Saturday, July 19, 2014

EDUCATION IN NIGERIA: The Rot Continues

Writing Exams In Nigeria
The rot in the education sector in the country is a cause of concern to many Nigerians. Sulaimon Olanrewaju presents views of professionals and stakeholders who X-ray the causes, highlight the consequences and proffer curative measures.
IN Nigeria, education has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. The Nigerian education system which produced world acclaimed scholars and professionals like Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate; Professor Chinua Achebe, Professor Ayodele Awojobi and others in that category has been reduced to one whose products are mere minions.  Unlike what obtains in other countries where achievements of the founding fathers in sciences, arts and other endeavours are surpassed by the succeeding generations, in Nigeria, references are always made to the feats of the past without any attempt to repeat or re-enact same.
The situation is so bad that, according to Prof. Mac Ade Araromi, former Director, Institute of Education, University of Ibadan, during an interview with the Nigerian Tribune, “many university graduates cannot speak good English. Even at the post-graduate level, we find out that the communication ability of the students is declining. Imagine reading through a thesis and you still have to correct tenses. This is somebody who is going to be a Ph.D. holder.” But the journey to the sorry pass was not an overnight one. The country, in the opinion of many people, took time to sow the seed for the current rot in her education system. Varied reasons have been advanced for the development; some blame military intervention in the country’s governance, others blame teachers’ strike, a section blames it on the unsuitability of Nigerian teachers, while some groups blame the downward trend in the nation’s economy. But all agreed that given the way the country started with her education, she has no business producing graduates that will be despised by foreign schools and rejected by local employers.



According to Chief Afe Bablola (SAN), former Pro-Chancellor, University of Lagos and proprietor of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, in a paper he delivered at the First Distinguished Lecture Series of Lead City University, Ibadan, “The products of our first universities, especially the six at Ibadan, Ife, Lagos, Benin, Nsukka and Zaria compared very favourably with those of any university in the world. They were sought after by universities at Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and London for post-graduate degrees. When they were eventually admitted, they recorded record-breaking performances. They were offered the best jobs on graduation by the multi-national companies and other big corporate bodies. Those who chose to remain and teach in the universities either here or abroad ranked favourably with their foreign colleagues.” The legal luminary, however, lamented that with the coming of the military came the desecration of the education system.
Babalola said, “Then, standards began to fall, especially with the advent of the military in the civil governance of the country. The system was militarised. The schools were deprived of adequate funding. Old infrastructure was not replaced or repaired. Teachers who had previously been well remunerated suddenly became over-worked and under-paid. Morale became low. The worsening economic situation did not help matters as unemployment ravaged school graduates. They became despondent. Our university graduates suddenly turned into a shadow of what they used to be, and the outside world treated them as such. They were no longer the beautiful brides that they were among foreign universities and employers. Eventually, the problem got to the peak of its badness when employers began to reject and discriminate against graduate of polytechnics and of universities established by the states. The situation has got to a frightening proportion that all stakeholders now agree that something has to be done, urgently and decisively.”
In the words of the former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Peter Okebukola, during the 40th anniversary of the University of Ibadan Class of 1967, “the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced in 1985 effectively resulted in a decline in the standard of education.”
According to him, the economic policy led to the nation’s currency losing its value and as a result lecturing in Nigerian universities was no longer attractive to expatriate lecturers.
“This really affected the standard of university education because you cannot talk of building world-class universities without having expatriate lecturers”, Okebukola said.
The former NUC boss stated also that the economic downturn affected the funding of universities as grants which hitherto were adequate for the running of universities became grossly inadequate with the advent of SAP. In the view of a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Professor Nuhu Yaqub, the fall in the standard of education in the country is traceable to the unsuitability of the majority of the nation’s teachers. Speaking at a lecture entitled The crisis of education system in Nigeria, organised by the Ahmadu Bello University Alumni Association, Abuja branch, Yaqub said, “In the most important sense, the teacher of today is hardly a teacher because by definition, they are not as knowledgeable as they are expected. They cannot transmit knowledge as they ought to.”
The don observed that many of the teachers took up the job for the want of a better offer. “Some of these people use the teaching profession as a stepping-stone to another vocation hence at every slight opportunity; the modern teacher would embark on strike or work-to-rule. He even sells handouts and worthless books hurriedly written either to earn promotion or to cash (in) on the paucity of reading materials to exploit students. And this compromises the integrity of the profession.”
To Professor Francis Egbokhare of the University of Ibadan, the standard started nose diving when teachers started going on strike to press home their demand for improved welfare.
“If you look at the last 30 years, the education sector in Nigeria has experienced a lot of turbulence. There are some Nigerians in their 20s and 30s, who never went to school but have certificates. When they were in primary school, teachers were always on strike. You know the business of going on strike started at the primary school level. They later passed the baton to secondary school teachers before it got to the universities. For almost 30 years, we had a very unstable school system. There were people, who, unfortunately, went through the system and they are the ones in various sectors now working. They had no education, they just have certificates.”
But Dr Kester Ojokheta, a senior lecturer at the Adult Education Department of the University of Ibadan, believes that policy inconsistency, more than any other factor has been responsible for the downslide in the nation’s education system.
According to him, in the pre-colonial Nigeria, emphasis was on technical and vocational training. “That was the period we call traditional system,” he said. “At that time, the child was apprenticed to a competent practitioner, from whom he learnt the practice. When the colonialists came, there was a shift from technical education to liberal education. That was when we started having graduates in Arts and Social Sciences without having any specific skill. With the embrace of liberal education, all vocational centres went down.”
Dr Ojokheta added that eventually the nation started producing more graduates in liberal education than the system could absorb. This resulted in graduates being unemployed with the effect that the uneducated started disparaging graduates which resulted in a decline of the value attached to education.
The academic is also of the view that the systematic phasing out of the Inspectorate Division in the Ministry of Education caused a great damage to the nation’s standard of education as the scrapping of the department resulted in no one being saddled with the responsibility of ensuring quality control in schools.               Views may be divergent about the genesis of the rot in the sector but they converge on its consequences.
Consequences of the rot in education sector
Dilapidated infrastructure
One of the consequences of the rot in education is dilapidated infrastructure. Most Nigerian public primary schools lack basic infrastructure. Most of the classrooms are old and bereft of any instructional materials. The walls are dirty, the rooms are dirty and the facilities are run down. There is nothing appealing to the pupils. The situation is so bad in some schools that over 100 pupils are lumped together in a classroom.
In some terrible situations, pupils are taught under trees. The culture of going to the library to read during free periods for primary and secondary students is out of fashion because the libraries have been converted to classrooms and where they are not converted to classrooms; there are no books in the library, just the empty space. In some exceptionally disgusting situations, as it is the case with the Government College, Ibadan, sequel to the run down situation of the school, neighbours have turned the school to a garbage site, dumping their wastes on the premises of the school.
The situation is probably worse in the tertiary institutions. According to Chief Afe Babalola, many of the nation’s universities “are not much better than secondary schools and in some cases cannot compare favourably with schools like Olashore International Secondary School.”  Students undergo a four-year course without once getting to the laboratory. Language students do not ever step into a language laboratory. Chemistry students do not ever set eyes on a burette, computer science students only see pictures of the system and never have an opportunity to lay their hands on it. In some cases, medical students are only taught the theories, they hardly ever have the chance to put into practice what they learn.
The dilapidated infrastructure is one of the factors that have led to the despicable state of the Nigerian graduates because many of them never had the opportunity to acquire the skills that the possession of their certificates supposedly bequeaths on them. The infrastructure went bad in the nation’s education sector because of poor funding. Since the early 1980’s, government’s allocation to schools started dwindling. It got very bad around 1985 with the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).
Though by this time the government was still giving money to schools, the amount allocated was made insignificant by the exchange rate which was not favourable to the Nigerian currency. Then, it got to a head in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when subvention to schools either came in trickles or did not come at all. Because money was not coming in and students’ population was increasing, infrastructure could not be properly maintained. As a matter of fact, the infrastructure was stretched to a breaking point because of the increasing demand as a result of the rising number of students.
Consequently, hostels are in a pitiable condition, lecture rooms and offices are run down and need refurbishment, libraries are poorly equipped and are in need of modern books and equipment, pieces of laboratory equipment are obsolete and need to be replaced, roads on many campuses are in a state of disrepair and water supply is inadequate in most cases.
So, the system produces disgruntled, half-baked, ill-mannered and angry graduates who do not only loath their fatherland but will also not stop at anything to drag its name in the mud because of its failure to give them proper education. According to Ojokheta, “Funding is important if we want to emphasise education development because education simply means liberation; when you are educated, you are enlightened. That is why the developed countries devote large sums to education annually. That is why UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) recommended that 26 per cent of budgetary allocation of a country should be devoted to education.”
Speaking on the commitment of the pre-independence regional government to educational development, Ojokheta said, “When the Western Region introduced the Universal Basic Education programme in 1955, it allocated 38.7 per cent of its budget on education, while the Eastern Region and the Northern Region allocated 28.4 and 20.5 per cent respectively on education. The Federal Government allocated 18.7 per cent of its budget on education. In 1960, educational budgetary allocations were 30.5 per cent, 36.9 per cent and 23.9 per cent for the West, North and East respectively. If you look at this year’s (2012) budget, less than three per cent of the entire budget is allocated to education. In this year’s budgetary allocation, science and technology got less than the Federal Capital Territory. Are we saying that the FCT is more important than science and technology?”
      
Cultism
Another fallout of the fallen standard of education in the country is the increasing popularity of cultism. What is known as secret cult in Nigerian tertiary institutions started with noble objectives at the University College, Ibadan in 1953. It was established by Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate; Pius Oleghe, Ralph Opara, Aig Imoukhuede, Nat Oyelola and Professor Muyiwa Awe. The essence of starting the Pyrates Confraternity was to abolish convention, revive the soul of the university and to end tribalism and elitism. However, their noble intention was corrupted when things went up side down in the nation’s tertiary institutions.
Because the students were not fully engaged in their studies as a result of inadequate infrastructure and other factors, they have embraced cultism. Instead of pursuing the ideals of the founding fathers, they have turned it into an avenue of expressing their angst against the society, their fellow students and lecturers. In their bid to express their frustration, they have killed and maimed people. It has been said that those who join cult groups among the present crop of students are those who want undue privilege such as escaping justice. The rise of cultism in Nigerian tertiary institutions has been very injurious to the education sector because not only do cult groups attack one another, they also attack and destroy infrastructure in school. In some cases, their clashes have led to schools being closed down for upwards of three months.
According to Atayi Babs Opaluwah in a piece entitled Cultism and Nigerian Campuses: The Way Out, “Cult clashes lead to an outburst of violence on the campus which leaves many students wounded, maimed or killed as the case may be. It sometimes leads to the incarceration, rustication or expulsion of both innocent and guilty students.
There is no gainsaying the fact that when any of the aforementioned happens, the learning process, the psyche of students and the peace of the campus is (are) adversely affected. In cases of closure, hospitalisation, suspension or incarceration, the resultant effect is that learning is suspended for some period of time, possibly a year or more.”   
  He also added that, “The solid existence of cult groups within the university community has completely made life unsafe and meaningless for both staff and students as female students who refuse the amorous advances of cult members are disdainfully manhandled. Lecturers who insist on merit for passing exams are openly attacked and disgracefully beaten up or sometimes killed, thus paving way for the free reign of fear, violence and a palpable feeling of insecurity.
This ruinously comatose situation is a veritable recipe for academic immorality, national impotence and ruin as it is an inescapable truism that no nation can rise or develop beyond the capacities of her tertiary institutions and if her future leaders, the youths, who according to Benjamin Disreali, are the trustees of posterity, are trained in such a milieu, nothing then awaits such a nation but a future that is built and thrives on violence.”
The import of this is that if students arm-twist lecturers to get what they don’t deserve while in school, the society will reap what it does not expect later. This is one of the reasons products of our tertiary institutions are being rejected by employers who find it difficult to come to terms with the incompetence of many of them.    Poor ranking of Nigerian universities
The poor state of the nation’s education has resulted in Nigerian universities being poorly rated among global institutions. In the January 2006 Webometric ranking of African universities by Cybermetric Research Group, an organisation based in Spain, Nigerian universities’ performance was poor. Only five Nigerian universities were listed among Africa’s top 100 universities.
They were poorly ranked below the top 50 universities on the continent. The first among them, the University of Ibadan, ranked 57th; Obafemi Awolowo University, ranked 69th; University of Benin, ranked 78th; University of Lagos, ranked 90th; while University of Jos, ranked 98th. South African universities dominated the ranking, while universities from less endowed African countries like Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya, Uganda, to mention but a few, also ranked ahead of Nigerian universities.
Also, in the 2008 Academic Ranking of World Universities published by Centre for World Class Universities, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, no university in Nigeria is among the best 500 in the world.   In the latest ranking of Webometric ranking of world universities released in January 2012, no Nigerian university is in the first 1,600 universities.
The highest ranked Nigerian university, University of Benin is ranked 1639th in the world. Even in Africa, only five universities are among the best 50 on the continent and the best is ranked 22nd.    
The National Universities Commission (NUC) has, however, listed some factors as being responsible for Nigerian universities’ poor performance. These include; scant attention paid to presenting findings of research conducted by scholars in Nigerian universities in a web-searchable form which manifests in publishing in low impact local journals without Internet links and non-publishing in electronic journals
Other factors, according to the NUC include absence of Nigerian universities on the Internet in a form that can be picked by the radar of Cybermetric Research Group and lack of up-to-date and scanty content of the websites of Nigerian universities.
The truth, however, is that the issue goes beyond what NUC is trying to depict. Two major factors are responsible for the poor rating of Nigerian universities. The first is that the universities are poorly funded that is why they find it a Herculean task to be on the Internet. The other one is that research, which is key in the ranking, is not encouraged in Nigeria.  According to Professor Adebayo Odebiyi, Vice Chancellor, Achievers university, Owo, every university worth its name should invest in research because that is one of the main reasons for its existence.
His words, “It is the responsibility of those in universities and research institutes to find solution to the problems in the society. That is what we still need to imbibe in this country; our leaders, our people in the private sector need to realise that the people in universities and research institutions are tools for development and they should make use of them.
The idea of wanting to carry out a research and taking it abroad should stop. Most of the big companies in the country link up with their mother companies abroad to do research, that is not fair. It is not fair on the nation. Go to any big corporation abroad, hardly will you not find Nigerians holding key positions as researchers.
They are people who have migrated from Nigeria to these other countries. Those of us who are here have been in universities abroad and we did very well. The only difference between those countries and ours is the way the government of other countries fund their own universities. They see universities in other places as tools for development. University and research institute staff should be made sufficiently comfortable so that they won’t feel inferior, material wise, to their colleagues in the corporate world. They should be made sufficiently comfortable such that they can sit down and think through the problem of the nation to get a solution.”
Odebiyi, however, observed that in Nigeria because of the poor state of infrastructure, impetus for research is stifled.   He said, “What do we have in Nigeria? The moment a lecturer gets home, there is no current, water is not running, the wife tells him there is no gas, so he is fagged out. Research work is a mental work. Sometimes ideas come to you in the dead of the night and you want to put on the light and make some jottings.
If you are living within the university, you may even want to go to your laboratory in the night. But the government does not recognise the need for those things. They look at it as if university staff are over pampered. But that is not the case.
There is nothing any nation can do without backing it up with proper research. Look at this example; if you go to any supermarket abroad and you want to buy a shirt, no matter how big or small you are you will get your size. Why? It is backed up with research.
From their population census they know the height, the weight, everything. And the private sector is tapping into the database to meet the need of the people. But here, it is a different kettle of fish. We need a leadership that will understand that this nation can only be developed by Nigerians. You can go and bring in 20,000 World Bank experts; they can’t develop this nation for us. I know the nooks and crannies of my town, you know yours. There is no foreigner that knows your place better than you. You know your people. If it is a Social Science research, you know how you can deal with your people, how you can encourage them to talk. How can a foreigner do that?”
The Applied Zoology professor added that until Nigerian government takes support for research activities seriously, there can’t be any improvement in the ranking of Nigerian universities.
  Poor performance in external examination
The result of the November/December 2011 National Examination Council released last week was disheartening, depressing and distressing. It is a horrible reflection of what the nation’s education system has turned into.
While announcing the release of the result at a press conference on Wednesday, 28 March, 2012 in Minna, NECO Registrar, Professor Promise Okpala, said out of the 104,187 that sat for the English language examination, only 10,457 representing 9.44 per cent passed at credit level. A breakdown of the result also shows that only 7.57 per cent recorded credit passes in Biology, only 5.32 per cent recorded credit passes in Chemistry, 0.05 per cent had credit passes in Physics, 1.05 per cent passed Further Mathematics at credit level and 4.93 per cent recorded credit passes in Agricultural Science. But that has been the pattern for sometime. In the May/June 2008 West African Examination result, out of the 1,369,142 candidates who registered for the examination, only 188,442 candidates, representing 13.76 per cent, obtained credits and above in English Language, Mathematics and three other subjects.
In the November/December 2006 examination conducted by WAEC, only 48, 966 candidates, representing 11.6 per cent of the 423,518 candidates who sat for the examinations, obtained five credits including Mathematics and English Language, which is the basic requirement for admission into Nigerian universities. In a communiqué issued at the end of its 45th meeting held in Ibadan between March 25 and 27 2008, the Nigeria Examinations Committee of the West African Examination Council (WAEC), the highest decision-making organ of WAEC on the conduct of examinations in Nigeria, the body identified four factors as being responsible for the continual dismal performance of WASCE candidates in the country.  
The committee, whose statutory chairman is the Director (Basic and Secondary Education), Federal Ministry of Education, with membership drawn from each of the state ministries of education, the All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS) and the universities, said many candidates were not conversant with WAEC syllabus and fail to make use of standard textbooks in preparing for the examination.
In other words, candidates and probably their teachers, use the wrong books to prepare for the examination. This position tallies with the observation of Mr. Dan Obidiegwu, Managing Director, Longman Nig. Plc., a publishing company, during a press conference.
According to him, many secondary schools in the country were not using recommended texts to prepare their students for examinations.
His words, “The danger is not just that publishers do not sell their new books. The real danger is that there may be mass failure among students because they are being taught the wrong things.”
The Longman boss also added that when text books were changed the government usually tried to get this across to teachers and school principals but somehow the teachers refused to change to the new recommended texts.
 “There have been workshops and seminars on the issue. I am aware that the NERDC has organised so many of such for teachers and other stakeholders in the industry, but for whatever reasons, many schools still use the old curriculum,” Obidiegwu said.
The committee also noted that the chief examiners attributed the candidates’ weaknesses to several factors which included poor knowledge of the recommended texts, poor grammatical structures, illegible handwriting, inadequate preparation towards the examination, inadequate coverage of the syllabus, spelling errors, poor understanding of the demands of the questions as well as poor communication and quantitative skills.
In order to improve candidates’ performance in subsequent examinations, the committee agreed with the following recommendations of the chief examiners that candidates should be conversant with the syllabus and make use of standard textbooks when preparing for the examination; qualified and competent teachers should be made to handle the teaching of science subjects in secondary school; teachers should endeavour to cover the syllabus with the candidates before the commencement of the examination and candidates should read and understand the rubrics before attempting the questions.
The committee observed with dismay the inadequate utilisation of the council’s chief examiners' reports "which are part of the council’s laudable efforts aimed at assisting schools and candidates to prepare for the WASSCE."
It, therefore, directed the National Office to make it compulsory for each recognised school to acquire at least two copies of the chief examiners’ reports and make available the report on each subject to the relevant teachers in the school.
Solution
According to Dr Ojokheta, the first step to correcting the rot in the education is system is to have consistency in education policy. He said, “We have to make up our mind the kind of education we want to give to our young ones. It is not in our interest to have a change of education policy once we have a change of government. We do not allow a policy to mature before we jettison it and start all over again with a new policy.”
He also decried the system of education that does not produce skilful graduates.
“I am happy to note that in recent times, we have been talking about entrepreneurial education in the country; that is very good. But we need to do more; we need to ensure that we give vocational skills to our university graduates. While it is good to develop the intellect, which is what liberal education does, we need to realise that industrialisation is the key to economic empowerment of a country, therefore we must encourage our young ones to acquire skills which will enable them to start a business on their own without being dependent on a government to get employment.”  
Ojokheta also advocates increased funding for education. He said the least the government could do was to increase budgetary allocation to education to the minimum 26 per cent recommended by UNESCO.
“Whatever you don’t regulate will most likely go to the dogs,” Ojokheta said. “If we are serious about wresting our education system, then we need to bring back the Inspectorate Division. This will help put teachers as well as school principal on their toes because they know that they cannot get away with not doing the right things.”
As a way of increasing access to education in the country, the academic urged the government to accord due recognition to open and distance learning programme. According to him, with more educated people in the country, governance would become much easier because it is easier to lead educated people than illiterates. However, given the limited space in conventional education system, the way out is open and distance learning.
“But some people think distance learning is substandard. That is not true; many of the first generation of educated people in Nigeria had to go through distance learning but that in no way affected the quality of their education. Many leading countries of the world encourage distance learning. With distance learning people can learn at their own pace.”
by Sulaimon Olanrewaju
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