Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election penultimate week, the poser on education stakeholders’ mind is: Will he right the wrongs in the education sector this second term? Though rated average in his first term performance in education, his achievements, they say, can be improved upon to dwarf the percieved drawbacks, the stakeholders speak on how the sector can be improved upon in Buhari’s second term.
Will President Muhammadu Buhari meet stakeholders’ expectations in education? This seems to be the poser on stakeholders’ mind.
The President was given another chance penultimate weekend when he won the presidential poll, conducted on February 23. Though rated average in education sector, Buhari they believe, should use the next four years to right the wrongs in the sector.
The outgoing first term is plagued with pockets of industrial actions by workers in tertiary institutions, especially the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP); College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU); and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), among others.
Their agitations hinged on poor funding, improved welfare of members, as well as government’s failure to fulfil its part of the agreement signed with the unions.
To further worsen the situation, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), in December last year, issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to force a compromise with the striking teachers, failure of which it vowed to stage a nationwide protest to distrupt the general elections.
Early last month, ASUP’s National Executive Council (NEC) suspended its two month-old strike. A few days after, ASUU followed suit, putting on hold an industrial strike which dragged for nearly two months. The unions’ actions followed another Memorandum of Action (MoA) they signed with the Federal Government. Both unions warned the government of the consequences of not complying with the MoA.
“We have signed a new Memorandum of Action today (Monday). Each item contained in the MOA has a timeline attached. It is our hope that our trust will not be dashed again, we hope that the government will abide with the timeline attached to all the items in the MOA,” ASUU National President Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, said at a briefing in Abuja to suspend the strike. ASUP President Comrade Usman Dutse also echoed the union’s stance.
With the foregoing, it appears there is much work for the government to do to justify the confidence reposed in it against dismal budgetary allocations, poor infrastructure and instructional materials in schools, dearth of manpower development in critical areas, as well as insecurity in schools, to mention just a few.
Budgetary provision for education in this year’s budget, again, dipped in contrast to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO’s) 15 to 20 per cent of budgets recommendation for developing countries. The education sector got N620.5bn (about 7.05 per cent), a marginal rise over the N605.8bn allocated to the sector last year.
However, reactions from parents, students and others, who spoke to The Nation, revealed that the government must wake up from its slumber, have better listening ears and use the next four years to correct its mistakes and consolidate on its previous performance and gains.
A teacher at Reagan Memorial Baptist Girl’s Secondary School, Sabo, Yaba in Lagos, Foluke Ajayi, rated the Federal Government’s performance on education, with regards to infrastructure and curriculum development, low.
According to Ajayi, aside that some subjects overlap, various subjects are crowded into one, making learning difficult. “Starting from the curriculum, it is not stable and that is why students find it difficult to cope with so many subjects introduced, as well as the topics involved. Also, the merging of some subjects is really affecting students’ comprehension of some of the various subjects,” she said.
She continued: “Not only that, infrastructure in our public schools has become an eyesore, especially in the East, North and the rural area of the West. Instructional materials too are not readily available for students’ use. I also think Nigeria is endowed with a good number of educationists, who should be given the key portfolios to handle in education.”
Ajayi, however, commended the free meal initiative in some states, but condemned the poor remuneration of teachers. “The free meal given to students in some states is commendable, but inspection to schools is not there as it once was. I still disapprove the meagre remuneration of teachers. Also, the evaluation system of our students should be increased,” she said.
Corroborating Ajayi, a teacher at Amazing Grace International School, Idi-Araba, Lagos State, Ebong Solomon, is not positive of a change in the sector. “In my own opinion, it looked like the same cycle all over again. Strikes, poor WAEC NECO and JAMB results are what we will (continue) to have. Also, the budgetary allocation to education is low, and there is the need to invest more in the sector,” he said.
The duo’s stand was coroborated by Tosin Babayeju, who teaches at Lead’s Legacy Private School, Ikotun, Lagos.
Babayeju urged the government to come up with new mode of teaching that will impact on delivery, adding that more educationists should be recruited, especially in public schools.
Nonetheless, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nssuka, Stanley Onyemechalu, has a different view. According to him, there has been significant improvement, especially in universities, adding that the government only needs to do more this time.
He said: “I believe (President Muhammadu) Buhari’s administration did its bit in terms of seeing to the welfare of staff in universities. During this administration, there was commendable growth in the universities workforce to help cater for the ever increasing number of undergraduate students. Similarly, TETFUND (tertiary Education Trust Fund) played a more robust role in funding infrastructure and research.
“However, I feel a whole lot more still needs to be done, especially regarding infrastructure and staff allowances. Nigeria’s budgetary allocation to its education sector still falls below the UN benchmark. This has resulted in shortfalls in educational infrastructure.”
A lecturer in the University of Ilorin, who identified himself as Abdulgaffar, also pitched his tent with Onyemechalu. “I will score Buhari’s government 50 per cent for several reasons.
“Firstly, I think the budgetary allocation for educational sector is insufficient. Based on the fact that government is giving so much attention to infrastructure, there is the feeding program in primary schools and the likes, but I believe there should be a little bit more. We all understand that the primary sector is the foundation that we need to build; there is still a need to focus on secondary schools.
“Unity Schools can be described as living in past glory. Those of us, who attended unity schools know what quality we received in those days. Unfortunately, most of us now would not be proud to send our children to the same school we attended, based on the decline in quality.”
A parent who lives in Ikorodu, Mr Deji Dauda, said: “There was really not much of improvement from them (government),” he noted.
He continued: “The government paid attention to other sectors like infrastructure, power, security, which are very important, but we should also realise the fact that stability needs innovations, which all significantly comes from the education sector.
“They boasted about carrying out their promise concerning the “one meal per day” for every child in government school, but I don’t think this was done in all public schools nationwide. So, I feel there should be a regulatory body looking into this and making sure it really works out well.
“Another area of concern to me is the tertiary education. Students are being delayed due to strikes, and making them spend more time in school than necessary.
“Again proper screening of teachers should be a priority for this new government. We have heard in so many schools in some parts of the country how their teachers could not even score 20 per cent from the examinations being set for the students,” he said.
Mr Ojo Omikunle of His Grace College, Aboru gave government a pass mark. “The government has really tried concerning the educational system in the last four years, with some challenges though,” Omikunle noted.
“During the last four years, the government made basic education compulsory for pupils, which we all know is the foundation of every child. Other good things like the free meal a day is also there. The government needs to continue from where it stopped so as to totally improve the educational system”.
Mrs Zarat Salman of The Spring of Life Private School Aboru, scores Buhari high. “President Muhammadu Buhari has really tried. He is a man of vision and mission in every aspect,” Mrs Salman argued.
A parent, Mr Adeyemi Alao, thanked the government for starting a campaign meant to entrench only professionals in teaching, urging the government to consolidate it in its second term. “The government has introduced the teachers’ professional examinations (TPE). In the next four years, we hope the government will make more effort in improving educational system by building more schools, providing good furniture for students, reducing school fees, employing more qualified teachers and provide job opportunities for the graduates.”
A student of Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech), Olaore Moturayo, is suggesting a fumigation of the education ministry. ‘’In my opinion, the manner government’s appointees are handling educational is unfair. Our President needs to sanitise the education sector, If possible, make some changes to those in charge of that ministry and replace them with more competent ones.”
Another YABATECH undergraduate, Simileoluwa Hassan, scored the Federal Government zero. ‘’The previous government’s involvement in the educational sector is zero because there is no difference between the regime and that of (former president) Jonathan. “They neglect the educational sector in preference for other sectors, and abandoning the so call leaders of tomorrow.”
Nevertheless, a student of Political Science and Social Studies, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED) Oto/Ijanikin, Lagos, Rita Ohafi, had a different view. ‘’Well for me, there have been a marginal increase in the education budget. If you put that side by side with UNESCO recommendation of 15 to 20 per cent of the budget of the country, we will know where we are. I will like to see the next four years of Buhari’s administration become more focused on education because I haven’t seen the direct effect of fighting corruption, yet Nigeria has over millions out-of school children nationwide.”
Similarly, a public analyst, Mr Adedayo Mustapha, crucified the government’s performance in education. ‘’Without any fear of contradictions, successive governments in Nigeria could not have been rightly adjudged to have done much in the education sector. Aside the dwindling budgetary allocations owing to governments’ lack of commitment and sincerity, they have also failed woefully to see the education sector as a critical and pivotal segment of the economy.”
Mustapha, who praised the government for reaching a truce with aggrieved teachers in tertiary institutions, also applauded the government for its financial boost of the universal basic education.
He continued: “The commitment of the government in the education sector was equally further demonstrated by the reduction in the payments of registration fees for all public examinations, including the SSCE and UTME registration fees beginning from this academic session.”
Another parent, Mr Muyiwa Ologunja, is of the view that many of government efforts in universities are being overshadowed by greedy and unscrupulous private university operators, who operate within the corridors of power.
He said: ‘’This government has been performing very well in the educational sector. Why government’s achievements seem not to be noticed is that we have some owners of private universities in the corridor of power, and they have politicised the sector.”
He continued: “Sincerely, the government should earn praises in certain areas like the improved infrastructure through TETFUND. This government has deployed huge sums as capital project in every school than any other government. In my opinion, a lot still needs to be done to achieve better education system.
Mr Sunny Anthony, a teacher at Soulmate Secondary School, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, called on the authorities to speed up development in the tertiary education sub-sector.
‘’Educational sector in Nigeria across all levels, especially in the tertiary institutions, has continued to decline by the day. Academia in Nigerian universities are now bedevilled with corruption from lectures, who sell marks for sex and cash. Awarding of degrees through merit has been bastardised. We now have PhD holders without thesis, and journals to support their research.
‘The government should arrange a meeting of all stakeholders to review the decaying educational system and profer solutions to them. The government should also set up a screening board to checkmate fake lecturers in our university system, while merit should replace mediocrity.”
A 400-Level student of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management, Lagos State University (LASU), Mulero Joseph, lamented how ASUU strike has further extended his years in school.
‘’The President is usually silent on educational matters. But for the elections, ASUU strike will not have been called off. For instance, ASUU strike has extended my graduation and those coming behind me. The Federal Government should try to find solutions to incessant strikes.
“Besides, school’s curriculum is very shallow and lowering of JAMB scores in universities, tertiary institutions has reduced the standard and quality,” he said.