Friday, October 28, 2016 11:43 am
By Oluwatobi Tayo
The Honourable Minister of Education,
Federal Republic of Nigeria.
We, as a nation, lie sober after a prolonged state of euphoria from the lingering oil craze, election fevers and general restlessness amongst citizens. In such times like this in the history of Nigeria with the political and socioeconomic atmosphere being at an all time low, there is no better time for us to huddle together, evaluate and make appropriate reforms.
Amongst many other current affairs, one which prompts me to put pen to paper at this moment is the ongoing educational crisis in the country which though nagging, has not been matched with equally tenacious and combative strategies by the government but more specifically, your office.
With the federal government increasingly releasing its grip on the educational sector through privatization and deregulation over the years, we have seen the standards of education fall continuously. One might say there has been a slight improvement this year, judging from the improved yet poor performance of secondary school students in the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) examinations, after over a decade of groundbreaking failures. However, a passing rate of 53% in a nation whose Ministry of Education claims to be working, is disappointing.
Frankly speaking, our educational system has failed us. More than 30 years after the implementation of the privatization policy, Nigeria has still not moved into the league of industrialized nations with technically inclined students as hoped for with the policy (Thovoethin 2012). There have been recent talks of an educational reform project by the Ministry of Education that is intended to transform the terminally ill sector in only four years. Honourable Minister, you stated at a convocation ceremony at Kaduna Polytechnic that in order to respond to growing demands, the ministry of education would be embarking on this project to increase access to technical and vocational education by establishing more schools. There have not been any clear strategies on how you plan to achieve this in such a short period. However, trends show that our current policies and modes of operations are ineffective and we must to re-think how we define our educational sector.
Quantity does not always go hand in hand with quality and development, contrary to what this proposed project seems to suggest and this fact is made evident with the abundance of substandard private institutions. The major problem plaguing the country is a lack of equity in access to quality education. We must waste no time in addressing these issues because Nigeria has a large and rapidly growing youth population. It has been predicted by the United Nations that Nigeria’s 80 percent youth population will grow by 60 percent come 2030. With such a slow response to a rapidly growing crisis, disaster is inexorable.
Privatization of the educational sector in Nigeria has led to a decline in the general quality of education and increased disparities between the rich and the poor, by making good education exclusive to the wealthy few. Though access to education has improved quantitatively, access to quality education is still limited. This was the conclusion drawn by social scientists, Uwakwe et al at the University of Ibadan, in a paper titled ‘Impact of Decentralization and Privatization on the Quality of Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Nigerian Experience’. The current crisis must be dealt with by active government intervention.
Nigeria, being an actor on the broad stage of globalization has no doubt experienced the effects of neoliberalism which has swept through the world. This process manifests itself emphasizing the rule of the market, cutting public expenditure for social services, deregulation and of course, privatization. With neoliberalism, one major feature is that there is no price control on education. Education is now exclusive to those who can dance to the tune of capitalists. The aim of education has largely shifted from the acquisition of knowledge for personal satisfaction and curiosity to the quest foreconomic gain (Brown). Neoliberalism is also evident in the Nigerian society as the government consistently cuts down its budget allocation to the educational sector yearly, as recorded by the World Bank, to allow for private sector participation.
Proponents of neoliberalism through privatization argue that getting the government’s influence out of the educational system will better the system and make it more accessible for all, but only the wealthy are benefiting from this. Quality education has gotten too expensive. For example, it has been admitted by your ministry that only about 17 percent of qualified candidates seeking admission into tertiary universities get admitted in Nigeria. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, because the poor just cannot afford to be qualified.
Privatization has brought about laxity in the private educational sector and the measure of the worth of knowledge by economic metrics, as Wendy Brown highlights in her paper ‘Neoliberalized Knowledge’. Little regulations are in place to check the excesses of private educational institutions and people are helplessly subject to the forces of demand and supply. Indeed, there has been an improvement in the quality of education in [exclusive] private schools in terms of ‘curriculum delivery, internal quality control and conducive learning environments’ (Uwakwe et al 2008). However, due to the fact that this cannot be accessed by all, poor imitations spring up in the form of mushroom private schools.
Reviewing your education roadmap for your tenure in office, ThisDay Newspaper highlights several facts which I believe can be attributed to the meagre national budget allocation of 8 percent to the educational sector: To start with, Nigeria has the highest number of children in the world who are out of school. The paper also reports that the illiteracy rate amongst children in rural areas is about 63 percent, while amongst children in the lower economic quartile is a staggering 84 percent.You rightly identify the crisis of equity in education as a need that must be addressed urgently. However, like I stated earlier, the effectiveness of response does not match the gravity of the crisis.
The strategies thus far to address this problem of equity have led to an increase in the number of private schools. Contrary to the belief that the nation needs to respond to the growing youth population with more private schools like was expressed by former minister of education, Professor Chinwe Obaji at the 9th National Conference of the History of Education Society of Nigeria. I believe that granting accreditation to private institutions-which are mostly ‘glorified secondary schools-only addresses the problem of equity on a surface level.Prof. Obaji lauded the efforts of Afe Babalola University (a private institution) in the words of the university’s publication, for making “efforts in establishing a world class University and sustaining it with adequate funding which makes the Institution a reference and benchmark for others”.What she did not mention though is the fact that this ‘funding’ comes from the exorbitant tuition fees paid by the small fraction of the 17% of students who can barely afford to pay private university fees.
To apply to this university according to their website, students must purchase application forms costing N13, 000 and the average total cost of the first year of university is about N1.5 million-How does this address equity when the minimum wage of middle class workers (the population majority) remains at N18,000 per month? In fact, Roy Chikwem in his paper ‘The Privatization and Commercialization of Higher Education in Nigeria’, reports that the cheapest private university in Nigeria requires at least N250,000 for a school year (without scholarships). The real solution would be to standardize affordable education all over the country, focus on training better teachers and churning out qualified students; these are things that require deliberate government intervention and regulation.
The role of education in the age of globalization ought to be to broaden the horizons in the minds of people and there ought to be equal access to opportunities for this exposure. Education must take on the function of a unifier/leveller. Globalization requires that we no longer function as isolated units in society but rather collaborate for the good of ourselves, directly and indirectly. Education should bring together and not divide. There needs to be more collaboration between members of society across all barriers of social strata, ethnicity, and so on. We are better off when the bright young man from the heart of the ghettos has the same opportunity to be educated to the same level as the young woman from a gated estate in Banana Island.
This way, though it ultimately depends on what each individual chooses to do with the opportunities presented to them, it is more feasible to transform the ghetto to a bustling suburb by ensuring that all members of society have the empowerment and means to reproduce the conditions of production at all levels (Althusser). There will thus be an expansion of the circle of the enlightened and a reduction in the gap between the rich and poor. A better educated Nigeria with empowered citizens sets the stage for foreign investments and collaborations, and true advancement.
The recent development of the roadmap for education shows a commendable pursuit to lift the standards of education in Nigeria. The proposed plans seek to address the crisis of equity, quality and teacher training. However, I must reiterate that for us to see better results, we must all go back to the drawing board and re-strategize. I believe that the government must show keen interest in the development of this crucial sector and invest more resources, rather than leaving it unregulated in the hands of the private sector.
Individually, education should be taken on as a personal obligation in pursuit of personal quests. We must first identify our individual needs for education and enlightenment and creatively pursue avenues to acquire this education.
The nation as a whole should seek to provide and access truth. Students should be encouraged to think outside the box and we owe it to ourselves to provide a platform for equal access to educational opportunities. We should not shy away from probing the status quo and actively pursuing new ways of thinking. We must be alert and identify loopholes in the educational system and individually seek ways to fill such voids. Each man must take on the mentality that he owes it to himself and to the society that his brother is properly educated.
Oluwatobi Tayo is a second year Economics and Global Development Studies undergraduate student at Western University, Ontario, Canada