Stemming The Crisis In Education


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Stemming The Crisis In Education Sector





culled from Vanguard Sunday, December 19, 2004

MANY Nigerians were aware of the rot in the nation under the years of military dictatorship. But they hardly knew the magnitude of the rot. Not even President Olusegun Obasanjo had an inkling of the depth of decay until he got into office. As it is with the nation, so it is with the education sector. Only those saddled with the responsibility of administering our education system can appreciate the crisis in the education system. And just as the damage done to the nation will take a long time to correct, sanitizing the education sector will take quite some years of continuous and determined reformation. Many reform measures do not bear fruit overnight. This is even more so in the education sector. For example, the impact of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s free primary education was not fully felt among the Yoruba till the civil war and after, when they had to occupy federal positions abandoned by the Igbo.

Dealing with the problems in our education system is made more daunting by some systemic lapses. For example, it hardly occurs to anybody that the turnover of administrators in the sector presents its own problem. The Obasanjo administration is in its fifth year, yet it has its third minister in the person of Professor F.N.C Osuji. If Prof Osuji stays as Minister of Education till 2007, there is no likelihood that he will be there after. Compare this with India where the minister of Education is serving his thirteenth year in office, while the Canadian Education minister is over ten years in the saddle. The UNESCO conference in education meets every two years. Research has shown that no Nigerian minister of education has attended the UNESCO conference twice and none has attended the commonwealth conference on education, which meets once every three years, twice!

The effect of this transience in the ministry of education, as in other sectors of our national life, is very destabilizing. In short, there is hardly any institutional memory any administrator can rely on. This is certainly a disincentive to initiate policies or contemplate reforms. Often a minister decides to tread the bitten path or just paper over the cracks in the ministry, awards what contracts are available and wait for the day his tenure will come to an abrupt end. Whereas the Indian minister of education or his Canadian counterpart can oversee the implementation of a policy over a long period that allows him to see the problems and make adjustments or correct policy defects, his Nigerian counterpart would either have been reshuffled into another ministry or dropped! Thus lack of rigour in policy implementation and the incessant strike by university lecturers have over the years exacerbated the problems of the education sector.

Major problems

Some of the major problems that confronted Obasanjo in the education sector include the long-standing wrangle between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and the attendant disruption of academic calendar, campus cultism, poor or total absence of infrastructure, poor funding, poor staff welfare, low morale among staff, low quality of teaching, immorality and corruption among students and teachers, the intrusion of politics and the consequent loss of academic freedom and university autonomy. All the above problems are usually seen in relation to the tertiary institutions only. But when we add the problems of the primary and secondary schools to the portfolio of a minister of education, the enormity of his responsibility looms larger.

The ASUU problem was still haunting the universities when Prof. F.N.C Osuji replaced Prof. Aborishade as minister of education. As a result of the negotiation between ASUU and Prof Osuji, some normalcy was restored. It is still a delicate balance, which could be easily upset should ASUU decide to abandon the path of dialogue and compromise. But the period of truce has offered the minister an opportunity to tackle another important issue, which is, harmonizing the academic calendars.

 One of the directives Prof Osuji issued to the universities was to recover lost grounds and return to the September-June academic calendar as was the case in the past. Although ASUU tried also to fight that initially, many universities have gone far in implementing that directive, thanks to the cooperation of ASUU. With effect from 2004/2005, complete harmonization will be achieved. This will not be entirely without collateral damage in the form of students rushed through sessions.

Another area where the government has scored marginal success is in the fight against campus cult. Campus cultism and associated violence entrenched themselves in the campuses during the years of military despotism. They are products of the years of decay. The nature of inter-campus linkages of cult groups has made the matter more difficult to rout. However, the minister said that the government has a strategy to eradicate the menace.

 Addressing the sixth consultative meeting of the Policy Committee on Admissions into universities in Kaduna last month, Prof Osuji said the Federal Executive Council has considered and approved a blueprint on the eradication of cultism. He, therefore, urged heads of institutions to set up committees to be headed by them. There are people who see campus cultism as darkness that needs to be dispersed with light. By that, they mean that to eradicate cults, government and university authorities should encourage the return of respectable campus fraternities of the past.

 It is believed that cults gained prominence in the absence of these fraternities. Their return, people argue, would draw students away from sinister groups like cults.
The issue of university autonomy has been on the burners for a long time, only generating heat between the government and the university administrators. University autonomy debate has been coloured by the suspicion by ASUU that it is a World Bank/IMF strategy to push for privatization of the universities or withdrawal of government funding.

 But what is hardly debated is why a lecturer who at the University of Ibadan, UI, who has contract of employment with UI and enjoys conditions of service offered by UI, would expect another lecturer at say Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma, to go on strike when he has disagreement with UI? In other words, universities ought to be autonomous and independent in the employment, discipline and promotion of their lecturers, among other things.

The minister has however put this issue on the fast track. At least the matter is now at the stage of fine-tuning the law. The Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors, CVC, Prof Ayo Ibidapo-Obe, the Vice-Chancellor of University of Lagos, said the CVC has set up a panel to look into the implementation of the University Autonomy Act. Incidentally, the government, ASUU and CVC all want amendments to the Act, which is yet to be implemented.

Funding has remained a thorny issue between the government and ASUU. The Vice-Chancellor of the Niger Delta University, Amassoma, Bayelsa State, Prof John Busari, attributes the poor quality of graduates churned out of the universities to poor funding. Although funding has improved in the last five years, it is still below what ASUU has been fighting for.

 Even then, all the above problems are as they relate to the tertiary institutions. Public attention is often not focused on the problems of primary and secondary levels, where low or dwindling enrolment create educational imbalance among states of the federation and between the sexes. At the tertiary level, the problem is that of inadequate admission places. But some international institutions like DFID, UNICEF and IFC are assisting with funds to stem these problems.
Our educational system is faced with enormous crisis.

 It can only be appreciated if it is realized that prominent Nigerians, including highly placed public officers, are now sending their children to Ghana for university education while some ASUU members send their wards to some of the private universities! The crisis can only be stemmed by the cooperation of all stakeholders - the government, ASUU, parents, students and CVC. The principle of dialogue, which Prof Osuji has adopted in dealing with ASUU since he came to office, is an important step towards sanitizing the educational sector. It is under an environment of peace that the remaining matters can be tackled. The relative stability achieved so far offers a great relief to anxious parents and students often frustrated by disruption of academic programmes.






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