56 billion for capital expenditure and N95 billion to UBEC. Experts have noted that even though the N605 billion appropriated for the sector in 2018 is higher –in naira terms – than the N550 billion appropriated for it in 2017, a percentage decrease in evident.

Yet, the Federal Government is committed to spend more money on tertiary education following the impasse between it and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in the aftermath of a strike that lasted more than a month resulting in closure of universities across the country. The university teachers were protesting poor funding of the sub sector and the failure of government to implement an agreement it signed in 2009 with them to upgrade infrastructures on campuses and improve staff welfare. Following that, the non-teaching staff of the universities went on another wave of strikes that crippled academic activities for couple of weeks.

These developments have worsened the already bad education system. Austerity measures adopted by the Federal Government in the wake of the current economic crisis further slashed education budgets just as the sector received much lower than the 25 per cent of national budget recommended by the UN. Students at many public universities in 2016 experienced tuition increases and a deterioration of basic infrastructure, including shortages in electricity and water supplies even though the government lamely spoke against the hike in school fees.

The problems in the nation’s education system stemmed from a complicated mix of economic, political, and social situations. Three decades of political instability followed the civil war in the late 1960s. Economic wealth from huge oil reserves in the south east was diverted from education and other socially progressive programmes into the pockets of corrupt politicians and military leaders. The formula of corruption, poor planning and a worldwide drop in oil prices in the 1980s resulted in the crash of Nigeria’s economy. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Nigeria’s per capita income dropped from US$1,200 in the 1980s to US$300 in 2000.

The economic decline and the political rivalries, especially dividing the northern Muslim states from the southern non-Muslim states, resulted in deterioration in the educational system all over the country, but the most dramatic figures are reported from the northern states.

Of the 19 states labeled “educationally disadvantaged,” 17 are in the north. In 1995, for example, there were 4,448,869 secondary students enrolled in Nigeria. The northern area, with about half the country’s population, accounted for only 1,417,645 of these students. In 1999, the six states with the most candidates applying for university admission (all in the south) had a total of 200,506 applicants. The bottom six states in number (about the same population) were all in the north, with a total of 5,619. The numbers for applications to polytechnics and colleges of education showed similar results.

Out of a nationwide total of 160,724 candidates, some 72,830 were from six southern states, while the bottom six states, all in the north, had only 375 candidates. The qualification of teachers mirrors the same unequal distribution. In the late 1990s, only 16 percent of the primary school teachers in the north held the National Certificate of Education (NCE), considered the minimum qualification for teaching. In the south, more than 94 percent held the NCE.

The educational infrastructure needs to be revamped, especially at the primary level. At most schools, there is a desperate shortage of texts. Even in better areas, such as Abia State, primary schools only have enough texts in core subjects for 45 to 50 percent of the pupils. In the poorest states, the number is lower than 10 per cent.

Another serious problem is the dropout rate at all levels of education, especially among boys. In 1995, the percentage of elementary students dropping out by the sixth year stood at 30.8 per cent. The dropout rate in areas with long reputations for high achievement in education is especially surprising. In Enugu State, for example, nearly 100 per cent of primary-school-aged boys and 91 per cent of the girls were enrolled in schools in 1992. As political and economic conditions worsened, the figures declined. In 1996 the enrollment figures showed only 42 per cent for boys and 35 per cent for girls. In the conservative Islamic state of Sokoto in north west Nigeria, the enrollment statistics for 1992 and 1996 were 41 and 49 per cent for boys and 12 and 15 per cent for girls. People in conservative Islamic states, however, often send their children to Quranic schools, so it is likely that a higher percentage of their children were attending schools.

Because school graduates often have difficulty finding jobs that match their education, the younger generation frequently sees little practical value in staying in school beyond a few primary grades. This problem is especially severe in the eastern region among the Igbo people. The dropout rate becomes critical at the junior secondary level.

In 1994 for example, the distribution of boys and girls in Enugu state is about equal in primary school. Of the 156,001 students enrolled in secondary schools, 81,080 were females. The dropout rate in the following year for boys was astronomical. In 1995, of the 99,867 students enrolled in secondary schools, some 91,311 were girls. Boys had dropped out to find work in businesses and trade, while girls stayed in school. At the beginning of the 21st century, the completion rate for boys in the east stood at only 30 per cent.

According to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Nigeria has approximately 20 per cent of the total out–of-school children population in the world. Adding to this challenge is the demographic pressure with about 11,000 newborns every day that overburdens the system capacity to deliver quality education. In the northern part of Nigeria, almost two-thirds of students are “functionally illiterate”.

An additional challenge is the direct threat to schooling, especially for girls, emanating from political insecurity through insurgent activities, and attacks on schools.

To mark 2018 global action week for education, Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA) and other NGOs have called on Federal and state Governments in Nigeria to keep pledges made to fund SDG 4 at an event held in Abuja. Nigeria signed into the global commitment of ensuring 12 years free, qualitative, compulsory and inclusive education for all by 2030, but this commitment cannot be achieved without adequate infrastructures in schools and trained teachers. Despite a significant increase in net enrolment rates in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.

Increased enrolment rates have also created challenges in ensuring quality education and satisfactory learning achievement as resources are spread more thinly across a growing number of students. It is not rare to see cases of 100 pupils per teacher or students sitting under trees outside the school building because of the lack of classrooms.

Secondary education has not fared better after over five decades of the nation’s independence. In both 2017 and 2018’s January/February private examinations, only 26.01 per cent and 17.13 per cent candidates passed with five credits including Mathematics and English respectively; while the remaining over 70 per cent candidates failed. On the other hand, in March, WAEC had released the result of the newly-introduced February diet for private candidates with only 1,937 out of 11,727 candidates who sat for the examination, obtaining minimum credits and above in five subjects, including English and Mathematics.

A mass failure was recorded in the 2017 WAEC exams. At the release of the general results during the 55th Annual Meeting of the Nigeria National Committee, only 34,664 out of 131,485 had five credits including English and Mathematics. Also, the percentage of candidates in WASSCE, for private candidates, in 2015 and 2016 was 28.58 per cent and 38.50 per cent, respectively.

Often, the biggest crisis in Nigeria’s education sector is with the tertiary system. According to the World Education Service (WES), foreign institutions will likely remain a dynamic growth market for international students, this is largely because of the overwhelming and unmet demand among college-age Nigerians. According to data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), the number of Nigerian students abroad increased by 164 per cent in the decade between 2005 and 2015 alone, from 26,997 to 71,351.

The higher education sector has been overburdened by strong population growth and a significant ‘youth bulge’ with more than 60 per cent of the country’s population being under the age of 24. Similarly, rapid expansion of the nation’s higher education sector in recent decades has failed to deliver the resources or seats to accommodate demand.

A substantial number of would-be college and university students are turned away from the system. About two thirds of applicants who sat the country’s national entrance examination in 2015 could not get admission into a university. According to the statistics JAMB provides on its website, a total of 1.579,027 students sat for the UTME exam in 2016. 69.6 per cent of university applications were made to federal universities, 27.5 per cent to state universities, and less than one per cent to private universities. The number of applicants currently exceeds the number of available university seats by a ratio of two to one. In 2015, only 415,500 out of 1,428,379 applicants were admitted to university.

The litany of challenges becomes complicated when those who managed to graduate are considered unfit for employment. In 2016, it was reported that a staggering 47 per cent of the graduates were without employment, based on a survey of 90,000 Nigerians.

Incessant strike actions by the various unions have failed to bring lasting solutions to the myriads of problems confronting the sub-sector. The first recorded national strike by university workers was in 1988 to agitate for fair wages and university autonomy. By going on strike that year, the government of the day proscribed the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on August 7 of that year. In 1990, it was unbanned. Two years later, on August 23, it was banned again.

By September 3, 1992, a truce was reached. But again, another two years later, in 1994, ASUU went on strike; it also did in 1996. All those years were moments that the military dictatorships of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Sani Abacha reigned supreme. It would appear that with the advent of democracy in 1999, strike actions by university workers would end.

Barely three years into the democratic administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, university’s employees were unsparing in its agitations for rights of its members going on strike in 2007 for 93 days. The following year, it called for a two-week “warning strike” demanding for improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers that were kicked out of the University of Ilorin.

A year later, the workers went on another strike that lasted three months over disagreements they had reached with the Federal Government, which the latter was accused of not keeping. By October 2009, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by both parties and the strike was called off. There was respite for about four years. By July 1, 2013, the ivory tower workers embarked on yet another industrial action that was only stopped in December 16 of that year. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the narratives were the same as regards strike actions.

However, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, believes that the Buhari administration is committed to promotion of education, research and development, pointing to the ‘Education for change: A ministerial strategic plan (2015-2019)’ blueprint of the government.

The document, according to the minister, is concerned about the issue of out-of-school children, basic education, teacher education, adult literacy, curriculum and policy matters on basic and secondary education, technical and vocational education, education data planning, library services, information and communication technology, and tertiary education.

“Sixty per cent of the 11.4 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls. Only a fraction (17 per cent) of 3.1 million nomadic children of school age has access to basic education despite decades of intervention. Similarly, only a small proportion of the ministry’s 2010 estimate of 9.5 million almajiri children have access to any basic education and an increasing number of displaced children (about one million) are being forced out of school in the insurgency-stricken states,” Adamu said.

In the document, the Federal Government had proposed strategies for engaging with state governments in addressing the problems of out-of-school children. It also planned to raise the national Net Enrolment Rate (NET) by enrolling 2,875,000 pupils annually for the next four years as well as renovate schools destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents and construct additional 71, 874 classrooms annually.

In addition, government is expected to provide additional 71, 875 qualified teachers through the deployment of 14 per cent of the new teachers to be recruited annually (by 2050, Nigeria will need to recruit 400,00 teachers and raise the enrolment of girls in basic education schools by 1.5 million annually for the next four years.

Concerning basic education, the minister admitted that 15 years after the launch of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, pupils’ learning data remain unsatisfactory and mean scores in English, Mathematics, and life skills are very low and generally not up to standard. But almost two years after, there is no sign that implementation has commenced on the document.

However, it has not been a total jeremiad for the sector over the years as a few achievements were recorded by successive administrators. Due to the dearth of qualified teachers, the Federal Government struck a deal to increase retirement age of teachers to 65 and 70 for polytechnics and universities respectively. The dichotomy between HND and BSc was also addressed to the delight of many. A few of the parastatals have been able to keep pace with their activities, even though low-keyed. Examples of such agencies are the National Universities Commission (NUC); Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) and the money-spinning Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) which have brought fresh verve into the conduct of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), using the computer based test (CBT). JAMB has also been able to, under the leadership of Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, raise more money and fight corruption inherent in the system, especially considering the scandalous news of a money-guzzling snake in the agency.

All in all, stakeholders and education experts believe that the successes are few and far apart, noting that things have fallen apart in the education sector and efforts by successive governments have not had impact on a system long left to rot.

For former Nigeria’s permanent delegate and ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Prof Michael Omolewa said Nigeria has recorded great achievements in the sector since the attainment of Independence and government should be applauded.

“One striking area is access to education at all levels. Government has committed more resources over the years to the development of education, improving the quality, providing classrooms and facilities for educational provision, training teachers at all levels, and improving their welfare as well as the non-teaching staff at all levels.

“Private participation in educational provision has yielded positive results in the advancement of the sector through the contribution of private individuals and religious groups that are committed to investing in education, Prof Omolewa added.
However, in spite of the enormous expansion that has taken place, the foremost historian said there is still need to invest more on education, as proposed in the ministerial strategic plan of Adamu Adamu.

He said, “We should always remind ourselves that investment in education is an investment in the future of the country. The out-of-school children and young adults, as well as the illiterate adult population require special attention to ensure that peace reign, social malpractices are uprooted and fairness and equity are promoted, to guarantee peace in the country.

“The Federal Government should be commended for introducing more than one examining body to bring an end to the monopoly of the secondary school examination since 1937 by the Cambridge University syndicate for local examinations. Before that period, the Cambridge University syndicate and the Oxford University delegacy provided examinations for Nigerian secondary schools. The introduction of the National Examination Council (NECO) to supplement the contribution of WAEC was a bold decision of the Federal Government as students were no longer at the mercy of WAEC.”

The erudite scholar however identified incessant strikes by teachers and students as one of the lowest moments for the sector.

“The condition of teachers was particularly depressing during the military rule when industrial action was frequent. One would recall the long period of industrial action during the Abacha regime when teachers’ salaries were unbelievably at the lowest point and when industrial action became a usual occurrence, causing unnecessary hardship and delays in school calendar to the young and innocent students.

To be 21st century compliant and globally relevant, the emeritus professor of history said emphasis must be placed on the use of information technology at all levels, creative thinking by all the learners, learning-centred facilitation of learning and entrepreneurship promotion.

“The country is disturbed by the incidence of cultism, drug abuse, immorality and examination malpractices at all levels of the educational system and there is no doubt that parents, prospective employers and other stakeholders are worried by this development.”

“We should appreciate all those who have contributed selflessly over these past 59 years to the promotion of education. This is the time to remember people such as Prof S.O. Awokoya, the architect of the first free primary education programme in the country, Mallam Ahmadu Coomassie, the brain behind the Gaskiya Ta fi Kwabo campaign of the 1940s, Alvan Ikoku who was among the first set of Nigerians to build privately- funded secondary schools, and all those who built the regional universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, secondary and primary schools, the teachers and students who toiled over the years to advertise, globally, the innate qualities and talents available in the country,” Prof Omolewa added.