By Nnedinso Ogaziechi
ONE of the popular rhetoric of politicians during election campaigns in Nigeria is the promise to improve three of the most important sectors in the economy, education, health and infrastructure. It does not matter that the people never hold successive administrations at all levels to account for failing to improve those sectors.
International donors and global bodies and agencies like the United Nations, the World Bank, IMF and other continental institutions try very to contribute to these sectors given how vital they are to human development in a globalized world. Bill Gates was in Nigeria a few years ago and decried the fact that after over $2b donations for these sectors to be improved, not much has changed.
The required budgetary allocations for these sectors have always fallen below the global benchmarks. The education sector seems the worst hit as the United Nations sets a global benchmark of 26% of budgetary allocations but Nigeria has never allocated more than 10% of the annual budget to the education sector. The result is seen in the global record of the percentage of illiteracy in Nigeria. Nigeria has the highest global record of out-of-school children that now stands in excess of 13 million.
The implications of the lack of investment in the education sector are dire as the world depends on ideas and technology to move ahead. Nigerian governments post-civil war had the military ruin the processes that would have laid the solid foundation for the Nigerian education sector. The successive civilian administrations have not fared better either. While the rest of the world has made huge investments in artificial intelligence and robotics, Nigeria is today on the edge of the precipice as abductions and killing of students seem to have become a pandemic. From Chibok through to other recorded abduction of students especially girls, the future seems grim for the nation.
The RoundTable Conversation sat with Professor Siyan Oyeweso of the Osun State University Osogbo . He is a professor of History and the Executive Director, Center for Black Culture and International understanding Abere Osun state. He is also the Editor-in Chief of African Nebula, a peer-review multi-disciplinary journal and member of a number of academic and cultural bodies across the globe.
We wanted to find out from him the greater implications of the rising cases of school abductions across Nigeria.
To him, abductions in Nigeria in the very recent past is not just a great threat to the education sector, but also to public safety generally. The care for human lives is at its lowest ebb in Nigerian history and it constitutes the greatest danger to the girl child especially given that a greater number of girls have been abducted in the last few years and some killed, sexually violated and tortured. Note that before the Chibok abductions, girl child education was already at the lowest ebb especially in the Northern region.
The endangerment to girl child in Nigeria has just gone a notch higher. From Chibok to Dapchi, from Dapchi to Zamfara, school of Forestry to Abia state university, how can Nigeria look on in a 21st century while our girls and boys are disenfranchised from getting education? Our governments must invest not only in school safety but in public safety because security engerders maximum productivity for development.
Our focus should be on the empowerment of the girl child because we all know that when you train a girl child, you train a nation. We must protect the future of the girl child by making their lives safer not just in isolation but together with those who are their care givers, their parents and teachers. We must protect Nigerians not just for tomorrow but for today so that Nigerians can have faith in their country.
As a teacher, I have observed that the female students often show greater prospects than the male students. If we scan through the graduation brochures of many tertiary institutions in the country, you notice that a higher percentage of best graduating students are female. This is what I have observed over the years. The female students are more focused, more diligent and less likely to derail or veer off into social habits like taking drugs and sundry criminalities.
The female students are more intelligent, more studious and the results are there to show. The bulk of first class students are female. The boys also need our attention. They have shown the tendency to lean towards the fast lane of wanting riches without due diligence and hard work. They are the ones who are more in the entertainment scene singing about fast lives and cars and other luxury items. It is not that those things are bad but education enhances your chances of being better at whatever you choose to do including entertainment of any kind.
The female students are more of builders while the males tend to be into the rat race to a fast life. You listen to their modern music and they are mostly hyperbolic eulogization of instant wealth and everyone knows that development needs more deliberate planning. You can see that across the world more women are accessing leadership and those countries are doing really well.
The RoundTable Conversation sought the views of another educationist, former Rector and an administrator who had enjoyed her time as a trainer of teachers, Helen Dabup and asked her views about the implication of the abduction of students on the education sector in the country. In her views, beyond the recent unfortunate incidents in schools, Nigeria has been very careless about boarding schools and residencies in Universities in the country. Those who fashioned boarding schools knew the value that brings to education.
They are supposed to be safe havens and removed from the hustle and bustle of the cities as most of them are cited in rural areas to take advantage of the serenity and ambience of those places for students to concentrate away from their families and other distractions.
Today, governments at all levels have neglected the education sector. Most of the facilities that aid education are absent. The boarding schools do not have secure compounds and the teachers and house masters no longer live and provide security for students. In the past, students were well protected and often educated on how to handle security issues because the teachers and house masters and matrons were living with them.
Today, teachers and other education workers do not have those luxuries and the children are left with incompetent gatemen not trained to provide security in a changing world. So the abductors prey on the students because the leaders are not protecting the education sector as a valuable sector. Teachers who are not well cared for have divided attention as they often seek for alternative means of income. This leaves the students bare of after school care and protection.
The schools have become targets because we have devalued education. The political class has reduced the value of education. Imagine when ‘attempting’ WASCE has become the qualifying benchmark for some political offices in the recent past. Those kinds of politicians can never put value on the core values that come with education.
Our system seems to have lost the value of punishing bad behavior and rewarding excellence. Now we see politicians make excuses for their party members that had shown indiscipline. So children watch all these and tend to copy. We have devalued education over time and devalued teachers too. There seems to be no due diligence in the training and employment of teachers. People take up underpaying education jobs due to unemployment and when this happens there cannot be full productivity. This attitude has to change.
Education is a lifetime investment and our governments must realize that. The character of the teacher impacts on the children. Politics is now more financially rewarding so those who can’t get in turn to crime to make it big if they have criminal orientation.
Boarding schools are safer and helps in mentorship for the students. There was a sense of family in boarding schools that was protective. These days there is no electricity, not much comfort for night prep. Teachers, students and parents need to have confidence for education to flourish and achieve its goals. The child must study in a good environment. The school system is the microcosm of what is happening in the larger society so we must have a huge reorientation to rebuild the education system.
My suggestions are that we should not give up on education. We have to invest more in education. There must maximum security like perimeter fencing, there must be simulation lessons to teach students certain survival skills, infrastructure must be there and electricity must be provided because a well-lit environment can scare away criminals. Police stations must be near schools and we must take off more policemen from politicians and big companies who tend to hijack the few policemen for their own security. Alternatively, schools must have their security and governments must give them licenses to bear arms to protect our children and make them feel confident in schools.
The RoundTable recognizes the grim future of any country with a largely illiterate population. The dangers are multiple. There must be a deliberate effort by Nigerians to begin to elect people who can put the future of the country first. With the greatest number of out-of-school children in the world, the current insecurity in the country and the grim prospects of lack of confidence by parents, teachers and students in the education system is the fastest route to the destruction of the country. Education is the key to development and we can see the difference around the world. Can we put the fate of future generations before partisanship?
The dialogue continues…