Education Has Been In Reverse Gear


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Education Has Been In Reverse Gear




Oby Ezekwesili




culled from GUARDIAN, October 1, 2006



Today’s nation-states don’t compete on the basis of natural resources. They have never done. There is no economic model that has shown a nation that has taken on the others on the basis of oil and gas or other kinds of resources from the earth. It has always been on the basis of the capacity of people to use knowledge to out- shine the others. If our society is to be cohesive and peaceful, education must be at the heart of it because education also personifies values.

So once those fundamentals were wrong, in terms of capacity to understanding this very important mandate of ourselves as a Ministry, something fundamentally went wrong. So it became difficult for us to be able to regulate the education sector or to deliver the sound policies effectively knowing that we are a federal structure. How can we as Federal Ministry of Education be the ones thinking through policies that would aid growth of our human capital. The growth of human capital, the development of your human capital is about advancing the knowledge of your citizens at the different spheres of knowledge.

So the Education Ministry for instance, is charged with six spheres of education – early childhood education (everything that concerns that we should be envisioning on it), basic education (primary and junior secondary education), secondary education, tertiary education, special needs education, adult and non-formal education.
These are really the framework of education in any environment. In fact, in other countries now there is something they called post-tertiary education, so as the visioning Ministry we should be envisioning where we should go as a nation. The centrality of education to the development of society means that if our economy is to grow, education must be at the heartbeat of that growth.

The Federal Ministry of Education is really like the coordinator of the separate Ministries of Education in all the states of the federation. Even at the local government level, you have departments of education so education is an activity in the concurrent legislative list in our constitution. So when an activity is in the concurrent legislative list, it means that all the various levels of government may have one role or the other to play.

Particularly the states and the federal government would share powers in that regard. Primary education is mostly done at the local government, state level, secondary education at state. In the case of secondary education, federal government can also provide education if it so desires. That is why we have Federal Government Colleges. There are about 11,000 secondary schools in the nation only. The Federal Government owns 102, so you can see it is limited. The real area of provision that you would say the federal government is present the most is tertiary education where we can say we have 25 federal universities, Colleges of Education and Polytechnics. So you can now see that those early stages of education, primary, junior secondary, senior secondary the role of the 36 states and Abuja is so critical in being able to deliver an efficient, productive and quality education sector.
The Challenges
Now, the challenge that we found was that we were beginning to address the symptoms of the education challenge and the way we were doing this was that, each time a problem manifested we will create a department or create an institution but didn’t solve the problem but rather the problem magnified, created another variety of problems. And for me as a Christian what it points to is that concept of “if the foundation be faulty what will the righteous do?” So getting the foundation not to be faulty is the first thing that you must do.

So when we look at the scenario were we’ve got 20 parastatals with all chief executives, with all plethora of staff, with all kinds of activities and programmes and all of them. So you say to yourself if is all about all kinds of parastatals with all kinds of people occupying all kinds of offices we shouldn’t have problems but why is it that with all kinds of institutions and departments and with all these people and yet all that people say about education in Nigeria is that ‘Oh! We remember the good old days’. No! We shouldn’t remember the good old days.

A nation where its old days are more fantastic, you're nostalgic about the old than your today and your tomorrow, there is a problem. You don’t look back to be enamoured of years gone by, you make progress. What it means is that we have been in the reverse gear in our sector and we don’t want a situation where we arrive the year 2015 and the rest of the world has moved on. And we have not gone anywhere and if we would not go anywhere it's because we have not paid the kind of attention we should be paying to education.

The other challenge is the way the sector has been funded in the many years since about the 70s. The way and manner of the funding has been ad-hoc, disjointed, full of upheavals, volatile - these are words not good for any sector's funding. A smooth pattern in investing in an important sector like education would have guaranteed it that stability of outcome. So this sector has taken a lot of stress. Unpredictability is a bad thing. You need to in a predictable manner fund a sector if you want it to deliver what you have set as a goal or a target for it but this has not happen to this sector.

Yet another challenge, which is the offshoot of education financing, is that it's a terrain where as the public sector was expanding in all kinds of chaotic manner, the education sector was expanding mirroring the exact manner of the expansion of the public sector. And most of the expansion that happened in the public sector was not capacity oriented. So government became a source of employment, so when a person occupied office they brought in as many people as possible. It didn’t matter what skills and competencies they had. So we’ve seen a sector where personnel cost, and we are not talking quality academic personnel cost.

If that is the case it should reflect on the quality products because the work they do is to impart knowledge, right? But no. What we have seen is a situation where the personnel growth moved in the direction of administration. So you have administrative cadre, non-academic staff that is expanding beyond core competency personnel of the sector. So if you decompose the personnel wage bill of the sector you would see that you have ratios of one is to three weighing in favour of non-academic wage bill.

There is no nation today that builds a wall around its education sector. The sector is looked at from the prism of cradle to grave. It means you don’t talk about what exists at the point when you are giving the certificate, but what exists when that child is very productive after school and engaged within the society. So there is a continuum of the classroom into the society, into the marketplace, into the economy. But our own has become disconnected and that’s what gave rise to the fact that even parents would say certainly the quality of production has gone down.

You know for the education sector, production means – teaching, quality of curriculum, quality of knowledge. When you send a child to a sector, the impression is that you have sent a tabula rasa, and you are saying write on this clean slate. But what the society expects to read on that slate is not what they see, so they say the product of the education sector is not the quality this society is in need of and is called ‘reject our product syndrome’. Because they say they are not teaching our children well in school again.

There is a particular one where a firm set a test for 2,000 graduates and couldn’t find two to pick. Now that just makes me want to weep. Every time I think of it I actually do feel depressed but I don’t have the luxury for depression now so I get out of the depression and I say to myself is a crisis point where we must do something. So that rejection of our products is a major challenge what it means is that there are many things we need to query (the content of our processing work) because the raw material at any level of education is the students or the pupils.

If at the end of our processing work (teaching, learning environment) they come out and they don’t mirror what they got at the completion of that stage of education it means there is something wrong with our processing. It means we have to query things like teacher quality, relevance of curricular at the various levels that we are handing out to these products. In other words, is the knowledge we are giving them relevant to the environment? If a Nigerian child says I’m an economist and cannot express basic competitive market analysis then it means that there is something wrong.

One of the major challenge was to get all the key actors in the education sector to drive in the same direction. So states and the Federal Ministries of education have not quite found a convergence of vision and without that we have a problem. Because there are things they are wired to do better that the federal ministry of education would be wasting its time trying to do. There are issues of regulatory failures, the sector that is about quality education means that quality assurance and controlled activities are very important but we found a Federal Inspect orate Service that has become totally overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem.

And not given the pride of place in the scheme of things. So of the 11,000 secondary schools based on our 2006 school census the Federal Inspectorate Service would on a yearly basis perhaps do an inspection of 343. Now think of that! 343 out of 11,000? that is terrible. Then I asked when last did you even reach this 343, it was three years ago. So think of it.

To understand the sheer malignancy of this problem is when you realise that secondary education is where most of the problem that we now speak of (exam malpractice, cultism, students abuse, system abuse, degradation of values and all the other negative attributes of the new age, an age were knowledge is no longer revered) comes from. So what it means is that the failure of Federal Inspect orate Service accentuated the decadence in secondary education. Take a typical case even the secondary school that we own. I asked that I be given the performance of all the Federal Government Colleges in the country in the past five years in WAEC. I wept.

In more than 70 per cent of our Federal Government Colleges, only an average of 20 to 25 per cent actually pass the WAEC. In FGC Gusau for instance 7.5 per cent passed in a particular year; in FGC Gaya none passed, FCG Jalingo none, FGC Gboko 0.5. So these decay was manifesting right under our own schools and we were not even woken up to it.

Do you know that there are 6.4 million secondary school children all over Nigeria and our own FGCs have a total of 122,000 of that 6.4 million? Do you know our total number of Ministry of Education staff is 27,400, 23,000 of this 27,400 are staff of this 102 FGCs? That means almost 80 per cent of our staff in the Federal Ministry of Education are in the 102 FGCs and yet this is what we have to show for it. Do you now see what I mean by inverted priorities?

Education has is a sector that has been very opaque in the way that it has managed itself. We saw the obesity reflected even in the fact that if you ask a Principal of a FGC about what level of independently generated revenue he has, or the University administrator, it could be anything without any clear sense of accountability and transparency for those kinds of resources. Now, that creates a very big governance problem, the lack of accountability and transparency mechanisms that people would rely upon that they would not have to fear about accusations and counter accusations. So is like a closed door operation and it does not help because education is fundamentally academic freedom, intellectual freedom and it must be practiced in every sense of the word and so if it is turned into a closed circuit kind of activity it could definitely create a lot of disagreements and all of that.

So all these that I have taken time to dwell on is to show you what we therefore met, a sector in disequilibrium because it's a stage where you are not in balance, there is a distortion, so getting this sector to move into a place of balance is what the reform is about.
What we are doing is to center the reforms in a recreation of the institutions that govern the education sector. So for instance take our Federal Ministry of Education that has several departments, divisions, units and all of that, we are now looking at needs coherent based, functionality based convergence of activities. So our eight department for instance have become five departments.

Once you restructure the ministry and the sector, you would get the benefits of efficiency, we call them efficiency gains. Your efficiency gains that would come out of reforms would come in the form of even better value for existing resources, then that gives you a pedestal for what you are doing effectively and then gives you the basis for asking for additional resources. This sector requires fresh investments with huge capital, the structure of recurrent spending to capital spending of 87 to 13 will not take the sector anywhere. But even our 87% recurrent is where the restructuring must do its best.

• Ezekwesili is the Minister of Education




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