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Education, key to development —Experts

President Goodluck Jonathan

IFEANYI ONUBA writes that experts that gathered at the last Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja agreed that quantum investment in education will pull Nigeria out of the economic woods

By all standards, education is that sector that holds the key to national development. It also determines a nation’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.

However, in Nigeria, it is one of the sectors that have experienced a sharp decline with regards to standards and value.

The decay in the education system was what prompted the Nigerian Economic Summit Group to devote this year’s economic summit to the sector with a view to redressing the decline in a sector that is critical to economic development.

The Director General of the NESG, Mr Frank Nweke Jr., set the tone for the summit by saying the education sector needs intervention from both public and private stakeholders to play the role of preparing Nigeria to compete in the global economy.

Lamenting the parlous state of education in Nigeria, Nweke said the current adult literacy rate of 61 per cent and the low level of tertiary enrolment, (put at 10 per cent according to 2010 findings) portend a threat to Nigeria’s aspiration to become the 20th largest economy in the world by 2020.

He said. “Kenya has an adult literacy rate of 87 per cent; Egypt 72 per cent; and Ghana has a rate of 67 per cent.  Nigerian data on school enrolment falls far behind that of comparable Africa economies and our drop-out rates are higher.

“Thus, primary school enrolment in Nigeria currently stands at 83 per cent, dropping to 44 per cent at secondary school level and 10 per cent at the tertiary level.

“In Egypt, primary enrolment is 100 per cent, dropping to 85 per cent at the secondary level and 30.4 per cent at the tertiary level.”

Although a modern and highly skilled workforce is integral to the development of any nation, experts at the conference said these statistics suggest that the country is developing an unskilled workforce that will not be able to drive the development of the Nigerian economy.

In addition, they agreed that the current wave of social unrest in many parts of the country could have been mitigated if  adequate opportunities were provided for personal and professional development for the restive youth.

To buttress this point, Nweke said of the 62 million children that are currently out of school worldwide, 10 million of them reside in Nigeria.

“These children will be condemned to a life of poverty and crime if nothing is done to reverse this trend,” he added.

The Acting Head, Department for International Development, Mr Christian Rogg, called on all stakeholders to address challenges that prevent access, equity and inclusion of all school children to education.

He decried the continuous public underfunding of basic education in a country whose population is continually growing.

He cited the lack of textbooks and instructional materials for students and teachers, inadequate classrooms, and ineffective teaching force as some of the problems facing the sector.

The Supervising Minister of Education, Mr Nyesom Wike, however said the Federal Government was working tenaciously to improve the education sector. He said the FG had through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund invested N522.206bn within the last four years in project development, academic staff training and development, library development and other high impact projects in tertiary education.

The funding, according to him, will bring about high performing institutions that will produce graduates capable of meeting the needs of the society.

Giving a breakdown of the investment, Wike said N268.484bn was allocated to the universities, out of which N35.154bn was yet to be accessed.

For the polytechnics, he said N129.33bn was allocated out of which N12.343bn was yet to be accessed.

For the colleges of education, Wike said the sum of N124.38bn was allocated. Of this amount, he said N18.14bn was yet to be accessed by the beneficiaries.

In addition to the funds released through TETfund, the minister said a total of N94.129bn had been released to federal universities through the National Universities Commission for capital, direct teaching and laboratory cost, and teaching and research equipment.

On investment in basic education, he said that between 2009 and 2013, the Federal Government had invested N144.67bn as matching grants to states.

For secondary education, Wike stated that a total sum of N39.695bn had been invested in Federal Unity Colleges between 2009 and 2013.

The minister however added the conflict between public policies in education at the federal level and the implementation trends at the state and local government level is a major source of concern.

He spoke of the need to close the existing gaps between the extant programmes of tertiary institutions and the requirements in the industry.

He also said the epileptic academic calendar in tertiary institutions due to industrial actions by staff unions needed to be stabilised.

Speaking at the Presidential Policy Dialogue at the event, President Goodluck Jonathan said there is an urgent need to restructure the educational system to meet the present and future needs of the country.

Represented by Vice-President Namadi Sambo, he said, “The policy underpinning the education sector in Nigeria as agreed on in 1969 at the national dialogue involving a wide array of stakeholders in the Nigerian project.

“More than 40 years after, this policy foundation is ripe for review. It is my hope that this summit will take up this challenge to design an educational system that is in line with our aspiration.”

But the Governor of Edo State, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole said that there is need for strong political will on the part of government at all levels to tackle the rot in the education sector.

The governor who participated in a debate on “Leadership and ownership in Nigerian education” at the summit, stated that the educational system required exceptional leadership to enable the sector produce graduates that can compete in the global environment.

Oshiomhole said many graduates that were trained to become teachers never got the opportunity to teach in schools because some of them never had political godfathers that would assist them to get jobs.

“For over 20 years, government after government has been looking the other way. We can’t boast of having a state-of-the-art government house, state-of-the-art bullet proof cars and yet we leave our children under the tree.

“So it’s all about leadership, it’s about courage, and it’s about conviction. We need political leadership at all levels to go back to the basics.”

Similarly, a former Vice President of the World Bank and one time Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili in her presentation said the use of archaic examination system was one of the major challenges facing the education sector.

Ezekwesili, in her presentation titled “Education: For what purpose?” listed poor relations between the federal and states education agencies, improper implementation of policies, communication gaps between operators in the sector and society, corruption in the monitoring and policing system, as other factors affecting the sector.

But Sambo dismissed the arguments by some of the discussants that the federal government lacked the political will to reform the sector.

He said, “It is wrong to say there is lack of political will to transform the educational sector. We have an agenda that puts education as a key factor in transforming the economy towards achieving vision 2020.

“The way we are going is the right direction. Our agenda on education is global and other sectors of the economy are being affected. So there is political will to transform the education sector.”

For the Chairman of NESG, Mr. Foluso Phillips, there is the need to devise a structure that will ensure sustainability of an improving educational system.

He said, “We at the NESG believe it is time to undertake a fundamental review of our education system and sector.

“Our institutions, at all levels, are producing graduates that are not fit. In other words, our children are leaving school without the skills required to sustain them or contribute to the growth and development of the economy.

“The challenge of inadequate human capital is fast becoming the biggest challenge of all. We must face our education system with passion and vigor and do so as a collective objective between the public and the private sectors.”

At the end of the three-day summit, the NESG called for sustainable structural education reforms that would create a public expenditure tracking system for education output.

The group also called for a reduction in the number of agencies under the ministry of education.

It advocated for a funding system that would establish a public/private partnership framework to increase the quantum of private investments in education

The group also called for a review in the conditions of employment for teachers in the areas of wages, career paths, recruitment and selection process.

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