| By Anayo Ezugwu |
THE beginning of problems in primary and secondary school education sector in Nigeria is traceable to Schools Take-Over (Validation) Decree of 1977. That decree validated the takeover of mission and voluntary agency schools by state military governors through their respective edicts. The Decree ousted the jurisdiction of courts to entertain suits on schools takeover and voided all cases in courts on the issue. It made payment of compensation to owners of schools taken over by government discretionary.
Schools takeover by the military governments was a misadventure. That was the beginning of the rot in the primary and secondary school system. According to a retired school principal who begged not to be identified: “You know that government’s property is nobody’s property. This is the cause of the general decay in our education system today. You can remember that all the big schools we had in the country at that time produced the best and most of the big names in our society. They were all mission schools. Today, can you boast of schools like that?
“Now, governments want to bring them back to that golden era but it is not easy because there had been so much decay in the education system over the years. Moreover, there is a cancer in the school system, a very bad virus known as examination malpractice which has destroyed our children and their mentality towards education.” He was right.
Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of education, confirmed that much in 2006 when she articulated the deplorable state of the public education sector after a random visit to some public secondary schools across the country. According to her, the visit had revealed the deplorable state of public schools in terms of decayed infrastructure, inadequate funding, poor curriculum content, sloppy administration, lack of infrastructure, poor school enrolment, low teacher commitment, embarrassing student performance in external examinations and widespread cases of examination malpractice.
Ezekwesili’s pen portrait of the current state of public schools in Nigeria is a confirmation that secondary schools in Nigeria are a shadow of what they were in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of them have become breeding grounds for criminals. At the twilight of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, Ezekwesili took a number of measures aimed at redirecting the course of education from primary to the university level. The reform started with the Universal Basic Education, UBE, and went all the way to streamlining of tertiary institutions and the proper management of public schools.
In that respect, she tried to find a better way of managing the 102 federal government colleges otherwise known as unity schools more effectively for better results. Ezekwesili found out that the 102 unity schools, which constitute only five percent of the public schools in the country, gulped more than 80 percent of the ministry’s recurrent allocation in the annual budget despite the fact that the academic performances of the students were on the decline. She said that such disproportionate expenditure on only the then 102 schools was intolerable and should be reversed because it was affecting the ministry’s capacity to fund other spheres of education. In order to reduce such financial burden on the ministry, she came up with the idea of a Community Accountability and Transparency Initiative and Public-Private Partnership in the management of public schools.
But some aspects of the reform package were resisted because, as Obasanjo bluntly remarked in 2006: “some of the resistance was due to entrenched self-interest.” He, however, warned that “by not reforming our education, we are stagnating.” Indeed, education in Nigeria has stagnated ever since Ezekwesili left the ministry in 2006.
The above scenario justifies the claims by some education experts that the education system in Nigeria collapsed as a result of the non-implementation of the UBE by successive government in the country. The UBE came as a replacement for Nigeria’s Universal Primary Education scheme of the 6-3-3-4 system of primary education. The 9-3-4 system of education was designed in conformity with the MDGs and Education For All, EFA. The UBE involves six years of primary school education and three years of Junior Secondary School education, culminating in nine years of uninterrupted schooling, and transition from one class to another is automatic but determined through continuous assessment. This scheme is monitored by the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, and has made it free, compulsory and a right of every child.
Olapoju Oladinni, an educationist, said the dwindling standard of education in Nigeria is caused by lack of adequate commitment from those who are charged with the responsibility to impart knowledge through qualitative teaching, as well as the attitude of government towards proper funding of education as required by the United Nations standard. According to him, both the teaching staff at all levels of our educational system and the government are shirking in their respective responsibilities towards providing and maintaining good standard of education for Nigerian children.
He observed that lack of commitment and concentration by teachers and lecturers in our educational system due to government failure to play its part as expected is responsible for production of half–baked graduates from our educational institutions. He said that government should be the bedrock of educational system by ensuring proper funding to provide good infrastructure, as well as qualitative teaching and researches in the institutions, particularly secondary schools and universities.
Sylvester Onoja, an educationist, is also of the opinion that the problem of education in Nigeria lies in the primary and secondary schools. He said that in most of the public primary schools in the country, there is no teaching and learning going on, as nobody is teaching and nobody is learning. Those who teach are not knowledgeable enough and the students are not responsive enough. “If we do not want to deceive ourselves, our teacher training colleges in the country are a wash out. When the Grade II teachers’ training colleges were scrapped some years ago, people thought that we were going to make progress. But the kind of training offered at the Grade II teacher training colleges was more effective and better than the National Certificate in Education, NCE, programme we have today. Grade II teachers’ college graduates were versatile teachers who knew how to teach every subject perfectly.
“A Grade II teacher was properly trained as a teacher. He spent four years in training; he knew the trade from apprentice level and saw it as a calling and a profession. Today, we are recruiting dubious school certificate holders into Colleges of Education who are not willing to learn the art of teaching. As a matter of fact, we are recruiting unwilling people to teach our children. These are people who went to teacher training colleges because they had no other choice. They are not knowledgeable enough to impart the required knowledge. This is the major reason why the primary section of education is suffering in this country,” he said.