No one is in doubt today that the standard of education in Nigeria has been on a dangerous decline. Even the optimists in the system are concerned about the decadence in the sector. But the solution to this disturbing development as recommended by the Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Anwukah, is, in our opinion, off trajectory. The minister, in a rather weird twist of mind, suggested the idea of a one year re-schooling of fresh university graduates in some kind of special institutions to make them employable.
Anwukah’s option reinforces the fear that policy makers in the education system may have run out of ideas on what to do to manage the time bomb threatening to explode. For whatever this idea is worth, it comes off strongly as a crafty escapism from a system that has not been doing enough for education. That bamboozling recourse, if implemented, will invariably come to a quicker and stickier end than the barren Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) it seeks to substitute.
While the good news in the minister’s proposition is the clear government’s admission of failure in living up to its responsibilities, one can hardly wrap ones head around the possibility of government providing special post-graduate training institutions on a scale that would absorb the army of graduates that our universities churn out yearly. When in place, it would imply that every discipline must have such institutional super-structure because it won’t stick for instance to re-school a geography and pharmacy graduate in the same class and with same curriculum. Again, what is the guarantee that funding will not hobble the re-training institutions as it has the universities? Maybe, the education minister may wish to know that the root cause of the problem of poor quality graduates anchors deeper and far beyond the length and layers of training. How sympathetic the academic space and infrastructure are to teaching and learning is critical. Within the federal and state universities, it is the function of government to work this out.
While we agree that the 44-year-old SIWES scheme has left much to be desired in its core area of helping Nigerian students studying professional courses get complementing hands-on experiences from companies operating in the area of their disciplines, we are persuaded to pose the question: who takes the blame for this? Government should learn to take responsibility when and where it failed. That way, it will seem it is prepared to make amends. The failure of a project the government solely drives can only be government’s fault. If the government cannot rework the SIWES programme to be productive and goal-oriented, it should thrash it. Its replacement, however, should not be with something as obfuscating as Anwuka’s proposal.
In another breath, we find it misleading for the minister to artfully put the cause of poor outcomes from Nigerian universities entirely down to the institutions. It should be noted that while UNESCO’s recommended benchmark for budgetary allocations to education in developing countries is 26 per cent, budgetary allocations at the federal level in contemporary Nigeria for education swing, miserably, between seven and eight per cent and often plunges to six per cent of which what may eventually be released could be just half the amount by the end of the fiscal year.
What obtains in the states is not encouraging either. Yearly, the total budgets of the 36 states give no higher than a cumulative of 11 per cent to education. Like individuals, nations reap what they sow. While we acknowledge the financial interventions for research in the universities from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND, and grants from the National Universities Commission, NUC, we note that academics go through hell and high waters to access them and often have to give up for all the troubles. Worse is that there is no single research funding agency in the country. How can the country expect products of a destitute system to be collector’s items?
This is not to say that the problems in teaching and learning in Nigerian universities come down only to inadequate funding. It is a fact that the many different ways available to students for procuring marks from lecturers and even degree certificates from the universities have relegated the importance of hard work among many students. Even the admission policy which more often than not emphasise quota system play a huge role and dilutes the quality of the final product.
It is the view of this newspaper that Prof Anwukah’s proposal is not likely to add value to the discussion on how to effectively manage graduate unemployment in the country and must be ignored.
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