There is now a unanimity of considerable opinion from knowledgeable and competent sources that Nigeria's educational sector is gravely sick and in urgent need of comprehensive surgical overhaul both from the policy direction and in the area of standards.
The question of whether the educational sector in Nigeria has collapsed is therefore a serious understatement because empirical body of evidence exists to suggests that what we should be doing right now as a nation is not lamentation over the spilt milk but to provide quality body of knowledge on how best to bring about a positive and transformational turn around to save the younger generations of Nigerians from the impending anarchy that may be unleashed should the decay in the educational system be sustained without any deliberate policy decision to have a radical and fundamental paradigm shift now.
Besides, many competent professionals especially those in the core area of the educational sector have also recognised that the survival of the Nigerian State as a viable, progressive and democratic society will depend on the state of educational systems beginning from the primary, post-primary and tertiary levels and also on how the political class and policy enforcers decide to grapple with the emerging challenges that this enormous task poses.
From our investigative research on where the rain started to beat us in the educational sector [apologies to late Professor Chinua Achebe], we came up with the findings that prior to the erosion of values and standards in the 1980's and 90's, Nigeria used to boast of a vibrant, progressive, highly and widely recognised educational system which compared favourably with any educational system in developed societies, despite the fact that Nigeria is still classified as underdeveloped.
Related to the issue of the fast collapsing educational sector is the all important issue of the total collapse of the national value system and what Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos state told an audience recently in Abuja at the public symposium by the Bishop Hassan Kukah center that Nigerians generally have abandoned our long cherished moral and religious value system and have rather embraced a new culture of consumerism and the unbridled quest for wealth at all cost. The Holy Father Pope Francis had also during his inaugural Mass about a year and half ago in the Vatican city also raised similar concern and called on humanity to have a rethink.
So still debating the matter of our fast declining educational standards, it is safe to state without any fear of contradiction that on the social front, the national value system has collapsed. Education which should be the nursery and relay point of positive values is itself being progressively crippled with corruption. This opinion is supported sadly with quality body of evidence because not too long ago the anti-graft agency- Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission even stepped into the matter of the erosion of our educational value when it launched what it called a national campaign against sexual harassment and money-for-scores on the campuses of Nigerian tertiary institutions. Although it is not clear how far this anti-corruption has gone but the fact remains that today the moral fabric of the educational system has collapsed spectacularly.
Experts say that the sub-culture of examination frauds and forged or purchased paper certificates describe the fibre of man power, who graduates into the labour market to service and in time, be leaders of the Nigerian State and society. A tree diseased from it's roots cannot produce healthy fruits, according to a wise aphorism.
And so there is now a national consensus that a diligent and faithful appraisal of the Nigerian school system would reveal that we have a tragedy in our hands. The standard of education is undergoing a free fall and nobody seemed to be worried. It is like Darwin's evolution theory in reverse. Instead of each successive generation of poor products to improve adaptively over preceeding generations what we have so says experts, is a progressive regression. In 2014 West African Examination Council school certificate examination Nigeria recorded the worst all round performance of just 14 % pass rate which ranks as the most spectacular show of shame of a generation of students who could not pass English language and Mathematics.
Our findings go to show that the very poor quality of the different levels of educational system is an indication of the depth of decay at each level.
Sadly, since the early 1980s, our educational system has been bedevilled and moribund due to many factors and circumstances, most of which were not unconnected with our well known and much talked-about vices of corruption , insincerity of our leaders and other woes.
In fact, the military governments we have had contributed so much to the collapse of our educational system than anything else. Could it be as a result of tribalism and nepotism? Could it be that this was a result of the low level of education achieved by these military boys who hijacked political power back then? Or was it just plain ignorance of these largely uneducated class of the enormity of the task at hand of recognising the importance of education in nation building? It could be recalled that under the General Sani Abacha-led military junta he went to the ridiculous extent of appointing military officers with virtually no rigorous academic qualifications as administrators of Federal Universities and indeed bastardised the educational standards.
The consequences of these systemic and institutional lapses are what we are witnessing today in the unusual high turn over of ''area boys'' in many states of the federation, even as cultism and manifestation of other moral vices have become overwhelming in our public and private educational institutions across Nigeria. Consequently, the erosion of value system in the schools have resulted in the involvement of many young persons in some social and organized criminal activities of armed robbery, even as many suffer the effects of very high unemployment.
Nigeria also is going through problems associated with the migration of our academicians and young people to other countries(brain-drain) in search of the elusive greener pastures, just as under-development, and general rot in the Nigerian society he set in.
The British school system we inherited at independence was a straight course to progress, but we have on our own introduced a labyrinth and a dysfunctional module that has seen most levels of educational system churning out half baked graduates that turn out largely unsuitable for any serious minded job and life after school. In the last three decades, education planning had been a knee-jerk enterprise bereft of feedback mechanism and control. It is like Markov chain in mathematics where future development of each event is independent of historical events. Each Minister of Education wants to be identified and glorified with a new policy even if there is nothing
wrong with the existing policy.
Historically, at independence, it was 6-5-2-3, which means six years in primary school, five years in secondary school, two years in higher school, and tree years in the university. In the mid 1980s it was abolished on the flimsy excuse that students no longer do well in Higher School Certificate Examinations. Ghana retained its higher school and so did the United Kingdom. It is a well known fact that it is almost impossible to gain entry into top five British Universities including Cambridge, Oxford, London School of Economics and Imperial College etc without Advanced Level certificate. The current 6-3-3-4 system is being run with eyes closed to its aims and objectives. The sound school system bequeathed to us at independence by the British has been deprived of it's soul through bad leadership, corruption, frequent change of policy and poor planning.
In a School Certificate examination written in 1968, Master David Adeoye and Miss Margret Ologun produced the best results in Mathematics and Health Science respectively in Nigeria, they were students of Akoko Anglican Grammer School, Arigidi-Akoko, Ondo State. They were children of farmers with a meagre income. They achieved those outstanding feats partly because they had a sound primary school, all primary schools in Nigeria including remote areas were good. Isn't it ludicrous that some parents now pay up to #1 million per annum as fees for children in primary school?
It is a notorious fact that a lot of people who achieved fame and fortune in their different fields of human endeavors actually read in the early 1950's from their homes. Chief Afe Babalola [SAN] who owns one of the best private universities in Nigeria and one of the nation's most successful legal minds took most of his early post primary and tertiary educational lessons on correspondence before actually enrolling in a former academic environment.
Speaking about policy inconsistencies, it would be recalled that the 1979 constitution made the first six years of primary education compulsory. Recent years have seen a marked growth in educational facilities. Projected adult illiteracy rates for the year 2000 stood at 35.9%(males, 27.7%; females, 43,8%). But even with the passage and enforcement of the Universal Basic Education [UBEC] Act which speaks to the issue of free and compulsory primary and junior school education for all Nigerian children but sadly not all states of the federation has the capacity and capability to access the funds meant for these educational activities. There are now up to 10 million out of school children in Northern Nigeria according to some estimates from the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization [UNESCO].
The existence of this large number of out of school children in Northern Nigeria brings us then to the issue of advancement in education in southern states, compared with the relative lag in the northern states which is said to reflect the contribution of Christian missions to the Nigerian educational system.
In 1994 there were 16,190,947 students in 38,649 primary schools, taught by 435,210 teachers. In secondary schools, 4,451,329 students were taught by 152,592 teachers. The pupil-teacher ratio at primary level was estimated at 37 to 1.In 2001, the federal government reported that the falling standard of education in Nigeria is caused by acute shortage of qualified teachers in primary school level.
It is reported by experts that about 23% of 400,000 teachers employed in the nation's primary schools do not posses the Teacher's Grade Two Certificate of Education(NCE) which is the minimum educational requirement one should posses in the nation's primary schools(Ogbeifun and Olisa;the Vanguard online, Jul 1,2001). As of 1995.
Most of these schools are in dilapidated condition with facilities that have virtually collapsed thereby exposing the lives of pupils to imminent danger. This shows that Nigeria has a disjointed and an opaque value system. For instance ,the salaries of less educated local government counsellors are higher than that of University Professor.
There is therefore no doubt that something is obviously wrong with any society that does not take her educational system seriously.
As of 1995, public expenditure on education was 0-5% of GDP. Till date the federal government has been reluctant to implement fully the agreement reached with the Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU) since 2009 to improve facilities in the ivory towers leading to the 2013 strike which lingered for quite some time before it was eventually called off after almost one full academic year just after the striking teachers were settled with generous allowances but the main issue of poor standards of facilities of learning in all the public universities is yet to be attended to.
Currently no Nigerian University is rated highly globally even as a recent report has it that certificates from the University of Port Harcourt is no longer acknowledge as entry point qualifications for post graduate studies in some ivy league universities in the Western World going by the findings of a Non-Governmental Organization based abroad.
Nigeria's yearly budget to education hovers dangerously around 9%. Compared to the annual budget for education in Swaziland 26.6%; Ghana 31%; South Africa 25.8%; Uganda 27% etc. Instead of investing money in education, the Nigeria political elites prefers to loot public treasury by diverting almost 80% funds meant for development into their private pockets according to the World Bank report.
A lawyer in Abuja Miss. Sylvia Nneka Okonkwo reminded me while writing this piece that Derek Bok correctly stated 'if you think education is expensive, try ignorance''.
A lot of money has been wasted on workshops and seminars without addressing the root cause of the problem, if our educational system is not cured of its infirmities, in the next say 10 years our development process will ground to a halt. What is most disturbing is the indifference of our leaders to this decay in the school system, and those deprived remain silent as if they are under a spell. Those who masquerade as leaders of the students in the Universities go about marketing awards for money to politicians and care very little about the declining educational quality. The current education minister Mallam Ahmed Shekarau was accused of publicly burning books while he was the governor of Kano state and yet today he is the minister of such a serious cabinet level office as education.
To show that the standard of education has sunk in Nigeria was very alarming in a recent interview and survey conducted by Mr Oluwole Osagie-Jacobs an Economist and a chartered Accountant, he interviewed 21 secondary school graduates, and to his amazement only 5 out of them could divide the number thirty two by four. This question betrayed their poor knowledge of multiplication table as figures, 3 and 2 are not easily divided by 4. Out of the essays, just two could match that of a good primary six pupil in the year 1970.
The interview of university graduates was more revealing. A graduate of chemistry could not discuss the Periodic Table. The candidate with a degree in Mathematics would definitely collapse if confronted with some question from the old book “Arithmetic by C. V. Durell”. He was further convinced that more than 60% of final year students of Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology would fail the old G.C.E Advanced Level papers on those subjects.
The Government ,so says Barrister Sylvia Okonkwo and I agree, should hasten to save our schools. Salvation she stated should start from primary school level. All 3 tiers of schools should be comprehensively equipped and staffed. Technical schools should be improved and their image enhanced.
Undoubtedly, education must be adequately funded, if quality must be guaranteed. In pursuing the ideals of quality, the Nigerian Education Research and development Council(NERDC)should be strongly supported in it's efforts at a curriculum reform towards greater relevance.
Teacher education and standard monitoring should be given adequate attention. The teachers and lecturers should be well paid and motivated in order to attract the best brains and hands.
Finally, thus without treating education as a public-health issue that requires serious attention, the youths will continue to receive inferior education, they will continue mass unemployment and armed banditry will continue to rise.
The Nigerian nation will continue to have illiterates and half baked people as political leaders even as the society will continue to have political parties without ideology, and Nigeria will continue to fall behind economically, socially and politically. Students must read their real hard core books and stay away from the undue distractions of social media.
Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.huriwa.org.