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Public Education in Nigeria at the Crossroads

Article Written by Osondu Jude Nzekwe

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Saskatchewan, Canada

A cursory glance on the quality of education in Nigeria today reveals that Nigeria is a long way from reaching neither the promised land of Education for All by 2015 nor its wide dream of being one of the 20 best world economies by 2020. The Nigerian education system which produced world renowned scholars in the past has become a shadow of itself today. The rot in the nation's education system has reached such a deplorable proportion that if not summarily addressed now; subsequent generations of Nigerians will continue to suffer its consequences.

he Central Bank Governor, Professor Soludo recently painted a heart rending picture of our education system in a convocation lecture he delivered at university of Agriculture Abeokuta. In his paper entitled "the unfinished business with the banking revolution in Nigeria", he said among other things that "if a company administers a test on 100 graduates from Nigeria's higher institutions, 71 of them will not be suitable for the job". Even more recently the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki -Moon speaking at opening of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Ghana mentioned Nigeria specifically as one of the countries in Africa that may not meet the millennium development goals set for 2015. What is even more shameful is that out of the three countries - Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda - singled out for making 'significant strides' especially in increasing primary school enrolment none equals Nigeria by any measure.

These scary situations painted by the Central Bank Governor and the Secretary General of the United Nations are only a tip of the iceberg. The worst is yet to come if the government continues to tread the unpatriotic path of neglecting the importance of education in human and national development.

Funding is perhaps the greatest bane in the education sector. An analysis of the federal government budget allocation to education from 2000 to 2008 showed clearly that the government is in the habit of allocating less money to the education sector. In 2000, the budgetary allocation to Education was 8.36%, it decreased to 7.00% in 2001, it increased again to 8% in 2002, while in 2003 it went down to 7.00%, it rose remarkably to 12.00% in 2004 only to fall back to 11% in 2005 and 2006. In 2008, the budget allocation rose to 13% which is still nothing near the minimum 26% recommended by UNESCO. Even at that it has been applauded by Nigerians as the budget of hope for the education sector. But if Nigeria's allocation to education is compared to other less affluent countries in Africa it becomes clearer that a lot more needs to be done. With limited resources in the education sector there is bound to be inadequate infrastructures, over crowded classrooms and lack of qualified teachers to mention but a few.

Most public primary and secondary schools in Nigeria are in pitiable condition -- with leaking roofs, cracked walls, no writing desks, no writing materials, no libraries, no laboratories, not even chairs and tables for students and teachers (Vanguard online Wednesday October 12, 2005). During a tour of educational institutions in Sokoto state in 2006, the then Governor Attahiru Bafarawa simply described the condition of most primary schools in the state as a "disaster". Bafarawa who met pupils in most schools either sitting on bare floor or taking their lessons under trees blamed the local government chairmen for not taking their responsibility seriously as they watched primary and secondary schools in their localities degenerate to such despicable conditions. An inquiring mind, however, may want to know why the governor only started visiting the schools at the twilight of his stay in office if they actually meant anything to him. More importantly it will be interesting to know the conditions of those primary and secondary schools after Bafarawa's years in office.

According to the Nigerian policy on education, for effective teaching and learning, the teacher pupil ratio shall be 1:35 (Nigerian policy on education, 4th edition, 2004). But the practice is far from this policy. Cases of a teacher facing a class size of more than 50 pupils/students are a common sight. With such a number of students in a classroom much of the instructional time will definitely go into classroom management. If there is any time left for instruction only God knows what such a teacher can achieve. A remedy for this would have been more classrooms and more teachers. But the qualified teachers are not just there or where they are, the government wants us to believe there isn't enough money to pay for their services.

Another significant area that has posed serious challenge to the education sector in Nigeria is the dearth of technically qualified teachers. Because of the dwindling prestige of the teaching profession occasioned by the poor remuneration of teachers, there are very few serious minded individuals going into education today. The few technically qualified teachers are leaving the profession in droves in search of greener pasture. With the very few qualified teachers lost to other more lucrative professions, the public schools are left with the only option of employing anybody to teach anything.

Studies have shown that about 20% of teachers in Nigerian schools are technically untrained in that they do not possess even the teachers grade two certificate which used to be the minimum requirement for teaching in the country. When the new minimum teaching qualification (Nigerian certificate of education NCE) is taken into consideration, the proportion of professionally unqualified teachers in the nation's primary and secondary school becomes alarming. So with this enormous number of teachers teaching in Nigerian schools professionally unqualified, how can we expect high student achievement? Does one give what one does not have? But when desirable is not available they say, the available becomes desirable. This however, can not exonerate anybody from the blame of educational atrocities committed by these quack teachers. A lot of students have either been prevented from reaching their optimal potentials by these unqualified and half baked teachers or frustrated out from taking subjects that would have better placed them into courses that are in hot demand in the job market. The effect of this may follow them all through their lives.

To be fair, however, even qualified teachers in Nigeria operate from not too friendly environment. There is difficulty in having those tools required for efficient discharge of teaching responsibilities. Coupled with this is the fact that remuneration from teaching is not commensurate with the nature and demands of the job. Even with the low remuneration, teachers have to wait almost forever to receive their salaries. Most times the salaries are paid in arrears. In a condition like this, one would not ordinarily expect efficiency and effectiveness in teaching. It is not uncommon therefore to find teachers who engage in some seemingly unprofessional activities in order to cope with the demands of teaching under such unfavorable conditions. To compensate for the unattractive remuneration, some teachers combine teaching and trading even during school hours. There are cases of teachers selling food items and writing materials in public schools in Nigeria just to make ends meet. With most of their time and energy channeled into buying and selling, the teaching job definitely suffers. Teachers have no more time to make lesson plans or to engage in any professional development activities. Teaching profession demands total commitment, if any teacher hopes to make a difference. But where teachers are poorly remunerated and taken for granted, it will be difficult to find any teacher who will be ready to go that extra mile needed to make the difference in the lives of students.

The dignity of the teaching profession must be re-established in Nigeria if the profession will continue to attract qualified youths who will be dedicated and ready to impact students' academic achievement in a positive way. But in a country where the salary of a local government councilor is high than that of a university professor, how do you expect the young generation to go into teaching let alone in the public primary and secondary schools where salaries are even lower and irregular. Government must through grants, scholarships, better remunerations and conditions of service attract more university students into doing Education and consequently entering into teaching profession upon the completion of their degrees.

Without adequate plan to put in check the dwindling prestige of the teaching profession by providing commensurate remuneration to the job in line with what is being paid to other workers elsewhere, the profession will not attract the much needed technically qualified teachers that can help in pushing up students' academic achievement which will in turn translate into Nigeria being one of the best 20 economies in the world by 2020