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New lease of life for education sector -Sun Editorial

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There is no doubt that education is one of the sectors that did not fare well in the outgoing year. Apart from its poor funding, the sector witnessed many industrial actions, especially at the tertiary level. The general decay in the sector prompted President Muhammadu Buhari, at a special retreat of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in Abuja in November, last year, to decry the rot and argue that the country could not develop beyond the level and standard of its educational system.  “No nation, he said “can achieve economic, social, political and cultural prosperity without a sound and functional education system.”

We cannot agree more with the President.  The rot in the education sector has to be frontally addressed before the nation can develop. To give education a new lease of life in the new year, government must stop paying lip service to its funding.  The expected change in the sector will not materialise except government increases its budgetary allocation to education which is currently single digit, instead of the often quoted 26 per cent recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for member countries targeting   great improvements in their education systems. Currently, only about 8.34 per cent of the nation’s annual budget is allocated to education.

With the outrageous statistics on out-of-school children estimated at about 13.2 million, and our virtually collapsed primary and secondary school systems, Nigeria needs even more than the 26 per cent UNESCO figure to revamp this troubled sector. Many advanced countries of the world consistently invested more than 26 per cent of their annual budgets in education and Nigeria will do well to borrow a leaf from them.

Inadequate funding of tertiary education leads to perennial strikes in the nation’s colleges of education, polytechnics and universities. The problem is so bad that the nation’s university calendar is unpredictable. A four-year course may take up to six or seven years to complete. This has greatly reduced the quality of tertiary education in the country and worsened the ranking of our universities.

For some years now, no Nigerian university has made it to the list of the best 19 universities in Africa. Also, no Nigerian university has been ranked among the best 1600 in the world. Before the end of last year, university teachers went on a long strike that paralysed the campuses. Teachers in the polytechnics and colleges of education were also not left out. Even now, the industrial action embarked on by various non-teaching staff unions in the universities over earned allowances and sundry issues is still on.

As a result of instability in our universities, many young Nigerians now troop to universities in Togo, Ghana and other West African countries where they cough out billions of naira in school fees. For the affluent Nigerians, especially the politicians, it is prestigious for their children and wards to study in European and American universities.

Like medical tourism, educational tourism is now flourishing in the country. If we are desirous of the country growing industrially and technologically, we must properly develop our own education system. We should aim to make it among the best in the world. The government must revamp the education sector from primary to tertiary level. No level should be left untouched.

Our universities must be well funded. They should not be glorified secondary schools, annually turning out half-baked graduates. We should produce our own ivory league varsities comparable to Yale, Harvard and MIT. Government must respect and honour its agreements with varsity unions to stop the endless strikes.  Nigerian teachers from primary to tertiary level must be adequately remunerated. The varsity curricula must be changed in line with current realities and the needs of the country today. For our varsities to be among the best in the world, they should be adequately funded, equipped and staffed. 

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) promised Nigerians quality education during the 2015 campaigns. It should fulfill that promise this year. The promise should not be deferred. All funds mapped out for the development of the sector such as the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) funds and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) must be adequately deployed in the sector.

All impediments to accessing these funds and the alleged corruption in their administration should be addressed. Government should also effectively make basic education free and compulsory for all Nigerian children to reduce the growing out-of-school children population.

Sun

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