Just last week, the Minister of Education Prof. Ruquayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i and her counterpart the Minister of State for Education Chief Nyesom Wike at a summit in Abuj,a presented a fresh agenda for the transformation of education in Nigeria.
The blue print which is a four-year strategic plan is to be implemented over a period of four years (2011-2015) and is in line with President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda running from through same time frame.
Leading up to the education transformation blueprint was a one-day retreat on President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda (2011-2015) for ministry’s directorate staff, heads of parastatals and agencies, as well as Vice Chancellors, Rectors, Provosts and Principals of Unity Colleges in Abuja, which followed the two-day Presidential Retreat for Ministers held earlier.
The ministers were expected to disseminate key messages from the retreat to the officers in their ministries. The idea was also to get everyone acquainted with the transformation agenda so as to buy into it. Rufai had rightly argued that it was logical that national transformation began with education.
It will be recalled that after the appointment of his ministers, Jonathan had tasked them to articulate short-term plans that could be implemented within one year. That prompted Rufa’i to come up with year’s strategy for the sector which terminated in April this year. In essence, the four-year strategic plan launched last week is a logical extension to the one-year strategy.
Taking into consideration the pitfalls of previous plans the new Roadmap has been drawn from the recommendations of the presidential task team on Education with measurable targets and timelines.
In addition to Access and Equity, Standards and Quality Assurance, Technical and Vocational Education, Education and Training, as well as Funding and Resource Mobilisation as priority areas, two new areas, Strengthening the Institutional Management of Education and Teacher Education and Development have been added to the Road map, with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), guidance and counseling, as well as quality assurance receiving greater attention. To ensure the later, a National Education Quality Assurance Commission in on the way.
The national vision (20: 2020) remains the same. There is a National Implementation Plan (NIP) 2010 – 2013. The transformation agenda is for 2011 – 2015, with Key Policies, Programmes and Projects (KPPPs), as well as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
These are all well and good, but the task before the president and his ministers is huge.
Although the Minister of State for Education, Chief Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike had rightly pointed out that, “as heads and line managers of the various directorates and parastatals of the ministry, the responsibility to translate the Presidency’s visionary directive into reality falls on participants at the retreat”, the most critical of tasks ahead is convincing Nigerians that ‘Transformation Agenda’ is not another buzzword and get their support. As the Minister/Deputy Chairman of the National Planning Commission, Dr. Shamsuddeen Usman noted at the presidential retreat, Nigerians cannot be blamed for being cynical haven been disappointed many times before.
One of the speakers at that retreat, Executive Secretary of the Education Trust Fund (ETF), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, however, described Jonathan’s transformation agenda as “very well articulated” and “the most comprehensive in our recent history.” Speaking on behalf of herself and the minister of state, Rufa’i said they “are ready and prepared to provide quality leadership and political will to move the education sector towards the path of growth and development, in line with Mr. President’s Transformation Agenda and the expectations of the good citizens of Nigeria.” Nothing else would do.
We have been told not to despair or lament. Indeed, another speaker and Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), Prof. Godswill Obioma said “we bemoan the past. This is not in the spirit of transformation.” I am sure Nigerians are tired of the lamentations and would want to see the transformation too. Or haven’t we been described as ‘easy to govern’ and ‘people with few needs’? As the Permanent Secretary, Prof. Nicholas Damachi noted in his welcome address, let “the percolation of the transformation” commence in earnest with transparency, accountability and rejection of corrupt practices, as two other speakers, Profs. Steve Okecha and Duro Ajeyalemi noted from papers presented at the presidential retreat.
We need to celebrate hope and progress because the signing of the Education Trust Fund
(ETF) Amended Act, it now means that the Fund would only intervene in the funding of tertiary education. This, as the minister said, would address most of the funding challenges of this sub-sector, but she did not add “if available funds are not judiciously used.” We will continue to hope and pray.
With the launching of the four-year plan document last week, it can be said that the implementation of the plan is on course. More than ever, the federal government is now paying serious attention to the infrastructure deficit in most of its Universities. Funds have been released to some of the universities to this effect in the last one year. University of Nigeria Nsukka, for instance, was reportedly allocated a life wire amounting to N5bn, same applies to University of Port Harcourt.
In order to open up more admission spaces to the millions of secondary school leavers that seek admission into Nigerian Universities every year but who end up getting frustrated because of the limited spaces available, the federal government has also established nine new universities located in States where there was no federal University in existence. Most of the Universities have already commenced academic activities. It is perhaps the first time as many as nine federal Universities have been established at one fell swoop, thereby, giving hope to the Nigerian youth who otherwise would have been denied University education for how long no one can tell.
Another indication that the federal government is no longer prepared to tolerate the instability that has bedeviled University education in the country for many years, was the decision to amend the law on Retirement age for Professors with an extension to 70 years from the previous 65years. President Goodluck Jonathan has just signed the amended law. The issue has remained in the front burner for many years, and has featured in nearly all Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) demands as condition for calling off various strikes. This action has been welcomed by ASUU and morale is already high among the academic community judging from feelers from the University campuses.
Though the 4-year strategic plan has just been launched, there are strong reasons to believe that government appears to be eager to push the implementation of the plan. Last week, President Jonathan inaugurated a committee on Post- Graduate Scholarship. He said that the country needs well trained professionals in several sectors if she hopes to transform and urged the committee to select beneficiaries only on merit.
Also while reviewing report on the crises that rocked the University of Abuja last week, the president directed that all unqualified students imposed on the institution by politicians should be returned to them even as he gave his support to the closure of unaccredited programmes in the institution. With these moves it is becoming clearer by the day that it is no longer going to be business as usual in our Ivory Towers.
The implementation of the strategic plan is also gearing up in the lower levels of education. A signpost to this was the recent launch of the Almajiri education programme aimed at removing over nine million Nigerian children of the Northern extraction from the streets. The Vice President Namadi Sambo seemed very elated by the successful take-off of the programme, advocated its replication with some adjustments in the S’ East geo-political zone, where he said the rate of school dropout has reached an alarming proportion.
Assuring Nigerians at the unveiling of the plan last week Ruquayyatu said that the plan represents the education component of President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation agenda.
“We must return our institutions to their years of glory when they produced individuals who are today directing affairs in diverse organisations all over the world,” she said.
“We as parents are proud of the type of education that we received from our institutions during our school years.
“From certain indications, it seems that focus was lost somewhat, which brought about challenges of quality delivery and output in our institutions.
“I promise you, fellow Nigerians, that the 4-Year Strategic Plan for the Development of the Education Sector, will address these shortcomings,” she added.
According to her, key areas of the plan include guidance and counselling, teacher development needs assessment and teacher professional development, Monitoring of learning achievement, and quality assurance.
With on-going construction of 102 model schools for Almajiri’s, she said, the federal government is “moving to the South-East to launch the campaign to target the challenge of Boy-Child education.”
She said that special schools are already being constructed targeted at girl education at a cost of over N2 billion.
In addition, Rufa’i said that the document earmarked about N15 billion to the construction of new laboratories and rehabilitation of old ones in the 51 public polytechnics across the country.
If the present tempo of implementation of the strategic plan is maintained, there is no doubt that the education sector will lead the way in the overall transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Dr. Desmond Osueke