EDUCATIONAL REFORMS IN NIGERIA: SUCCESSIVE YEARS OF INCONSISTENCIES AND CONFUSIONS
BELLO UMAR GUSAU, Ph.D
SCIENCE AND TECHNICAL TEACHERS BOARD GUSAU,ZAMFARA STATE, NIGERIA
GUSAU EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION (GEDA), INTERACTIVE SESSION. JANUARY 2008.
EDUCATIONAL REFORMS IN NIGERIA: SUCCESSIVE YEARS OF INCONSISTENCES AND CONFUSIONS
Educational reforms emanate from the basic conviction that considerable progress can be made in a nation by its people through careful engineering of the educational process.
Professor Micheal Omolewa(2007)
The above quotation is cited from a presentation by a learned scholar Professor Omolewa. It tells in a sentence what educational reform is all about. Nigeria has witnessed several educational reforms which started at pre-independence. It was to the credit of Nigerians notably agitators for self- rule that led the British colonial rulers to change the educational system in operation in 1954 from 8-6-2-3 system that is 8year primary, 6year secondary, 2year higher school certificate and 3year university to a new system 6-5-2-3 that is 6year primary, 5year secondary, 2year higher school certificate and 3year university. The change resulted in reducing the number of years at the primary and secondary school levels. Nigerians then were more concerned about education. It is viewed as a patriotic struggle to effect a change in the educational structure for the general good of the country.
The hope in the educational reforms continued to rekindle after independence. The freedom of self-rule Nigeria was enjoying had to match with educational progress. In September 1969 there was a National curriculum conference held in Lagos. Participants at the conference were eager to see Nigeria chart a new course in its educational system. Such a system they reasoned will empower the country towards the path of scientific and technological development. They criticized colonial education system as lacking in vitality and relevance. In short, the conference recommended changes in the system, from 6-5-2-3 system to 6-3-3-4 system; that is 6year primary, 3year junior secondary, 3year senior secondary and 4year university education. The recommended new system is simply American system of education which Japan ably copied after 1945 and succeeded. The likely prayer was “O lord shall we succeed as Japanese did”
The product the participants produced at the end of the conference was beautiful especially to a country that is hungry for development, for a country that wants to brighten its future. But when political authority picked up the document and shown interest in it, they interpreted it differently. They failed to realize that the document is a proposal produced by academics and interest groups. To put proposal into practice needs a careful planning. This was not done; the far reaching proposal was implemented with a military dispatch which later backfired. The intended result of this beautiful proposal was muddled up and so was never achieved.
The Beginning of Crisis.
Crisis in education started manifesting itself when government went all out to implement 6-3-3-4 system without adequate planning put in place. By planning, according to Segun Adesina(1980), as the process of applying scientific or rational procedures to the process of educational growth and development so as to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the educational system. The lower education specifically primary education was the first to suffer the effect of inadequate planning. Free Universal Primary Education was launched in 1976 but the policy on education itself appeared in 1977 one year after implementation of the programme. In this kind of situation where implementation is ahead of policy, confusion would certainly emerge. Needs assessment was not properly done; the end result was absence of adequate statistical data. For example on the launching of UPE three million children showed up as against 2.3million prepared for, a 30 percent underestimation. This has implications for classroom spaces, teachers, and equipment (Akpa 1988). The exercise triggered phenomenal rise in pupil population from 8.7million in 1976/77 to 12.5million in 1979/80 and reaching 15million in 1982.
Notwithstanding absence of correct data to implement the UPE, the Federal Government went ahead and took over all voluntary and mission schools and assumed full financial responsibility of running the scheme throughout the country. This was the period of boom; the government is awashed with petro-dollars. Ismaila (1988) commented, that 1975-1983 witnessed the launching of the gigantic educational programme in Nigeria. Above all it was a period of unprecedented financial imprudence, irrational planning, large scale corruption that culminated in a steep decline from boom to doom. In the absence of any comprehensive planning, the implementers of the programme have their leeway; they chose what was important and what was not important. Emergency contractors executing fictitious contracts became the norms, substandard buildings in the name of UPE scattered all over the country, half-baked teachers populated the teaching force, ghost workers were made part and parcel of the UPE programme.
The enormous responsibility Federal Government of Nigeria took in respect of the UPE programme cannot be sustained. The financial burden became too great that government began to shy away from its undertakings. As a face saving measure the then Obasanjo administration placed Primary education under joint control of States and Local Governments in the 1979 Constitution, where Local Governments had direct control over primary schools. To worsen the situation some states in the federation started reversing the policy by returning back voluntary and mission schools to their former owners. The falling prices of petroleum in the international market pass a dearth sentence to UPE programme. States and Local Governments could not fund primary education as such began to charge fees and what was left; UPE programme was neither free nor universal. It was simply a political expediency designed to impress Nigerian masses lacking nothing in substance.
Free universal primary Education was not designed to succeed and so destined to fail. The Military Government of Yakubu Gowon that announced the plan and the successor Government of Murtala/Obasanjo that went ahead and executed a defective educational programme with much noises and fanfare were the same actors that engineered the collapsed of UPE. The infamous burial ceremony of what was Free Universal Primary Education that met its untimely death was left to Shagari Administration. One cannot imagine that such ambitious programme as free universal Primary education could not be sustained by a nation awashed with money. Atleast the military prepared the 1979 constitution, if at all they believe in the programme , UPE should have been made sacrosanct and enshrine it as a national programme thereby protected from political and economic fallouts.
To notify Nigerians that UPE is dead, the revised National policy on Education 1998, pp 15 stated:
Government welcomes contributions of voluntary agencies, communities and private individuals in the establishment and management of primary schools along side those provided by the states and local Governments as long as they meet the minimum standards laid down by the Federal Government.
JUNIOR SECONDARY SCHOOLS IN LIMBO
Upon all the recommendations in the 1969 National curriculum conference, the three year Junior Secondary School known as JSS is the most revolutionary. Sadly, the JSS is the most bastardized, confused and poorly implemented segment of 6-3-3-4 system. Junior Secondary School was initially conceived as a stage itself made up of 3year duration. The curriculum is a hybrid of prevocational and academic subjects. The essence is to impart knowledge in Science, Arts and Technology. The 5year Secondary education is discounted as too academic and bookish and does not give room to those who are terminating their studies at that level to be useful and productive members of the society. Igwe (1988) opined that, the advantage of 3-3 system of secondary education therefore, is that it will equip its product both intellectually and vocationally depending on their areas of interest, aptitude and capability.
I think the JSS sector was meant to cut unemployment level among our youths by arming them with a sellable skill. But how was the JSS implemented. From the onset the implementers think more of buying finished technology and goods as basis of pre-vocational education. The Government busied itself shopping technology products from the cheaper Eastern Europe Markets; such as Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, etc. These products require steady supply of electricity to function. That neither National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) nor its successor Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) has the needed electricity to power these machines. Likewise alternative power arrangement was not made. Similarly the teachers required to operate these machines and teach students were not available. The end result was the machines were left to rust, stolen or wasted. The prevocational subjects which were meant to launch Nigeria into a respectable industrialized state with abundant pool of lower level manpower became a mirage. Pre-vocational subjects ended up having neither workshop nor qualified teachers. Subjects were theoretically taught just like social studies. The hope that the reform will enable schools to fabricate some of their basic needs such as chairs, desks, black-board, and beds never materialized, in fact some JSS students sit on the bare floor to receive lectures in contrast to the aims and objectives of the National Policy on Education.
Another serious issue which bedeviled JSS right from inception is the status of the sector. First and foremost the status of JSS is a contentious issue. The former old British system stubbornly refused to give way to a new order. The JSS birth though celebrated by Educational Planners as a paradigm shift in the education system designed to cut the umbilical chord that tied British education and the independent Nigeria. The essence of JSS is to launch Nigeria into a respectable industrialized nation. But, policy intent is different from policy implementation. The new JSS is housed under the old secondary school, whereas the intention was JSS should be a separate school. Host of reasons were given for the Governments(Federal and States) inability to implement the policy to its logical end; lack of funds; lack of infrastructures; lack of teaching staff; lack of land; lack of everything. One is free to ask, why should we be dragged into an educational reforms unprepared for its requirements?
Junior Secondary Education is in limbo, no one knows where it belongs. Is JSS a secondary school as originally conceived? Has JSS pushed back to primary school as extension of literacy and numeracy expected of primary education? Has the 9-3-4 system now in vogue demoted JSS to the fold of so-called basic education that now it losses its substance and incorporated as a wing of primary education? Why transfer JSS to Universal Basic Education Commission which is saddled with a multitude problems of primary education too numerous to handle? Are we tired of JSS that we decided to jettison the sector such that it will crash and disappear into primary education that will end up diluting the essence of JSS? Are we conceding that we have failed to implement a system of education that promises jobs for teeming Nigerians? America initiated the system and succeeded, Japan copied and succeeded, Nigeria copied and failed. This is the verdict.
To be fair, JSS is a secondary education. It should not be abused and transferred to Universal Basic Education Commission(UBEC) whose initial responsibility is to monitor and maintain the quality of primary education in the country, in other words to wash the rots of UPE. To saddle UBEC with secondary education that is both pre-vocational and academic is a misnomer. I am of the opinion that Government should start thinking of salvaging secondary education as a whole for the good of the country. It has been an established practice that every segment of education has a watchdog, universities have National Universities Commission (NUC), Colleges of Education have National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), Polytechnics have National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Primary Education has Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Why not establish Secondary Education Commission (SEC) to take care of Junior Secondary and Senior Secondary Schools? It will be a specialized commission that would learn the art of monitoring and controlling the quality of teaching and learning in tune with the National Policy on Education expected of secondary education. The Federal and States Ministries of Education can play a supervisory role of these commissions. My candid fear is we are demeaning the most important segment of the nation’s education, which is secondary education. A qualitative secondary education is insurance for progress in the country. By the time a student finished secondary education he can decide to work or continue pursuing his/her studies at tertiary institution. This can only happen if the quality of the products is assured.
Reforms Went wild
The reforms in education which in most cases probed disastrous to the system continue in the wrong direction. The success which Government credited to Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE) for its ability at selling public goods at give away prices was to be extended to education. Remember sell of refineries, fertilizers, insurance and steel companies. There were talks of privatizing campuses of Federal universities and other tertiary institutions, as they said for greater efficiency of resources. It was due to the concerted opposition of lecturers and students that finally laid to rest the impending doom. The planned privatization of Federal institutions continued to rage; this time around government targeted 102 unity schools in the country for sale as public private partnership (PPP). Opposition to the programme especially by the Association of senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) did not deter the government from its intended course. The former Minister of Education Dr. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili defended the Government with all the market forces jargons, thinking that all of us can be cajoled into accepting what was a public rape of trusteeship. As expected, Unity schools were sold in the eleventh hour of the Obasanjo administration; quite predictably to select few in Government. It is unfortunate government in Nigeria mistook education for manufacturing industry. Education is much more than a refinery, Cement Company or what. Education deals with a totality of humans, it is a right not a privilege. To privatize education is simply to render large segment of our society illiterates because poverty would not allow them access to quality education. The damage does not stay there; the unity schools actually promote unity in the country’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. Students who live and study together are most likely to tolerate and respect one another as compared with those students who were raised and nurtured in their ethnic enclaves.
In its excessive form Obasanjo’s educational reforms as championed by Ezekwesili became a cult; anyone who disagreed was shown the way out. It was not a surprise that senior civil servants in the Federal Ministry of Education kept mute, a wait and see attitude. The reverse of the transactions of the unity schools by the new Minister of Education Dr. Igwe Aja-Nwachukwu is certainly a relief to many of us who believe education is a right to all.
From the foregoing, one can discern the inconsistence and confuse nature of the Nigerian educational reforms. In the 70s government took over all voluntary and mission schools on the pretext of free universal primary education, this reform collapsed in less than a decade. Now the reincarnated Obasanjo administration gambled to sell the Federal Government Unity Schools to private capitalist, a complete 360 degrees U-turn. Then, what is the essence of educational reforms in Nigeria?
Neglect of the Inspectorate Services
One of the consequences of misguided reforms is the relegation of the Inspectorate Services, the quality control watchdog in the education sector to periphery. Federal and States ministries of Education shifted their priority to allocation of phantom contracts in the name of education.
Inspection is indispensable to acquisition of quality education. No educational programme will function effectively without a quality inspectorate service. The concept of inspection has now been changed to supervision. The change is necessitated by the perception of school inspectors as no less than police inspectors with a colonial mentality. They are seen as enforcers of discipline, their presence in a school is both fearsome and awesome to school teachers and administrators. They brook no nonsense as such do not tolerate incompetence to duty. Despite the shortcomings of the colonial inherited inspectorate services, the system is by far better than what we have today. School supervisors have lost their powers to ensure schools run according to the National Policy on Education, they are no more than insignificant nuisance in the education sector.
The repercussions of relegating the inspectorate services to periphery have manifested itself in the quality of education delivery. The standard of education has fallen, discipline in the schools has relaxed, and schools curriculums are not fully implemented. And what we end up having are examinations malpractices. Students struggle to acquire certificates at all cost without actually fulfilling the required educative process.
Effect of Misguided Educational Reforms
What had happened to primary and secondary education would invariably meet up tertiary education. The absence of specific agenda for the Nigerian education manifested itself in the tertiary institutions. These institutions especially universities became disorganized when compared with their counterparts in other developing countries such as Brazil, South Africa, lndia etc. Closure of the universities become the norms and so the dismissal of lecturers. Unconducive teaching environment, poor remuneration and threat of dismissal all tend to dampen lecturers’ morale. The university dons could not continue to tolerate the way and manner Federal Government is handling education; therefore they take to militancy by resorting to strike actions, an NLC (Nigerian Labour Congress) style. It is painful our dons are made to behave unbecoming of their status. Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASSU) and Federal Government engage in running battles from the time of Babangida Administration and continuing up to today with occasional truth brokered by self-style elders, traditional rulers and politicians. The Yaradua administration inherited this fiasco which lapsed and relapsed depending on the situation.
It is the failure of education reforms that made Nigerians obsessed with paper qualifications and chains of diplomas and degrees, which in most cases are not in the sciences or technology. Some so-called big men simply purchase their certificates in the open market. We forget that we go to school to learn skills which will enable us to make a descent living, to acquire knowledge which will help us reason rationally. Education is much more than acquiring certificates, it’s a life-long pursuit. Education should help student fashion his future needs, makes him dream of possibilities, and helps him contribute productively in the development of his country. Bill gate the Microsoft guru and the richest man in the world was so overwhelmed by his dream that he dropped from university and pursue his dream of simplifying computer to users, a cutting edge technology that only few people understood. Because he dropped from school does not mean he stopped learning. He continued to study and work hard, to Bill gate and his like, education is not just acquiring knowledge for its intrinsic value, it is a competitive enterprise that one has to continue updating himself as well as pushing the frontiers of knowledge forward. We want an education that can nurture such kind of people who can think ahead.
A mere change of government in the Nigerian context can result in educational reforms which in most cases are thoughtless exercise, mindless of future consequences. One of the funniest education reform hits students’ nutrition. Food issue is delicate to learner, but Nigerians being what we are seem to believe that we can get the best out of our universities and other tertiary institutions, whereas learners going to classes with empty stomachs. Students lost privilege to subsidized food since 1984 when General Muhammad Buhari upstaged President Shehu Shagari from power, Since then it is common campus language to hear some unusual numerical terminologies, 100, 010, 001 etc. These figures signify how many times per day you ate. If it is one time it could be 100 (breakfast), 010 (lunch), 001 (dinner). Our students are busy Fasting as well as battling with their studies. Students began to lose weight and so their studies also lose weight. One would like to ask, when did hunger and learning become friends?
I am of the opinion that a lot of people were discriminated from access to tertiary education due to poverty. I believe food situation at our tertiary institutions is one of the issues the new administration in the country should seriously look into with a view to ameliorate discomfort associated with nutrition.
Tertiary Education: Growth Without Development
As at 1970 there are only six universities in Nigeria, they rose to thirteen in 1979 now we have eighty nine. The growth shows federal has 27, States 30 and private sector 32. To establish as many qualitative universities is not just necessary but also desirable, on the other hand, unplanned creation of universities is not just undesirable but also dangerous.
It seems we are revisionist in our practice to tertiary education. We do not have to follow the history of evolution of universities before we have one. It is true that most oldest universities are religious establishments both in the Islamic and Christendom. Al-azhar University in Egypt evolved from mosque as Islamic centre of teaching and learning. Same with the Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England, they were meant to teach Christianity.
In Nigeria for the last eight years, the National Universities Commission (NUC) indiscriminately issued license to all sorts of interest groups; State Governments, Religious bodies, Bussiness tycoons and who knows whether local Governments would have their universities? It is imperative to ask. Do the newly licensed universities adhere to policy requirements of 60:40 science to arts admission ratio? Do these newly licensed universities have equipments and personnel for teaching and research? We have to remember that university is a community dedicated to teaching, learning, sharing of ideas, research and dissemination of research findings to the larger population, anything less than that is not a university.
It is disturbing if what the Newswatch magazine (September, 2007) was reporting about these newly licensed universities. Some of these universities are monolithic, they professed to one idea or mission as the only truth. In other words they are not just religious like Cambridge but also sectarian. Some test for HIV/AIDS, some test pregnancy in young female students, some prohibit eating of meat, and some beat their students as if university is a secondary school.
It seems we are Americanizing our tertiary institutions where all sorts of degrees are awarded and people are ready to get these junk degrees. To America, it is a choice, their system warrant that, their economy can withstand that. In nutshell, America and its education is awesome and attractive, because its science and technology is still ahead of other nations, so its economy. Out of the ten top universities in the world eight are in America and two in the United Kingdom that is why these two countries have confidence in their education. Compared with the Nigerian universities, that out of five hundred top universities in the world none is in Nigeria.
I think we have to revise growth of Nigerian universities. It has to be planned in such a way that we have a guided expansion that takes care of growth and development. University education is supposed to inspire in students to think critically on issues pertaining his society and come up with solutions that will uplift his society to a greater height.
Reforming education is not an easy task, it has to take care of all the relevant parameters such as; national needs, wider consultations, commitment, reliable statistical data, practicability, sustainability and quest for development that would make the reform desirable and useful to the society. Process of education reforms must march modern scientific and technological innovations for it to remain relevant to the learner and the nation. It also takes years for any meaningful educational reform to yield fruits. Nigeria must learn to plan its education and implement it with commitment and sense of direction for the greater good of all its citizens.
· Government should set up an independent committee made up of experts in the education to study various reforms in the education since independence and come up with a strategy that will enable the nation move forward.
· Government should accord every education segment its rightful place; in the sense every segment in the education sector should have codified objectives that are subject to periodical evaluations.
· Government should establish secondary education commission as a watchdog to secondary education in the country. The essence is to give secondary education the deserved priority that aims at making our youth arm with sellable skills and knowledge to continue with their studies.
· Policy haste in education never gives desired result. It would be better if policies are made in such a way that changes can be accommodated without disturbing the overall system in operation.
· Nigeria education should aspire for manpower training. Mass benefit approach to education has been heavily politicized and it is on its way out, and cost benefit approach is too sophisticated for the country.
· Students at tertiary institutions do suffer due to cost of feeding. It will be in the best interest of the nation if government could revisit tertiary institutions feeding scheme aims at subsidizing food at affordable rate to students.
· Government should work toward finding solution to incessant strikes at the tertiary institutions by academic staff. Only God knows loss incurs by the nation through such strikes. How would Nigeria hope to belong among 20 economically strong nations if its institutions of learning are paralyzed by strikes?
· Government should revisit licensing of universities and other tertiary institutions in Nigeria. This is to ensure the quantity of these institutions match the quality of tuition. A sort of guided establishment, expansion and development.
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