Strong Political Will Needed To Tackle Rot In Education Sector –Amb Otobo

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As Nigeria celebrates 57 years of nationhood, experts are appraising the progress so far, in various sectors of the Nigerian nation. One of the most contending areas of the nation’s development is education. LEADERSHIP’s omonuyax-nelson took up the thorny issue of the push and pull in Nigeria’s education sector with an administrator and proprietor of Apa College of Education, Aidogodo-Okpoga, Okpoku local government, Benue State, Ambassador Ralph Otobo.

Globally, education has come to be acknowledged as the engine that powers human civilization and development. In this connection, the late anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela observed that, “The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation…Education that enables our children to exploit their similarities and common goals, while appreciating the strength in their diversity.

Similarly, the United Nation acknowledged the place of sound-early education when it noted that, “The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.” “To reach real peace in the world, we will have to begin with the children.” “It takes a village to raise a child.”

In appreciation of the foregoing, Nigeria set out to lay enduring foundation for its development, when it attained independence in 1960. However, 57 years down-the-line, experts are of mixed reactions as to how education has fared.  An education administrator, Amb Ralph Otobo observed that, Education in Nigeria has come under a lot of challenges namely: incessant strike, student unrests, cultism and so many other vices. “Most of the challenges in the education sector can be narrowed down to Teacher education. The teaching profession in our clime has over the years lost its prestige due to strike actions, poor remuneration and above all, challenges of unde rfunding. Though, some progress has been made but on the whole, getting the best is still a very long way.”

On the way to address the challenges with teaching profession and Teachers training, Amb Otobo reiterated that, to address the decay in the teaching profession, there must be a change in the way Nigeria as a nation value its Teachers. In Europe, Americas and other developing world, Teachers and teaching profession are the most valued people and profession.  In those climes, they have come to the realization that they cannot entrust the destinies of their children in the hands of just anyhow persons. But in Nigeria, that is not the case. Funding of Teachers training institutions is at lowest ebb. It seems, there is general disinterest in the issues of education from our policy makers.

If you want to understand what I am saying, sample the opinion of our children on their choice of profession, and you will be amazed at their responses. They will choose every other professions but teaching, why, because they know the welfare of Teachers in Nigeria is not a priority to the government. But, if you ask the same question in advance societies, even South Korea, where Teachers are treated like Kings and Queens, the answers will be different. There is a terrible orientation about the teaching profession in our country. In fact, people choose Teaching in our country as the last resort, that is, if every other opportunity is elusive. It wasn’t like that in the past in our country, when the choice of husband for most young maidens are people in teaching profession because, then, Teachers’ issues was on the front burner of government policies and this was reflected in their welfare and well being.

So, to tackle the challenge of dwindling interest in teaching profession, we must change our orientation. There must be general reorientation, especially, among the stakeholders to demonstrate their value for education by the way they treat Teachers.  By this, I mean, Teachers training institutions must be properly funded and remuneration enough for quality living, only then can we entrust the destinies of our children in the hands of Teachers and expect them to turnout the best.

Speaking on the failure of authorities at all levels to live up to their obligation of paying Teachers the meager salaries they are entitled, Amb Otobo appealed to Teachers in Nigeria not to give up. Assuring them that, with the current government, a better deal awaits the Teachers and teaching profession in Nigeria. He urged them to continue to improving their capacity in the profession. What do I mean, if you are a National Certificate of Education (NCE) holder, improve yourself to become a graduate: BSC, BA, B.Ed., you can even go as far as PHD.

On where Nigeria began missing it in the education sector, Amb Otobo said, the nation began to miss it from funding gap. He alluded that the first generation after independence still enjoyed quality educations. But with the intervention of the military, the standard of education began to drop.  And with the introduction of the Universal Primary Education (UBE) in 1976, enrolment increased dramatically, posing the challenge of inability of available Teachers to cope. By that, the quality of primary school leavers we produce to secondary schools and even universities began to drop. So, from 80’s to 90’s, we were not at our best but from 90’s, it became very obvious that the fortune of education in Nigeria was terribly nose-dived.

On the relevance and performances of interventionist institutions like Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), Amb Otobo affirmed that without the intervention of institutions like TETFUND, tertiary education in Nigeria would have totally collapsed. Most of the modern facilities you see here and there in our tertiary institutions can be credited to intervention institutions, especially, TETFUND. That is very sad.

When asked about the participation of the private sector in education with its attendant proliferation of private schools, Amb Otobo queried “what would have been the fate of millions of pupils who now attends private primary schools due to the collapse in the standard of primary education in about 30 states of the federation.’ The story is even more pathetic at the secondary school level. The tertiary institutions have become a shadow of what they should be. The private universities have lessened the burden of intake on public universities. Supposing there was no intervention by the private institutions’ I can boldly declare that the private sector intervention in education in Nigeria has contributed immensely to the maintenance of educational standard?”

On the politicization and corruption in appointment of Teachers, Amb Otobo tasked the government at various levels in our country to demonstrate the needed ‘political will’ in the de-politicization of Teachers appointment. Before, the situation was different. Teachers accept postings to rural areas gladly, today, all that have changed. Postings have been politicized. There are not enough funds to recruit Teachers but the few that are available are politicized, leaving the primary and secondary schools at the mercy of what we call ‘Parent Teachers.’  Strong political will is needed to tackle the ruts in education sector from the roots.

Amb Otobo explained the lowering of JAMB cut-off points for admission into Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education to 120 and 100 respectively in the 2017 intake. He said, contrary to the fears in many quarters, the reduction in cut-off marks for Colleges of Education will not affect the standard of education at the Teachers’ training institutions.  “For instance, in my College of Education, ‘the Apa College of Education’, the cut-off point is 140. It will also interest you to know that, most universities are not adhering to the cut-off point recommended by JAMB. Most of the universities are still using 170, 180 to 200. Nothing has actually changed. I think people should do the needful by trying to understand why JAMB took that decision.  It is just to open the space for institutions that has challenges but individual institutions still reserve the right to determine their cut-off points.