A revelation by an expert on education sometime ago that Nigerian students have become globally less competitive should be of great concern to the government and indeed, people of Nigeria.
The lamentation came from a professor of African Religious Traditions at the University of Ibadan, Emmanuel Obasi, who decried the inability of Nigerian students to compete globally with their colleagues. Coincidentally, the observation was made when lecturers in the nation’s higher institutions were on strike to press home their demand for improved funding of tertiary schools.
While stressing that Nigeria’s culture of learning is inappropriate compared to what is obtainable across the globe, the scholar said university teachers in Nigeria lack the needed resources to teach the students effectively. He identified lack of basic learning tools and conducive environment as the underlying factors, adding that the students are not effectively engaged with the universal practices.
I cannot but agree with the scholar’s comment that Nigerian students have, indeed, become globally less competitive. This is as a result of appalling fall in the standard of Nigeria’s education.
Central to the professor’s lamentation is the low quality of education in Nigeria. It is no exaggeration to say that by every criterion applied, the learning culture in Nigeria has virtually collapsed under the weight of neglect.
As Professor Obasi noted, there is a serious and fundamental problem with the nation’s education system. There is a terrible, even horrifying problem with the education system in the land. Most of these have got to do with the governance system in education, call it poor education management.
Take the challenge of wages, for instance. With a poor remuneration, how does anyone honestly expect a perennially disgruntled, poorly-motivated teacher to teach with competence, confidence and enthusiasm? In most states in Nigeria where poor revenue has become an issue, teachers bear the brunt, as they are most often, the last to be paid salaries.
The teacher is unarguably one of the most important factors in the education system. A competent, motivated teacher may not necessarily be the highest paid person, but his or her infectious enthusiasm to teach and improvise where necessary encourages the students to learn. It is reported that in Finland that ranks very high in the quality of education in the global context, only the best graduates are recruited into the teaching profession. And they are remunerated like other very valuable, senior public officers and top professionals. That is how it should be for there can be no good doctors, engineers, lawyers and journalists without good teachers.
That is why, at all times, the teaching and learning environment must be conducive for teachers and students. If to offer globally competitive quality education to students is really the overarching goal of education, Nigerian leaders and education policy officials at all levels should put education on their priority list. Leaders should not be too busy to supervise facilities that they have funded well in all schools. It boggles the mind that children have to sit on mats and under trees to study in a 21st century Nigeria.
This is insufferable! Is it not tragic that pupils are reportedly chased out of their classrooms by rampaging cows of herdsmen on a rainy day? It happens in Nigeria and no one has been punished for this sacrilege.
Besides, in most public schools in Nigeria, post-primary and tertiary institutions lack laboratories for science, computer and language studies respectively. What is worse, it is hard to come by well-equipped schools let alone worthy public libraries. And so, when deprivation or poverty of teachers meets paucity or absence of facilities in a decrepit school environment, teaching and learning are markedly impaired. The consequence is that aggrieved teachers constantly resort to industrial actions and disrupt the school calendar all the time. The costs of this action to Nigeria are usually very high and unquantifiable, especially in the tertiary institutions where research is necessary.
The knowledge gap, the skills gap and the employability gap between products of Nigerian schools and those from other lands will continue to widen as long as we continue to underfund education.
Section 18 of the 1999 Constitution as amended stipulates that “Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels” are provided. Only leaders who know the value of education would be disturbed about the non justifiability of this provision.
This is no time for any blame game. Everybody as stakeholders should accept responsibility for this tragedy that has diminished all of us. What is needed at the moment is not lamentation. Nigerians need to move from rhetoric to actionable policies for the revival of education. What we need is education that can trigger global competitiveness.
In the first place, we do not need a UNESCO official to tell us that we should earmark more than 26 per cent of our budgets from federal to local governments for education. After all, the old Western Regional Government in the 1960s once voted more than 50 per cent for education. And that is why these days, they have this competitive advantage within the context of federalism that marks them out.
Remarkably, there are many experts who are products of this system that once worked in the South-West of Nigeria. We need to tap from their wealth of knowledge and experience on how to revive education.
It is our consistency in funding education and implementing policies that can produce Nigerian students and graduates that are globally competitive. There is, therefore, no doubt that the quality of education is the only known panacea to the ills plaguing Nigeria’s education.
Toby wrote from Port Harcourt.