Rather than the intermittent disruption of the school calendar, should two or three months of strike action be incorporated into it? Because frankly, a complete school-year devoid of strike is a unicorn in Nigeria. Strike, however, is only a tip of the iceberg sinking Nigeria’s Educational-system-titanic.
Education leads to improvement in employment, productivity, and wages, according to the World Bank’s World Development Report. Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, corroborated this when he said, “People without roads, ports, and factories can’t flourish. And roads, ports, and factories without skilled workers to build and manage them can’t sustain an economy.” Incontrovertibly, the current state of the economy is a portrait of the dying educational system.
The giant of Africa with its UBE Act 2004, which makes basic education – primary and junior secondary education – compulsory and free for the Nigerian child, still has 10.5 million out-of-school children, the highest in the world, according to UNICEF. And unfortunately, the children in school are not excelling academically.
Of the 131,485 candidates that sat for the November/December 2017 WASSCE, 74 percent failed, ditto 83 percent of the 11,307 January/February 2018 WASSCE candidates, according to WAEC data. This year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) is not any better. Of the 1.7 million candidates, only 569,395 scored over 200 marks; 23.8 percent scored below 160 marks; and only 800,000 had the five credits O’ level minimum admission requirements, according to Professor Ishaq Oloyede, the Registrar of JAMB.
The decadence of the educational system did not start today. If not concurrently, it is a concomitant effect of ditching agriculture as the mainstay of the economy for crude oil; and a well-deserved prize for gross misplacement of priorities. As Bill Gates rightly pointed out, “The Nigerian government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan identifies ‘investing in our people’ as one of (its) three ‘strategic objectives.’ But the ‘execution priorities’ don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritizing physical capital over human capital.”
Again, the unemployment rate proves the failure of the educational system. Unemployed population, as at Q3 2017, was 15.99 million, representing 18.8 percent of the labour force, according to NBS report. There are claims that the figures are that high partly because ‘Nigerian graduates are unemployable’. I faulted that assertion until I met graduates that cannot fill forms correctly, write a simple formal letter, or have conversations with simple correct English at the NYSC Orientation Camp. It was an awful exhibition of Nigeria’s educational system.
And rather than address the root-cause of these problems, the government and other stakeholders in the education sector continue to apply cosmetics-solutions. While the government continue to allocate a meager 7 percent of the budget to education, ASUU, Academic Staff Union of Universities, from 1988 till date continue to use the instrumentality of strike to lay demands on government. The former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, also added 12 more varsities to the dysfunctional educational system. And Kaduna government sacked over 20,000 unqualified teachers and JAMB pegged minimum cut-off marks for universities at 120, polytechnics at 100 and innovative enterprise institutions at 110 remain recurring talking points.
Proposed Solution to Nigeria’s educational system
To overhaul Nigeria’s educational system, the advice of the German theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, must be heeded – ‘no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.’ Thus, government must increase investments in education. As a matter of fact, UNESCO‘s 15-20 percent minimum budgetary allocation for education should be adopted. Also, the recruitment process of staffers in any institution of learning, especially teachers/lecturers, must be re-engineered to accommodate only the best and brightest. And their remuneration should be upgraded as well. The curriculum should also be reviewed to close the lacuna between what students are taught and the realities in the workplace.
Above all, just as quality primary health care can cater for 90 percent of human health problems, I strongly believe quality basic education would improve the educational system, exponentially. Thus, laser-focus attention should be on the Primary, Junior and Secondary School system. In addition to that, the same way Fintech and healthcare sectors have adopted technology, the education sector should also embrace digital solutions, and make it mainstream. For instance, rather than erecting more classrooms, eLearning infrastructures could be set up instead. And as the students are learning how to use these technologies, they are being equipped with ICT skills.
The great heights Finland, Singapore, Luxembourg, and even Ghana and South Africa have attained in education were not attained through incessant strike, ‘free education’, and cut-off marks reduction, rather it is through the implementation of holistic long-term solutions such as the aforementioned. And that is the way to address Nigeria’s educational challenges – holistically, with concerted effort of all stakeholders.