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EDUCATION

2017: Education Still Taking The Back Seat

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Education did not fare any better in 2017 as underfunding continued to be a major issue. Industrial actions filled the atmosphere as students of public higher institutions were kept out of school, writes BUKOLA IDOWU

Nigeria’s education sector had in 2017 received much lower than the 26 percent of national budget, as recommended by the United Nations. In 2017, the federal government budgetary allocation to the education sector was N540.01 billion. This was about 5.41 per cent of the total budget to the sector in 2017, which is still far cry from the 26 per cent of the nation’s fiscal budget, recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Except Sokoto and some few states that budgeted 26 per cent of their budget to education, some states’ allocation to the sector was less than 10 per cent. Although the Federal Government Home Grown School Feeding Programme for pupils in public primary schools had taken off in 19 states the previous year with over 5 million pupils benefiting, mixed-reactions have continued to trail the implementation of the programme.

According to the National Co-ordinator of the Education Rights Concern (ERC), Taiwo Hassan, who decried the poor budgetary allocation to the sector, the “school feeding programme can prevent truancy only to the extent that the pupil have something worthwhile to engage them while in the four corners of the class room.

“Going by the 2018 appropriation bill as well as the extant policy of education commercialisation and the culture of intolerance of democratic rights, it is easy to tell that the education sector will be in stormy waters come 2018.

“Already, the budget proposal for 2018 allocates a paltry sum for the funding of the sector, which implies that the public primary and secondary schools will largely remain in their deplorable conditions with inadequate facilities and Ill-trained and poorly remunerated teaching and non-teaching staff. It seems the Buhari-led government in its wisdom thinks that only free meal can sustain an education system or how can the paltry allocation be justified compared to the daunting challenges?” he queried.

The lack of funding of the sector extended to the pay of teachers as many states owed many months of salary arrears.  To the president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, many states have refused to provide the required matching grants leading to billions of Naira lying fallow at the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), while Nigerian public primary and secondary schools have continued in their scandalous state of disrepair.

He said the situation has compelled poor parents to patronise mushroom private nursery and primary schools that are miseducating innocent Nigerian children. The issue of unqualified teachers in the public education system also came up in 2017. The Kaduna state government had announced plans to sack over 21,000 teachers in the state primary and secondary schools, who were alleged to have failed the Primary IV competence test conducted for them. The move, which was condemned and challenged by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), has since pitched the union against the state government.

The ASUU president noted that the “criminal neglect of public institutions has also crept into provision of tertiary education especially the universities. This is most evident in budgetary allocation. In the last three years, for example, allocations to education have slid from about eight per cent to six per cent. New tertiary institutions were whimsically established without any idea of how they will be funded or what to do with the older ones.”

Commenting on the state of the Nigerian education sector in 2017, the former Vice-Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Prof. Femi Mimiko, expressed worry over the nation’s education sector, saying: “We must return education to where it should be, to the laps of the federating units, with the central government only focusing on quality assurance.

“The virtual collapse of infrastructure of education at all levels across the country must be addressed. We must fine-tune our curriculum, especially at the tertiary educational level, to make our education serve the purpose of the national economy, and accord global relevance to our products.”

On his part, the National Public Relations Officer of  Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Mr. Abdulsobur Abdulsalam in his appraisal of the sector insisted that the educational sector in 2017 has been a colossal disappointment.

“As far as public universities are concerned, we have witnessed a spate of industrial actions, which would have been avoided if government had acted responsibly,” he added, lamenting that the union has been on strike for almost a month now for reasons which would have been avoided.

He described 2017 as indeed a very bad year for education sector, saying “the government has in 2017 shown a clear lack of direction and insincerity to move the sector forward. The budgetary allocation for education in 2018 has shown no clear political will on the part of the government to cause a change. Things only got worse in 2017 and there is no hope in sight in the coming year.”

During the year, ASUU had embarked on strike for more than five weeks and only a few weeks after they were able to reach an agreement with the federal government and resume lectures, SSANU along with Non Academic Staff Union and Associated Institutions (NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) had embarked on strike. For more than four weeks now, universities across the country have been shut down as the federal government and the Joint Action Committee is yet to reach an agreement.

“Coming into closer perspectives, the strikes embarked upon by the non-teaching unions in the universities under the auspices of JAC were avoidable. However, because of the bias, incompetence and mischief of government officials a strike is ongoing and our universities are not working.”

Worried by the inadequate universities in the country to meet the growing need of university education for the teeming youths, the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Abubakar Rasheed has said that the best solution to address the inadequacy of the existing 585 higher institutions to cater for the people’s yearning for tertiary education, lies mainly in the country’s ability to adopt quality and effective open and distance learning model of education.

To address this, the federal government, through NUC approved the establishment of seven private universities so as to create more access for university education. The reports of Visitation panel to 13 higher institutions by the Federal Ministry of Education are yet to be made public.

Looking into 2018, the former Vice-Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Prof. Femi Mimiko, who expressed worry over the nation’s education sector, said “we must return education to where it should be, to the laps of the federating units, with the central government only focusing on quality assurance.

“The virtual collapse of infrastructure of education at all levels across the country must be addressed. We must fine-tune our curriculum, especially at the tertiary educational level, to make our education serve the purpose of the national economy, and accord global relevance to our products.”

Former Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly and former Chairman, Ondo State Teaching Service Commission, Dr. Bakitta Bello, on his part called on the government at all levels to pay the required attention to the sector in 2018, if the country would take its lead in the comity of nations, although he expressed fear if that could be possible going by the government budget to the sector.



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