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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Public Schooling In Nigeria: Any Hope For Ordinary Citizens?

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It used to be something of  pride to  attend any of the country’s public schools. But  over the years, that feeling has been eroded. WINIFRED OGBEBO writes on the factors that have brought this about.

The attitude of many Nigerians whenever the issue of public schools comes up for discussion says it all. No doubt, many have concluded on the matter and believe nothing good can come out of these institutions. That’s why an average Nigerian does everything possible to ensure his or her children don’t end up in any of these schools. Yet, many of our leaders were nurtured in these same schools in our life time.
In many primary schools across the nation, pupils still sit on bare floor in their classrooms. Most secondary schools lack classrooms, libraries, laboratories and equipment. The situation is not different in some universities where inadequate lecture rooms lead to overcrowding and compel students to also sit on the floor to receive lectures.
In a recent interview with the deputy director, Benue State Ministry of Education, Prince Tyovenda Tseneke, he expressed worry at the current state of many of the public schools, recalling the past when schooling in government owned institutions was seen as a privilege.
He noted that many of the nation’s leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari were all products of public schools and made a strong case for the restoration of the lost glory of these institutions which he noted, was deliberately allowed to be eroded.
It is no longer news that Nigeria aims at being one of the world’s 20 leading economies by the year 2020. In realization of this dream, the place of education needs not be over-emphasised as no country can achieve sustainable economic development without substantial investment in education. Education is the bedrock of civilisation.
Apparently, in an era of materialism, unstable geopolitics and economic disorder, education becomes the only hope. Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, speaking recently in Abuja, when he led a delegation to visit the executive secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof  Rasheed Abubakar to seek approval for a new Borno State University, strongly emphasised the importance of education.
Nigeria’s educational challenges are many and varied. One of the most obvious ones is the demography. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and according to the National Population Commission; last year’s population was put at 184,635,279, comprising a young and rapidly growing population below the age of 24 years and a high average annual relative growth rate of 3.24 per cent.
This is the highest growth rate in Africa, and one of the highest in the world. By 2050, according to UNESCO, Nigeria will be the third most populated country in the world. With increasing growth comes a corresponding upsurge in the quest for education and the fact that our school system is failing to educate a large percentage of its youth.

According to UNESCO’s All Global Monitoring Report, one in five Nigerian children is out of school. This gives Nigeria the largest population of out-of-school children in the world at 10.5 million.
Net enrolment of children in the primary school system has been falling in the states where teachers are being owed salaries, and in some of these states, primary schools have virtually shut down. Corruption has taken a horrendous toll on the education system and robbed the young children out- of- school, of a future they lack to compete with China, America and Indian children who have been adequately prepared for the future with appropriate education.
The federal government’s policy on education is adhered to by all schools in Nigeria. With the introduction of the 6-3-3-4 system of education in Nigeria, the recipient of the education would spend six years in primary school, three years in junior secondary school, three years in senior secondary school, and four years in tertiary institution.
The six years spent in primary school and the three years spent in junior secondary school are merged to form the nine in the 9-3-4 system. Altogether, the students must spend a minimum period of six years in Secondary School.
The Junior Secondary School consists of JSS1, JSS2 and JSS3 which are equivalent to the 7th, 8th and 9th Grade while the Senior Secondary school consists of SS I, SS 2, and SS 3 which is equivalent to the 10th, 11th and 12th Grade.
The Senior Secondary School Examination (SSCE) is taken at the end of the SS 3. The West African Examination Council (WAEC) administers both exams. Three to six months after a student has taken the SSCE examination, they are issued an official transcript from their institution. This transcript is valid for one year, after which an Official transcript from the West African Examination Council is issued.
The National Examination Council is another examination body in Nigeria; it administers the Senior Secondary School Examination (SSCE) in June/July. The body also administers the General Certificate of Education Examination (GCE) in December/January. Students often take both WAEC and NECO examinations in SSS 3.
When the local government autonomy bill, which seeks the return of primary schools to local government administration, was recently passed by the House of Representatives, stakeholders in the education sector across the country raised a lot of concerns.
The reasons behind their worries are that primary education is the Nigerian child’s stepping-stone to pursue higher academic and social goals. The academic block in Nigeria has a very broad base at the primary stage and candles towards the top at the tertiary stages.
It is the foundation of formal education and essential component in the heart of educational system of every nation, a system in which all other levels of educational achievements are built upon.
This means that reforming primary education by handing it back to local administrators or in any other form should be done from the perspective of whether the local government administration is capable of funding it or not.
It can be recalled that many attempts in the past to finance primary education through government assistance yielded no result. After Nigeria’s independence for instance, a system of grants and aids was devised in the financing of primary education but this method of funding was flawed and bastardized with problems.
Again, government in the early 1970s established a method that considered enrolment option in the funding of primary education in Nigeria. Unfortunately, it failed to specify the amount each tier of government was required to allocate to primary education in the country, thereby causing a huge problem in terms of funding.
Since each tier was not constitutionally required to allocate a fixed amount to primary education, they disbursed what they deemed adequate and affordable.
If the combined efforts of the three tiers of government in the late 70s to fund primary education could face challenges, what will it be if the task is handed only to a local administrator?
Meanwhile, the total number of university students has grown from 15,000 in 1970 to 1.2 million in 2016 and it is still growing. This year, over 1.7 million students registered for Nigeria’s centralized tertiary education examination known as Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). These candidates are contending for slightly above half a million spaces available in Nigerian universities. Hundreds of thousands of the youths will be without university space this year despite the fact that there are 141 universities in the country.
Many experts posit that the situation could be even dire, without the intervention of private universities which have helped to grow the number of Nigerian universities from 51 in 2005 to 141 in 2016.
That the standard of the country’s education has fallen or is falling is no more news. This has been blamed on several factors, ranging from government not funding education enough to lack of dedication on the part of teachers which is an offshoot of poor remuneration, parents not showing enough commitment to the education of their children, lack of infrastructure and students themselves not showing seriousness in their academic pursuit.
Despite having the great responsibility of moulding the future of Nigerian citizens, the welfare package of the Nigerian teacher is among the worst in the country.
Most teachers lack the passion for the profession and are not properly trained on what it takes to be a 21st century teacher and when they are trained, lack the necessary instructional materials and yet, they are the first to be blamed for poor student performance.
This reward-in-heaven cliché is the one reason many young school leavers run away from teaching profession. The inhuman treatment meted out to them despite their crucial role in both human and national development calls for a greater concern.
UNESCO advised that for Nigeria to establish a standardized educational system, it should, at least, allocate 26 per cent of its annual budget to the sector. In a recent statement in Abuja, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) criticized government’s  neglect of the education sector, saying the allocation of a mere 8 per cent  of its national budget, approximately (N403 billion) to the education sector is irritating when compared to neighbouring Ghana’s 31 per cent.
ASUU’s president, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi accused government of not being interested in using education for national development and freeing people from shackles of ignorance.
“We are convinced, as ever, that there would be no meaningful change in this country until and unless our governments are prepared for revolution in education,” he said.
“What we need is a revolution in the education sector that will throw up much desired funds to revitalize education and get all public schools where academic activities have been hampered over the years to function properly as in the past. That way, we will be bringing back the good old days when many of these now despised institutions were the pride of the nation.”
The despondent sums being allocated to education yearly is the reason for awful state of  the nation’s public institutions of learning at all levels and the near total absence of learning facilities for teaching and learning.
According to Ogunyemi, “With insufficient funds and inadequate learning facilities, there isn’t much any of these institutions can do.”
Also, the deputy director, Benue State Ministry of Education, Prince Tyovenda Tseneke, said apart from increased budgetary allocation, there was need to provide basic infrastructure and upgrade the existing ones in these schools.
“There are many brilliant students in our public schools who can do better at any level if they are provided with the resources required to perform. On our part, we are making everything possible to restore the lost glory by not only ensuring availability of structures but also a thorough check on public school teachers with the habit of sitting idle while classes are empty,” he said.
An American author and lawyer speaking about the impact of good public education system in the face of democracy once said: “Widespread public access to knowledge, like public education is one of the pillars of our democracy, a guarantee that we can maintain a well-informed citizenry.”
Former governor of Florida, USA, similarly said, “Public education must be viewed from the lens of providing each child with the learning environment that best meets his or her needs.”
The state of the nation’s education system is such that requires an urgent intervention to halt the drift in the interest of our future. Whatever that needs to be done to reverse the trend must not wait in a bid to ensure that subsequent generations of Nigerians will not continue to suffer the consequences of the neglect.
The existing structures and learning equipment in public institutions abandoned over the years should immediately be upgraded and the environment made conducive.

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