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In the face of serious problems facing the nation, the one that stands out as an albatross of Nigeria’s future appears to be the education sector considering its all-important role as the bedrock of socio-economic and technological development helping to shape and mould the character and thought processes of future leaders and by extension, their followers.
We are deeply concerned that while state actors are currently busy playing politics with the programmes of dishing out handouts to the citizenry under the guise of palliatives occasioned by the removal of subsidy on imported petrol, the nation’s education sector is getting lesser attention with the number of out of school children increasing astronomically.
Part of the dangers of not keeping the youth under check and guidance which is part of what education provides, is that the nation will be breeding a battalion of bandits and street urchins who have the capacity to destroy everything that our past and present heroes must have laboured to build.
Unfortunately, there is a growing fear that one of the major fallouts of the current high cost of living will be the inability of most families, especially low-income earners to send their children to school considering that the cost of education is increasing in direct proportion with such basic necessities as food, transportation, medicare and shelter.
But for us, education is a right and not a privilege. As schools resume nationwide, most educational institutions, private and public, primary, secondary, or tertiary are known to have embarked on cost-reflective increases thus preventing many parents and wards from retaining their children in school.
Therefore, it is our considered opinion that government at all levels should declare a state of emergency on the education sector in a manner that will see the Nigerian state prioritizing every facet of its engagement as opposed to the present state where education is viewed as another form of business venture to be driven by commercial considerations.
Public schools must be empowered to provide quality education at minimal costs if only to help push attention away from private institutions which cost is skyrocketing by the day.
Whatever numbers one looks at, the reality remains that Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of out-of-school children in the world. A 2022 UNESCO report noted that approximately 20 million Nigerians out of its over 200 million population are not enrolled in school.
This huge figure accounts for 12.4% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s out-of-school children.
To benchmark this figure with the less than 8% annual budgetary allocation to education as against the UNESCO recommended threshold of 15% to 20% presupposes that Nigeria is indeed in deficit when it comes to paying adequate attention to the education sector.
To imagine that these over 20 million out-of-school children have the potential of doubling in the face of excruciating family pressure occasioned by dwindling earning capacity amidst astronomical increases in the cost of acquiring education in Nigeria puts the future of the nation under severe threat and must not be allowed unattended to by the present regime of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
We are quick to remind the present administration that basic education is getting worse by the day and should therefore be prioritized. We concede to the argument that putting greater emphasis on tertiary education in neglect of the basic level is absolutely wrong as it amounts to erecting a skyscraper on a faulty foundation just as it amounts to fallacy shifting attention to the private sector where parents pay through their noses, a clear demonstration of government’s abdication of its cardinal responsibilities.
The time is now for the government to stop paying lip service to tackle the dwindling fortunes of the education sector by declaring a state of emergency in the sector if only to drag all interest groups and resources into waging an honest war in what can at best be described as the bedrock of any nation’s development considering the all-important role of the resourceful human element in aggregating factors of production and nation building.
Nigeria as a nation-state has long learnt that there is nothing like the transfer of technology which is like saying that the development and subsequent deployment of high-tech equipment and hybrid instruments such as Artificial Intelligence can be accomplished without any functional, efficient and effective education system which basis is basic education starting from the elementary level.
We reiterate the fact that the future of any country lies in the quality of its human resource base which includes her leaders. Education remains the major tool for national socio-economic development, individual socio-economic empowerment and poverty reduction. Unfortunately, one of the major problems facing education in Nigeria is the issue of underfunding which is one of the major obstacles consistently highlighted by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU in all its dialogue with the Federal Government.
Nigeria has in the last decades witnessed a gradual degradation in her infrastructure, manpower development and access to qualitative education culminating in a high degree of insensibility in governance.
The present regime of Bola Ahmed Tinubu has the golden opportunity of changing the narration considering that what today stands as the major relics of the 2022 eight months long ASUU strike is the eventual decimation, or rather obliteration of the academic industry in Nigeria where no one expects any form of concerted efforts on the part of the FG, lecturers and students to enthrone any form of excellence in the system.
The absolute balkanization and breaking of the ranks of academic unions and by extension, the politicization of issues bothering on an empirical and logical quest for sagacity in the ivory towers which usually translates to self-confidence among all stakeholders in the education sector with particular emphasis on students are now definitively abrogated. The end game is that nobody is any longer expecting anything innovative from the university system except the unleashing of ill-equipped professionals including medical doctors, architects and engineers among others in the larger society.
It is against this backdrop that we welcome the recent suggestion by the current Minister of Education Prof Tahir Mamman that government will grant autonomy to the universities in order to task them to strive towards excellence within the limits of their resourcefulness and capabilities. If the structure, independence, resourcefulness and success stories of the University of Kwara as an autonomous tertiary institution are a case study, it follows that granting autonomy to the rest of the upper tier of academic institutions is definitely one way to go.
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