Monday, November 17, 2014

Governor Mukthar Yero’s unrealistic proposal on education

On October 17, 2014 while playing host to the House of Representatives Committee on Education led by Hon. Aminu Suleiman, the Kaduna State Governor, Mukthar Yero allegedly asked the National Assembly to consider passing a legislation that would compel policy makers in the country to enroll their children in public schools. In this interview with Kehinde Adegoke of Daily Newswatch, Jide Ojo, Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja bares his mind.

What’s you take on this proposal?

The governor was just echoing the opinion of most Nigerians who are of the view that until government officials’ children and wards are made to attend public schools, then the decadence in our education sector will remain unresolved. Such thought, though sound in logic, is weak on law. How do I mean? It is desirable but unrealistic due to the fact that it will be an infringement on the fundamental human rights of the public officials.

Education, we must know, is on the concurrent legislative list and has been liberalised through privatisation  and commercialisation in Nigeria. Citizens therefore are at liberty to choose where to send their children to study whether home or abroad, private or public institutions. Individual family’s socio-economic status is thus the major determinant of where to send a child to school or whether to send such child to school at all.

What's your perception of the public schools in Nigeria today?

There is no gainsaying that public schools in Nigeria are at present  bedeviled with a lot of challenges ranging from dilapidating structures, inadequate staffing, overstretched facilities, incessant strikes by academic and non-academic staff, insecurity, underfunding, corruption and lack of political will to solve the challenges by successive governments whether at the local, state or federal government. The libraries of most public educational institutions in Nigeria are obsolete, the laboratories sparsely equipped, the classrooms and lecture theaters bereft of basic conveniences such as a chairs and tables while the hostels are overcrowded. Today, in the 21st century, we have pupils and students of some schools learning under trees, sitting on stones and used tyres in classes and writing on the floor. Heartrending!

It must be said that federal government has been carrying out some reforms to bridge the funding gap in the public education sector by setting up Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) formerly known as Education Tax Fund (ETF). These are mere intervention funds and are outside the normal budgetary allocations to Ministries, Department and Agencies in the education sector. The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme for instance was introduced in 1999 by the Federal Government of Nigeria as a reform programme aimed at providing greater access to, and ensuring quality of basic education throughout Nigeria. Quite unfortunately many states are yet to access their matching grants and as September 8, 2014, there is a total unaccessed fund in excess of N49 billion. (N49,211,970,941.55). Under the matching grant, each state is to provide a counterpart funding to whatever the federal government is bringing. However, not many states are keen to put down their own matching grant hence the huge unaccessed funds in the midst of the dire financial needs of most, if not all, public schools in Nigeria. TETFund equally have the challenge of billions of Naira in unaccessed funds by public tertiary institutions who simply fail to follow due process to get the fund earmarked for their institutions. It must be stated that there is no need for matching grant with TETFund. This is why I earlier said there is lack of political will to address the rot in Nigeria’s public education sector.

What were the public schools like during your time?

In my time in the 70’s and 80s, public education was qualitative. This reflected in the external examinations where the success rates were much higher than the abysmal performances we currently records. There were challenges then quite alright but there was nothing like the prolonged strikes. Our teachers and lecturers were dedicated to duties while infrastructures were not overstretched as we currently have it. Even then there were few private schools be it at primary, secondary or tertiary levels. Thus parents’ choices were largely limited to enrolling their children in public schools. With the mushrooming of private schools and the unresolved challenges of public sector education, the reverse is now the case as many parents in search of quality education now have to cough out mindboggling sums of money to train their children and wards in private schools both within and outside of the country. Ironically, limited job opportunities upon graduation have made the huge private investments to be of doubtful reward to parents and families. However, though there might be limited job opportunities upon graduation due to the stiff competition, graduates of private institutions still stand better chance to clinch the limited jobs on offer.

What is the way forward?

For Nigeria, the solution to our public education challenges does not lie in forcing public officials to enroll their children and wards in public schools. The way out is to incentivise enrollment into public schools so that of their own accord parents would embrace sending their children to those public education institutions. This we can do through adequate resource of these schools. If there is satisfactory equipment and staffing, appealing school environment, adequate welfare for staff and students and effective monitoring and control by regulatory education agencies, ministries and departments then the glory days of public education will be back, there will be higher enrolment and better performance of pupils and students in both internal and external examinations.

 (Twitter: @jideojong)

This piece was published in Sunday Newswatch of November 16, 2014 on Page 16