"A functioning, robust democracy requires a healthy, educated, participatory followership and an educated, morally grounded leadership."
- Chinua Achebe
Death of Nigerian Education?
rguably, there are more kids in school than at any time in Nigerian history; also, more schools, teachers, and curricula. Unfortunately, it is a case of quantity up, quality down. Since the 1980s, the country has witnessed a downward spiral in education. Every level of government, particularly federal, exhibits a drought of standard policies, regulations, and enforcement. Where there are "standards," there is such a laxity in enforcement that they might as well not exist. For example, the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) is supposed to be a standard exam for entry into the nation's universities; yet the program is so riddled with fraud that published results are mere anecdotes.
Beyond JAMB's UTME crisis, consider the dearth of educational facilities, qualified teachers, classroom and laboratory equipment, progressive curriculum, and accountability. Indeed, Nigerian education died in the 1980s in the hands of myopic Ministers of Education enthroned by erratic presidents and governors as political payback. Watershed moments in its descent include: the "Ali Must Go" riots, nomadic education, austerity measures of the late 1980s, and introduction of the underfunded 6-3-3-4 formula.
Today, the education of Nigeria's children is a free for all. Everyone with a mind to making money, has converted their parlors into nurseries and their story buildings into primary and secondary schools.
Why does it matter?
As Achebe's quote states, "a functioning, robust democracy requires a healthy, educated, participatory followership and an educated, morally grounded leadership." That is, a nation requires an educated polity in order to function well. Education is the vehicle that propels a nation into greatness. Specifically, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education stimulate the growth of industries that in turn, increase a nation's revenue and modernization.
To the individual, modern education opens doors of possibilities. Whereas an illiterate who has not journeyed beyond the boundaries of his village will likely be a farmer or trader, some vocational education presents options like mechanic, vulcanizer, tailor, and barber; associate level education offers careers in teaching, nursing, secretarial, and technical fields; and tertiary education adds engineering, accounting, law, medicine, and more. Thus, when the educational system breaks down, opportunities are constricted. When a graduate of a tertiary institution has only accumulated knowledge at a vocational level, his or her occupational choices are limited. Such a one may be unemployable and therefore, unproductive. S/he's acquired too much education to consider farming as an occupation but not enough to perform professionally in a modern economy.
How does the lack of educational policy lead to the travesty in Libya?
Without education to offer options, people become desperate to do whatever it takes to get a better life. Some seek this is criminal activities as evident in the high rate of crimes committed by unemployed graduates. Others sink into the desolation of drugs and alcohol. A third group seek their chances outside the country. Of this group, the middle class get visas to travel abroad never to return. The lower class, migrate via boots, buses, and boats to land in places like Libya.
- For starters, appoint a federal minister of education in office who actually knows something about education. Then, let the appointee stay in office long enough to make a difference. To date, the longest serving Minister of Education in Nigeria is the first one, Aja Nwachukwu. Since 1980, the average tenure of a minister of education is two years! The position has become nothing more than a political reward for presidential supporters; indeed, a shameful disregard for such a crucial ministry.
- Along the same lines, develop a cohesive and comprehensive education policy - on curriculum, standards for accreditation of institutions, standards for universal examinations, and teacher qualifications.
- Empower institutions to regulate created education policies. Like NAFDAC (when it functions) goes around investigating fake food and drugs, send education inspectors out to investigate and shut down, dubious institutions.
- PAY TEACHERS FULL SALARIES! Train them, sure but pay them first.
- Promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education. These are the disciplines that build a nation. But to these, add entrepreneurial education which would equip our youth to create industry and not rely on the state for their livelihood.
- Encourage the creation of para-school organizations such as Science Clubs, Junior Techies, and Young Leaders of Nigeria. These support educational institutions to foster an environment of learning.
- Support public television which teaches everyone, regardless of registration in school. This would elevate literacy and numeracy levels in the general populace.
If we don't address our dysfunctional education system, we'll have a greater crisis than Libyan slavery on our hands. For example, where would Nigeria stand in the race for production of renewable sources of energy such as hydro-electrical energy, biomass, wind energy, geothermal energy, or solar photo-voltaire?