L-R: University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Benjamin Ozumba and Dr. Austine Avuru posing for a picture during the event. (Photo by Gideon Arinze)
By Gideon Arinze
The importance of knowledge and learning has been recognized since the beginning of time. Little wonder Plato once opined that if a man neglects education, he walks lame to the end of his life.
The Human Capital Theory also posits that investment in education has a payoff in terms of higher wages. Education is truly one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and it sets the foundation for sustained growth.
But a quick look into the quality of education in Nigeria would reveal that the sector is seriously lagging behind. From government’s lackadaisical attitude to corruption in the sector itself, it is nothing compared to what is obtained in other countries of the world, not even in Africa.
What then can be done to change the narrative? How can the sector be completely repositioned in other to meet with global standards? What is the role of the government in ensuring that the needed change in the sector is attained?
These questions and even more formed the crux of the discussion when students and scholars from all walks of life gathered at the University of Nigeria Nsukka for her 58th Founders Day lecture.
The guest lecturer was the MD/CEO, Seplat Petroleum Development Company plc, Dr. Austine Avuru. The venue was the Princess Alexandra Auditorium of the University.
Speaking on the theme: Education and Development in Nigeria: A dream betrayed, Avuru said that the education sector in Nigeria has fallen below standards as it is no longer what it used to be.
He noted that the government of the day does not take matters that concern the education sector seriously, a development which continues to affect the growth of the sector.
According to him, dearth of funding is the greatest challenge the sector is facing which can be seen in the poor amount of money the government allocates to the sector.
An analysis of the Federal Government budget allocation to education from 2000 to 2008 clearly confirms that the government is in the habit of allocating paltry sums to the sector, a Punch report reveals.
According to the report, the budgetary allocation to education was 8.36 per cent only in 2000, to decrease to seven per cent in 2001. In 2002, it increased again to eight per cent while in 2003, it went down to seven per cent, and rose remarkably to 12 per cent in 2004 only to fall back to 11 per cent in 2005 and 2006 respectively.
In 2008, the budget allocation rose to 13 per cent which is abysmally poor considering the minimum 26% budgetary benchmark recommended by UNESCO to enable nations adequately cater for the rising education demands.
In its proposal presented to the National Assembly, the Federal Government allocated 7.04% of the estimated 8.6 trillion 2018 budget to the education sector. The allocation was below the 7.40% the Federal Government gave the education sector out of the N7.4 trillion 2017 budget and even way below that of 2016 wherein the Federal government allocated 7.92 out of the total budget to the sector.
Yet another area that has constituted a major threat to the education sector in Nigeria according to Avuru is the dearth of qualified manpower. Owing to the dearth of funding in the sector, recruitment and training schedule of lecturers is no longer based on merit but on “who you know and what you can pay”.
He stated that the few technically qualified ones are leaving the profession in their numbers in search for private jobs. With the very few qualified teachers lost to other more lucrative professions, the question of who will impact knowledge into the upcoming generation becomes difficult to answer.
Little wonder a former Central Bank Governor prof. Chukwuma Soludo observed that if a company administers a test on 100 graduates in Nigeria, 71 of them will not be suitable for the job in his paper titled: The unfinished Business with the Banking revolution in Nigeria delivered at the University of Agriculture Abeokuta during her convocation ceremony.
The constant neglect of the education sector has often resulted in strike actions by various associations. In August, 2013, it would be recalled that the ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike to press home its demand for the implementation of the agreement it entered with the Federal Government. Later in September, the strike was called off after the Federal government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the body.
Sadly, five years after, the issues that led to the strike have not been addressed. Staff welfare is still nothing to write home about. With limited resources in the education sector, there is the preponderance of inadequate infrastructures, overcrowded classrooms and lack of qualified teachers.
Reacting to this, Avuru said that the quality of accommodation and facilities available to staff and lecturers, including educational facilities for their wards were formally such that lecturers were quite reluctant to leave the University environment to accept political appointments
He recalled that they were 47 students and the standard of education was comparable to anywhere else in the world when he enrolled into the University to study in 1976 but regretted that the situation has since changed, with population explosion and lack of adequate facilities and infrastructures that can aid learning now lacking in various institutions.
On the way forward, Avuru said that a simple but effective twenty-year master plan, whose execution must be consistent and painstaking, is required to get us out of this rot and put us on the path of sustainable development.
He reiterated the need for the government to re-order its spending priorities and make sure that education spending increase tenfold to over 20% of budget and 2.5% of GDP and maintained over the next twenty years to completely transform the education system and evolve a skills and knowledge-based society that can propel the economy to its full potential.
According to him, the government took on a massive capital spending, investing in everything they should have avoided- heavy industries, Aluminum plants Automobile Assembly Plants and neglecting the key sectors that should have been their priority- Education, Healthcare, security and social infrastructure.
He also said that meritocracy must prevail as the basis for recruitment in higher institutions, recalling that the recruitment and training schedules for young lecturers formally, were no less elaborate as most of the best graduands in each class were retained as Graduate Assistants for one session in their various departments after which they were shipped out to top Universities around the world to further their studies.
Singapore’s transformation from third world to first world in thirty years and subsequent establishment as one of the world’s most attractive investment and tourist destinations, he notes, was hinged on a solid foundation of carefully crafted educational development programmes.
Now is the time to urgently rekindle the dreams of our founding fathers. Now is the time to revamp the education sector as knowledge level is the critical foundation for creating wealth, a high quality of life and high average life expectancy.