Thursday 2 October 2014

Elites responsible for poor education standard – Hassan-Soweto

Culled from the Daily Independent Newspaper, 1st October 2014.

Taiwo Hassan-Soweto is the National Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). In this interview with REPORTER, SEYI TAIWO-OGUNTUASE, he spoke on the Nigeria’s education system since independence and other salient issues on the sector. 

Nigeria at 54, what is your assessment of Nigeria’s education system till date?

If a graph of Nigeria’s education system is plotted, it would show from the mid-80s onward a consistent decline. The generations of 60s and 70s are literate generations. Members of these generations are till today still some of the best in arts, science and several other fields you can think of. But, where is the generation of the 90s? Aside one or two exceptions, the real lost generation is the one that was born in the mid-80s onward and started schooling in the 90s when government at all levels had started implementing the IMF/World bank inspired capitalist policies of education that encourages underfunding and commercialization.

Those who attended public schools are the best today. They are the ones ruling us today in different political capacities and in the business world. And tragically, some of them are the ones arguing that what worked for them would not work for this generation. We need to fight for free education at all levels as the first step to begin to reposition the education sector.

Can you point at the pluses, minuses and possibly areas that require improvement?

I cannot simply place my fingers on what the government has done well. Success cannot be hidden neither does it need to be advertised on the pages of newspapers and television. If government has performed, everyone would see. Let me give you an example. For years now, starting with the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, Nigeria has been spending billions annually on Universal Basic Education (UBE) as part of a larger strategy to achieve and ensure the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of education for all by year 2015. 2015 is just some months away and what has been accomplished? Recently the 11th Education-For-All Global Monitoring Report of UNESCO said and I quote that “Nigeria may not meet the Education-for-All Goals 1, 2 and 4 in 2015”. I wonder why UNESCO is being conditional; it is now clear to everyone that Nigeria is not meeting any goals and instead; we have suffered unimaginable setbacks in certain areas?

Few years ago, school-age children in Nigeria that are not attending school of any type are about 7.3million and it has increased to 10.5 million. Nigeria’s out-of-school population not only grew the most in absolute terms of any country in the world since 2004, by a whopping 3.4 million, but also had the 4th highest growth rate in the world. 6 million of the 36 million girls out of school world-wide are Nigerians. Enrolment of children into schools is as low as 12.0 per cent in some states.

Where has government faulted in all of these and what steps should the country to right some of these wrongs?

They are many, number one is poor funding. Nigeria has consistently and for decades now flouted the UNESCO recommendation of 26 per cent budgetary allocation to education. Never mind when they say education received the second highest or third highest priority of a budget. Most times, the allocation to education is not above 12 per cent in most cases it is around 8 per cent.
Also, is the short supply of manpower to adequately service the education sector? The quality of teachers is abysmal. But, before you start blaming the teachers; just take a look at the Colleges of Education. If these colleges as bad as it is are places where the Nation’s teachers are being trained, then please we can no more justifiably express moral outrage at annual mass failure in WASSCE and other examinations.

You cannot plant maize and expect to reap yam. As you lay your bed, so you shall lie on it. For years now, the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) has been clamoring for uplifting of the Colleges. Several hundreds of thousands of teachers are lacking in schools. That is why Nigeria has a high teacher/student ratio. In the Universities, there is a huge gap in manpower availability. Instead of having not less than 80 per cent of the academics with PhDs, only 43 per cent of academic staff in our Universities is PhD holders.

In addition to these is the crisis of infrastructure. Our schools lack the key infrastructure required for 21st century education. Poor infrastructure adversely affects teaching, research, learning, students’ health and safety.

Fourth, there is the problem with curriculum. As currently structured, the curriculum is very neo-colonial. We need a curriculum that is related to the needs and aspirations of our society. These include manpower needs. There are of course many other problems like scarcity and prohibitive cost of books among others.

These problems may appear difficult, but they are also simple. Why we have not tackled them is because it is simply not in the best interest of the capitalist ruling elite to have a flourishing, qualitative and accessible public education system that can permit children of the poor masses to be educated. They reckon that when the poor are educated, they become impossible to enslave and enslavement for the purpose of extracting profit is actually the fundamental aim of capitalism.

All these problems can be surmounted in a few years if we have in place a pro-masses socialist government for instance. There are many things such a government would do to address each of these highlighted problems. But, a central and fundamental step that must be taken first and foremost before it can be possible to begin to address problems of curriculum, teacher quality and infrastructures is for the funding to be improved. Nigeria has enough money to fund education at all levels appropriately up to the point of providing it free of charge. To ensure that funding directly gets to the schools and are not mismanaged as it is rampant today, the running of schools have to be democratised to permit students, teachers, parents and communities a chance to be part of decisions on how the school is run.  Once there is funding, then it would be possible to begin to provide the right infrastructure in schools.

Has private sector participation in the sector made any difference, good or bad?

If looked at holistically, private sector participation in the education sector has done more harm than good. Let’s start at the primary and secondary levels. At these levels, I must admit that private schools have allowed parents including working class parents to be able to send their children to schools against the background of the complete collapse of the public option.

So, for a few years in the 90s, private schooling appeared as a credible option for many parents. But today, the same rot that collapsed the public schools has caught up with the private schools. It is even worse in some of these schools because of the lack of public scrutiny and the laxity of regulatory officials.

Many so-called international private schools are located in one-room apartments where children are crammed together. No facilities, no playground, absolutely nothing. Their teachers are mostly secondary school leavers. Yet they charge tens of thousands as fees.

At the University level, private sector involvement has failed. Despite the existence of private Universities, vast majority do not still have access to education. Annually, over 800,000 are still unable to gain admission. So the reality is that the general public has not gained much from private sector participation because in the end, only the rich can afford these universities. The unfortunate aspect of it all is that the private sector involvement has reinforced the feeling of inequality among young people. Many young people who because of the poverty of their family have no choice but to attend public Universities are feeling a sense of inferiority, class and inequality that has increased their frustration.

What steps can government take to make local school competitive in the global arena?

Give lecturers and students the facilities to work with and our Universities can become one of the top best 10 within the next twenty years. There is nothing wrong with our genes. Nigerians are some of the best professionals abroad. Our students are some of the best in foreign Universities. It is the crippling neo-liberal education policies of Nigeria’s capitalist ruling elites that have reduced us to this level of underdevelopment.

All we need is a complete turnaround in facilities, we need to rebuild school infrastructure, we need to revamp the colleges of education and train our teachers in better environments, and we need to employ more teachers and academic staff.

To attract the best to the teaching profession, we need to improve the wages of teachers. Teachers should be kings. A society where politicians earn more than teachers, doctors and all those who make the wheel of industry turn will die. Also our curriculum must be re-structured to correspond to our country’s history, needs and aspirations. For instance we need more engineers, more doctors, more teachers, more scientists, more agronomists, and more artists. Only an education system that contributes to society’s just, harmonious and peaceful development is a successful education system.

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