OPINION

OPINION: EDUCATION – THE WAY FORWARD BY Dr. Uche Diala

I penned these thoughts in contribution to a discussion on ‘Next Level with PMB’ platform where one Comrade opined that there have not been ‘drastic’ enough steps taken in addressing our challenges in the Educational sector. I largely agreed and expounded further thus:

While so many commendable things have been done in the area of education by the President Buhari Administration, I sincerely do not think they have been drastic or revolutionary enough to match our expectations from this government as a revolutionary government.

We have a couple of fundamental challenges in our education system. Some of the key ones include; Poor enrolment and hence a high number of out of school children, Poor quality of education and abnormal emphasis on theoretical/academic qualification rather than practical and hands-on education that inculcates life skills and vocations which make people self reliant, independent minded and self employable.

While the Free School Feeding program and other such programs have immensely contributed to addressing the problem of poor enrolment in school at the primary level, I am not so sure that the quality of education offered has improved at that level and overall. When basic things like primary school buildings are not provided or renovated and pupils still sit under trees to study.

The consequence of the above becomes more apparent and consequential as we assess Secondary and Tertiary Education. It’s all too obvious when one considers the quality of graduates our various educational institutions produce. They are largely unemployable across all disciplines.

One can argue and rightly so that it wasn’t a problem that was a day in the making or that it was not created by this administration but the key question is; What have we laid on ground to ensure a reverse in the next decade?

What ‘drastic’ steps would I suggest or expect?

1. While we know that there’s need for more schools considering our population, I make bold to say that no education is safer than half baked education. As a matter is fact the later is dangerous. What am I saying? Many schools or academic institutions we have today are not worth the signposts on which their names are written.

Therefore many of such schools should be summarily shut down and or made to merge with other institutions better planned and structured to deliver qualitative and transformational education.

It is better to have one mega Institution that has the neccesary capacity (physical and intellectual) to impart quality education than numerous mushroom schools set up just to massage people’s ego or to meet a quota system. It also saves costs because one institution would reduce the number of Administrators 10 different smaller schools would have for instance and enforcement and monitoring of standards would be easier. Also integration amongst students and staff would be better enhanced.

The so called ‘democratization of education’ has been counter productive. Most state owned higher institutions are mere glorified secondary schools both in their physical structures and in their academic offerings and these severely affect the quality, confidence and level of exposure and sophistication of their products.

2. The emphasis on paper qualifications has not helped. Rather it’s filling up the national space with certificate carrying youths/graduates milling around looking for white collar jobs (which they are not even well prepared for in character and learning) at the expense of our technological and related developments.

The harmonization of salaries of holders of HND and Bachelor’s degree is a step in the right direction but that should be followed by a paradigm shift of focus from theoretical education to practical education and training that would drive our nation technologically and make people more self employed than seek government or other employment.

Therefore some ‘drastic” moves in this respect in my view could include:

– A deliberate Reworking and Change of our educational Curriculum to deliberately shift focus to practical, hands-on and result- oriented education – Information Technology, Mechanics/Engineering, Power, Nuclear, Wood, Steel, Oil and Gas, Agricultural Technology etc.

– A Moratorium on Licencing and Accreditation of new circular Institutions for say a period of 10 years.

– Compulsory conversion of many of the existing academic institutions to Monothechnics and Polytechnics.

– A holistic Audit, Inspection, Assessment and Evaluation of all existing Institutions across the federation by a special Task force made up of credible local and international educators and education planners that would be shielded from the sharp practices that currently characterize inspection and accreditation so as to determine which Institutions actually meet some clearly spelt out minimum international standards and outrightly shut down those that fall below or merge them with others.

In furtherance of what ‘drastic’ steps we can take, what is wrong for instance with us designing a standard Primary school model for Nigeria? I mean buildings and required facilities for optimal learning. Then determine the minimum number of primary schools each state should have and enforce the building of such standard and model of schools and upgrading of existing ones that fall below that standard/model/requirements nationwide. This could be done within a specified period of two years.

I very well understand the argument about funding and education being a shared responsibility between the various tiers of government but in a dire situation as we have today, the FG has to lead, be bold, creative and think out of the box. If it requires the declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector to enable the Federal government take full charge, set the agenda and get things done, then let it be done already because it’s surely an emergency.

One advantage of taking ‘drastic steps’ like these is that it sends a clear and firm message about the direction we want to go as a nation and a government. Tokenism will only get us so far and we don’t have all the time in the world.

This is why I have actually advocated that this government pick and define few particular areas it wants to bring about a revolution in, stay on them and build a lasting and undeniable legacy while also paying attention to other areas. If you ask me, I would say Education, Road/Rail Infrastructure, Power and Agriculture.

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