Wednesday 3 October 2012

52 years after independence, Public Education Remain in Shambles

Press statement


The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) uses the occasion of Nigeria’s 52nd independence anniversary to again point attention to the colossal collapse of public education across the country and demand immediate government investment to arrest the decay and revive quality and standard in primary, secondary and tertiary tiers of the educational system.

We also use this occasion to call for the immediate reversal of hiked fees at the Lagos State University (LASU), Ekiti State University (EKSU) and the Osun State University (UNIOSUN). We reject all attempts to introduce tuition fee as recommended by the Oronsaye committee report. We call for the provision of free and functional education at all levels.

The only fitting way to mark this independence anniversary is by mass protests and demonstration of the working masses, students and poor against the ruinous policies of successive governments in Nigeria which has turned Nigeria to an under-developing Nation 52 years after flag independence. While all socio-economic indices certainly point to reversals in all fields of life including infrastructures, health, housing, job provision, security etc as the Nation clocks 52, the condition of public education is indeed very appalling.

52 years ago, the Nation’s education system was at its infancy with very low enrollment and very few schools and universities. However there were efforts by the government in the first republic to expand educational access to all nooks and crannies in order to develop the indigenous productive force. The first universities were established around this period. Most notable of this era was the free education policy of the government in the old western region which opened the doors of education to many, including the children of poor working class and peasant families who would not have had the means to pay fees. Many political office holders from the South West today who now often say that free education is impossible were in fact beneficiaries of this free education policy.

Today the clock of historical progress has been unwound. The impressive advance in public education recorded in the first and second republics have all been completely unraveled by successive military and civilian governments through neo-liberal capitalist policies of education under funding and commercialization. While 52 years ago many an illiterate parents (including farmers and hunters in the wild) were having literate children who were able to educate themselves up to the limit of their abilities, today this whole process has been reversed with the horrific but occurring prospect of completely literate parents now having half-literate and stark illiterate children because of inability to afford the cost of education.

This reality is borne out by the cold harsh statistics of over 12 million children out of school with a huge percentage of this being girls. All of Nigeria’s Universities can all admit a little over 200, 000 new entrants annually yet over 1.5 million candidates write UTME annually. This is aside hundreds of thousands who never make it beyond Senior Secondary School class before privations forces them to go into menial jobs, apprenticeship, crimes and prostitutions. These are the lost generations – a generation deprived of knowledge and completely out of tune with the demands of the 21st century and they are lost thanks to over 30 years of unrelenting neo-liberal attacks on public education!

Indeed since the late 1980s and more sharply since the last general elections in April 2011, all political parties in power at Federal and state levels have taken drastic steps to further attacks on the right to affordable and quality public education. This is on top of the poor conditions of teaching and living infrastructures in primary, secondary and tertiary schools which have in turn seriously reduced the quality and standard of education.

There is hardly any state in Nigeria today where fees have not been hiked beyond what poor working families can afford. The political party in power does not matter. It is one historical irony of our time that governments formed by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which claims to be the descendant of Obafemi Awolowo’s political dynasty, are leading the neo-liberal assault on public education today.  In fact students are worse off and are faced with frightening and unprecedented fee hikes in States where so-called progressive opposition political parties like the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) are in power.

Fees at the Lagos State University (LASU), Ekiti State University (EKSU) and the Osun State University (UNIOSUN) are some of the highest fees in any University in Nigeria today. The fees of some of these Universities mentioned above rivals private universities’ and these monstrous fees were hiked by supposedly progressive ACN state governments upholding the legacy of Obafemi Awolowo!

Last year LASU fees were increased by as much as 750% with medical students being charged up to N345, 750! Because many could not afford it, admission in 2011/2012 session fell by about 30%! Indeed in this year’s post-UTME, students seeking admission to LASU sharply dropped. Most alarming was the over 2000 students who merited admission having passed Post-UTME aside other requirements but had to forfeit their admissions because they could not afford the fees!
Now on top of all these, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) -led Federal Government is planning to introduce tuition fees! Few months ago, a Federal Government committee headed by Mr. Stephen Oronsaye identified “the tuition-free policy of government for undergraduates in federal universities, the over-dependency on government funding by universities …, as among the factors responsible for the sharp decline in the quality of standards in tertiary education”. The committee therefore proposed introduction of tuition fees of between N450, 000 and N525, 000!

The ERC condemns this attempt to completely make education the preserve of the few rich, politicians and treasury looters. Education is the inalienable right of all people and it is the duty and responsibility of the government to ensure none of its citizens are denied access to quality education on the basis of inability to pay.  All the Oronsaye committee has achieved with its report on education is to put the blame of the collapse of public education on the victim: students and their poor working class parents. Meanwhile it is government neo-liberal education policies coupled with over 30 years of underfunding that is responsible for the collapse of quality and standard in public education.
The ERC warns that by introducing tuition fee, the already bad condition of public education will take a sharp turn for the worse. Fees will soar beyond the imaginable! With the situation of mass poverty amidst plenty, vast numbers of students will drop out enmasse! Not just the working class but even big sections of the middle class will find it hard to pay! Enrollment will fall! The impact on teaching and non-teaching staff will also be phenomenal because as enrollment drops so also would courses and programs be rationalized with the grim prospect of retrenchment and job losses.
As experience as shown, fee hikes more often than not does not translate to better learning condition for either students or good working conditions for education workers. We do not believe Nigeria has no money. Indeed Nigeria currently ahs hundred times more than was had in the first and second republic when the Nation made impressive advances in the expansion of access to public education.
The ERC calls on government to mobilize Nigeria’s vast resources which is often looted by political office holders and big business to begin to invest in public education through a crash public program to rebuild facilities like class rooms, lecture theatres, laboratories and libraries, hostel accommodation, office for staff etc in all primary, secondary and tertiary schools across the country.
This if linked with mass employment of more teachers, lecturers and non-academic staff with provision for in-service training and re-training and payment of a living wage to all those who work in the educational sector can within a few years begin to revive quality of standards in the education sector while in turn laying a firm basis for the Nation’s economic development.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto
National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign

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