By Chika Mefor –
It was a day Nigerians anxiously waited for as the federal government finally took a drastic step to salvage the nations education sector.
Indeed, onlookers at the epoch making event were convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the government was all out to rescue the sector from the shackles and clutches of death with visible strategy overhaul it.
The retreat, which was the first ever on education organised by the presidency for members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and stakeholders in the education sector at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja recently.
At the retreat, with the theme; Education Sector In Nigeria: Challenges and Prospect, the minister of state for education, Prof Anthony Onwuka said during his welcome address that the move was aimed at beaming a searchlight on education and working out ways to achieved the desired change in the sector.
Onwuka said change is urgently needed in the education sector and this was clearly affirmed as the president Muhammadu Buhari addressed members of the FEC during the event.
He stated that the state of education in Nigeria calls for a serious concern adding that the nation cannot afford to continue lagging behind as education was a launchpad to a more successful, productive and prosperous future.
Mr. President reiterated that his administration was committed to revitalising the nation’s education system and making it more responsive and globally competitive.
To this end, he tasked the ministers and stakeholders in the sector to come up with feasible, implementable but far reaching action plan that would make education play its pivotal role as the engine that drives national prosperity and development.
Buhari emphasised that he was determined to get things right in the country, adding that to get it right means setting the education sector on the right path as no nation can achieve economic, social, political and cultural prosperity without a sound and functional education system.
In that spirit, minister of Education, Adamu Amadu proposed that the president declare a state of emergency in the education and substantially increase government’s investment in the sector.
With the N605.8 bn proposed in the 2018 budget for education sector, representing seven per cent of the budget, the minister lamented that Nigeria is seriously underfunding education, even when compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, and warned that the federal government would have to spend significantly more, if it would achieve its goals as a change government.
The minister noted that since 1999 when democratic governments returned, annual budgetary allocation to education in Nigeria has been between four per cent and ten per cent, as par with Nigeria allocate at least 20 per cent of their budgets to the sector.
He stressed that the N1 trillion yearly investment required in boosting the education sector, if honoured would be in line with the president/ APC’s campaign promises before the 2015 election.
While speaking on the challenges bothering the sector, Emeritus Prof Michael Omolewa, hinged the problem on poor policies made by the government which hardly captures those at the grassroot.
He lamented on the poor quality of teachers in the country which in turn has affected the quality of graduates produced by the nation.
Omolewa regretted that in spite of educational programmes for in the country, the rate of illiteracy and out of school children remains alarming.
Its is estimated that no fewer than 13.2 million Nigerian children are out of school in the country, with high illiteracy level, infrastructural deficit and decay, unqualified teachers, and inadequate instructional materials and other challenges bedeviling the education sector.
To get it right, Prof Peter Okebukola proposed ‘antidotes’ that will help revive the sector; generous political will by the Buhari administration, resourcing, that is ‘putting our money where our mouth is’ and finally, making the issue of education not just an ‘all government affair’.
Okebukola stated that focusing on the ‘ten pillars’ as indicated in the Ministerial Strategic Plan (2016-2019) developed by the education ministry will help revive the nation’s education.
The ten pillars include; out of school children, Basic education, teacher education, adult literacy and special needs education, basic and secondary education curriculum and policy matters, technical and vocational education, tertiary education, education data and planning, ICTs in education and library services.
In their various interventions, the ministers who spoke at the event, agreed that to lift the nation’s education forward, there was need for the private sector to be involved as government cannot do it alone.
The ministers of Mines and Steel development, Budget and National Planning, Youth, Health and Communication, Dr Kayode Fayemi, Sen Udoma Udoma, Barr Solomon Dalung, Prof Isaac Adewole and Barr Adebayo Shittu respectively in their separate submission, urged for monitoring of funds allocated for education, involvement of levels of government in reviving the sector as well as turning major universities in the country into center of excellence to encourage research.
Other recommendations accordingvto stakeholders are the introduction of education banks to encourage vocational education, review of UBEC counterpart funding, involvement of sports in schools, good enumeration for teachers and encouragement professionals in the teaching profession.
However, the vice president, Prof Yemi Osibanjo while concluding the event, declared that it should not be business as usual, with all talks and no actions.
He emphasised that the nation needs a clear objective of what is to be achieved while putting into cognizance that Nigeria will be the fourth largest population in a few years.
Osibanjo advised that if the sector is to be urgently salvaged, emphasis should be placed on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He stated that the country will join the rest of the world in learning through technology, since the classroom cannot no longer cope with the rising population.
The retreat was overall a success. A lot was said and documented, and Nigerians hope that it will be a turning point for the sector and not all talks as usual.
Emeritus Prof of the University of Ibadan, Pai Obanya said in an interview after the event, “if I had my way, I will stop all seminars, retreats and conferences and go ahead with action.”