There is almost no way of exaggerating the statistics or the conclusion: Nigeria’s education system has all but collapsed. The fact that schools no longer have faith in the results of the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) examinations and need to organise post-UME examinations is one pointer. Another is the fact that employers have had to extend training periods after employment before new staff can be deployed.
But, nothing underscores the issue more than the secondary school examinations result released by the two exam bodies in Nigeria. The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) 2009 results, according to Waecdirect.com, show an overall poor performance with only 26% percent obtaining a credit pass in Mathematics and English. In the same vein, the National Examinations Council (NECO) November/December 2009 results show 98% failing to clinch five credits, including English and Mathematics. Only 1.8% got five credits, including English and Mathematics. It was the poorest result in the history of the examination body.
At primary school level, things are not much better. In an international study reported by the World Bank in which learning achievements in 22 countries in sub‐Saharan and North Africa are compared, the learning achievements of students in Nigeria’s primary schools were the lowest with national mean scores of 30% compared with 70% in Tunisia and 51% in Mali.
There are a series of factors that have led to this point. This is an example of a near-perfect storm of negative factors combining in a synchronous yet disastrous harmony. To this extent, most of the angst expressed recently about the latest results may be misplaced. Emotions do not solve problems. We failed to invest in Education and so we reaped the results.
For a long time now, the standards of education in Nigeria have been in free fall due to the following well known reasons:
Financial mismanagement, corruption and bureaucratic complexity. The problems here include corruption amongst education and government officials, such that allocated monies are not received or utilised effectively. While some may argue that the budget allocation is too little, however, virtually no country in sub- Saharan Africa has the volume of funds that Nigeria can afford to allocate to education. Yet other countries do much better in terms of education quality (as can be seen from the primary school results in the World Bank study).
There is also the issue of how education is treated in the constitution. Education is on the concurrent list and the funding structure is opaque and very complex. There are too many agencies and too much replication. This fuels corruption and huge bureaucracy that prevents funds from reaching where it matters most – the classroom. Therefore, there is a need to address governance and legislation.
Many parents do not see the relevance of education as it is taught in Nigeria today. The curriculum is deemed outdated and out-of-touch with 21st century skills and realities. There is also the issue of enrolment. In many Nigerian states, enrolments have fallen. According to the Federal Ministry of Education, Nigeria has 7 million school aged children that are not in school. This is the highest in the world! Cultural norms & traditions contribute to the low enrolment figures.
The quality of teachers and teaching is abysmal. Unmotivated teachers, poor quality of teaching and low learning outcomes are rife across all levels of education According to the Kwara State Commissioner for Education, an aptitude and capacity test was organised for a total of 19,125 teachers in the State’s public school system in 2008. Out of these, 2,628 were university graduates. The teachers were given tests that were designed originally for primary four pupils in English and Mathematics. At the end of the exercise, only seven teachers out of the 19,125 crossed the minimum aptitude and capacity threshold. Only one out of the 2,628 graduate teachers passed the test, 10 graduates scored outright zero. The teachers fared worse in literacy assessments which recorded only 1.2% pass rate.
Infrastructure and low capacity are also issues. Pictures of primary school pupils taking their lessons under trees while sitting on the floor, or huddled under leaking classroom roofs, have become all too common. But infrastructure is not the primary issue facing the education sector (as our forefathers who studied under worse conditions can attest to). In truth, the quality of instruction is even more of an issue.
Warped values have introduced corruption to the classroom. Learning is no longer of prime importance to students. Inordinate focus on riches and short-cuts seems to be. There is an increase in exam malpractice and lecturer abuse.
Policy flip flops are the order of the day. The influence of politics and policy instability has been damaging to education. The head of a parastatal recently expressed deep frustration in “working with eleven Ministers and 14 Permanent Secretaries in the past eleven years”!
According to a previous Central Bank Governor, “71 per cent of Nigerian graduates like bad cherries won’t be picked by any employer of labour because they are not fit for anything even if they were the only ones that put themselves forward for an employment test”. The next generation is largely illiterate. Where are the leaders, managers, engineers, doctors, craftsmen and artisans of the future? Who is going to be working when this generation is old?
Concrete efforts and solutions are required. It is not simply a matter of giving multi-million Naira contracts for providing furniture, a perfunctory increase in budget, education summits without new ideas and formats, or superficial competitions. There has to be a comprehensive strategy that engages the problem from its many different angles and the strategy has to be sustained. Above all else, it has to be outcome-oriented. Below are some solutions to address this state of emergency in education.
The Role of Teachers and Teaching
Teachers are at the heart of education. The most important interaction in any educational system is what goes on in the classroom between the teacher and the child. Therefore, any solution must support this interaction. The Mckinsey & Co. 2007 Report on The World’s Best Performing School Systems highlights only 3 key solutions that can drastically improve a country’s educational system. 2 of those solutions focus on Teachers:
a. We must get the right people to become Teachers; recruiting from the highest percentile. (An educational system cannot rise above the level of its teachers). Teachers must also possess motivational and communication skills.
b. We must continuously develop Teachers to become effective instructors through rigorous professional development.
c. We must put in place mechanisms to ensure that schools deliver high quality instruction to every child/student. (The system must be held accountable and rigorously tested and measured).
Therefore, our solutions must focus primarily on Teaching and Accountability.
A credible living wage must be instituted for teachers. Teachers should earn enough to live on and should be paid on time. The States must be held accountable for this.
Ongoing teacher training must be institutionalised. For instance, The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria may be restructured into an institute capable of re-training and administering accreditation examinations [much like the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN)]. All teachers in Nigeria must go through thorough training and examinations every year to be re-accredited as teachers.
An emergency plan must be put into place to attract volunteer teachers and retain existing ones. A Teachers Volunteer Programme must be set up to attract individuals who wish to give up a few months to go into schools to teach. A fund should be set up to defray the administrative expenses. The NYSC should be repurposed for 3-5 years to focus on education. Corpers should sign up to teach and the 3-week orientation should no longer be used for frog jumps and endurance treks; instead, corpers should be taken through a teacher training module on volunteer teaching. A competition should be held to identify teachers who are well regarded and voted effective by students in public secondary schools. These teachers should become national role models, be co-opted to train other teachers (in a restructured Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria) and should be rewarded. A national award should be given to volunteer teachers who sign up for an appreciable amount of time as well as existing role model teachers. The award should be endorsed by and should include dinner with the President.
Financial mismanagement in education must be stopped. The States are responsible for funding basic and secondary education as well as their state owned tertiary institutions. They receive funding from the Federal Government as well as internally generated funds. A system must be put in place to ensure that the monies generated go towards school infrastructure and teachers’ pay. Therefore, there should be an independent poll on teachers’ pay and the production of photographic evidence of school infrastructure in each state on an annual basis. The Federal Ministry’s Operation Reach All Secondary Schools (ORASS) was a good initiative in this area. It should be continued and extended to primary and tertiary institutions. Funding policy must also be streamlined.
A League Table of exam success rates in WAEC & NECO should be published annually. The Table should show the results for each State AND each school (public & private). In doing so, the public will be informed of how each school is faring and whether public taxes are simply going down the drain or being effective. This serves the twin purpose of transparency and keeping these schools and their authorities on their toes. The League Table should show how much each State receives from the Federal Government vis-a-vis the number of students they cater to and the students’ success rate. That way, Nigerians will know the spend-per-child and how effective the spend-per-child is. The table may be published in conjunction with WAEC, NECO and an independent Actuarial Firm.
Schools must be held accountable for students’ results. In the 1950s, Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman argued for the introduction of a “school voucher system”, stating that competition would improve schools and cost efficiency. While we are not sure Nigeria is ready for a voucher system, we do advocate for schools to be subjected to competitive pressure. The government may release a base sum to schools (to take care of basic administrative expenses), however, the rest of the money should be released on a “per-child” basis. Parents should be free to choose a desired school based on the school’s performance on the published “League Table”. Schools will then receive the bulk of their funding from the government based on the number of students that willingly enroll in the schools. Parents may also be given a tax credit if they choose to send their kids to public primary or secondary schools. In 5 years, non-performing/non-competitive schools on the League Table should be penalised.
Schools must also be properly licensed and monitored to ensure high standards. Monitoring must be above-board, independent, thorough and devoid of corrupt practices.
Education should be made an election issue & priority for the next administration. The electorate should reject any candidate (or political party) who does not make education a critical part of his/her manifesto. Education must be brought to the forefront of any electoral debate.
Complementary institutions to Universities must be promoted to meet the excess demand for tertiary education. In 2004, it was reported that Nigerian Universities could only cater to 15% of those who applied. Today, it is reported that Nigeria’s public Universities can cater to 65% of applicants, notwithstanding that in some cases a class designed for 40 students accommodates 400. In view of this low carrying capacity, we advocate that the Vocational Enterprise Institutes (VEIs) & Innovative Enterprise Institutes (IEIs) initiatives as set up by the Federal Ministry of Education should be promoted as credible alternatives to Universities. VEIs and IEIs provide certificates in specialised vocational and technical fields. Champions must be identified and promoted to raise the interest in and brand profile of these certificates, thereby driving up enrolment. Examples of potential champions include Downtown Beauty Academy (an existing VEI) and the accreditation of the Lady Mechanic Workshop as an IEI.
We do acknowledge that many credible solutions have already been prescribed for the educational sector. We respect the efforts of those who have gone before us. However, we must question why the solutions are not being implemented or proving effective. Questions raise solutions.
In order to deliver on the solutions presented, there is a need to inform and then engage the citizenry. We must move beyond just talking about the solutions to becoming a part of it. Below are some preliminary implementation steps for citizen engagement, which we hope to champion in the weeks to come.
Step 1: Concise information on the State of Education in Nigeria must be made available. A concept paper on the state of primary and secondary school education in Nigeria must be produced, accompanied by statistics from WAEC and NECO, where available. This information should be published in the form of a League Table of the exam failure rates in each state of the federation. This is because, while there is an assumption that, nationally, everyone is aware of this problem, the depth of the decay needs to be highlighted and brought to the attention of the Nigerian public at large. Also, it is important for Nigerians to be well informed about the issues, with the correct data and perspective. The paper (and accompanying statistics) should be published as editorials in the newspapers and downloadable from the web. It should also be circulated as emails/letters to anyone who expresses concern about the state of education in Nigeria. The articles and letters will serve as an invitation to concerned Nigerians who wish to support an education intervention with their intellect and resources.
Step 2: Town Hall Meetings should be held to harvest contributions and feedback. Two weeks after the paper has been circulated, meetings should be held with persons who respond, to harness initial input and contributions and to also chart the way forward in concrete terms. We also recommend telephone conferences for Nigerians in Diaspora. Key outputs from the deliberations should be:
• Organisations or individuals who will volunteer credible implementation platforms to intervene in education.
• Organisations or individuals who will champion a proposed Technical Volunteer Corps (TVC). The Technical Volunteer Corps (TVC) is made up of individuals with deep experience in and passion for education. They include (past and present) government officials, private sector practitioners and international consultants who have experience in transforming education in countries.
• Media partners who will dedicate their voice and media spaces to bring education issues to the fore.
Step 3: A series of Youth Fora should be held in each state of Nigeria. The reason a forum is to be held in each state is that, although the Federal Government formulates and regulates education policy, the States and Local Governments control and are directly responsible for Public Primary and Secondary Schools. Hence they are accountable for the deplorable nature of education in Nigeria. This fact must be brought to the fore in all communication materials. The fora should begin in the state with the highest failure rate to underscore the critical importance of the initiative. The meetings should be supported by ongoing calls for ideas from youth across the nation which may be sent in by email and SMS. Members of the Technical Volunteer Corps will be asked to moderate the fora and streamline ideas into a coherent document. The fora should be aired live on TV, radio and the internet by media partners.
Step 4: A solutions document on Education must be produced with input and wide support from the Youth. From the solutions garnered during the fora, a symbolic solutions document should be produced and presented to all State Ministries of Education and the Federal Ministry of Education (The Minister). The document will contain no more than 5-10 major solutions. It should not be a dense soporific document that will be shelved. Rather, it should have both long term solutions as well as quick wins that can be implemented within a year. It must also be accessible by all stakeholders in education. Any plan to fix education that does not take into account the views of the youth should be rejected, as education directly concerns them. The document must be on the agenda of the next National Council on Education and each State Ministry should be pressured to execute at least one or two of the solutions in the next 6 months.
Step 5: Hands-on support by the Technical Volunteer Corps must be provided to the Federal and State Ministries of Education. The Technical Volunteer Corps should offer their services to implement the education solutions proffered. A fund should be set up to take care of the administrative expenses. The idea is to not just proffer solutions, but to help implement them.
Step 6: Results must be well documented and the Ministry held accountable. In 6 months, a report should be produced of what has been accomplished by the Federal and State Ministries of Education.
These are ideas and solutions for education in Nigeria. We call on Nigerians to lend their voice and support to implement them.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
This document is the combined effort of Nigerian youths and senior professionals working in various sectors of the Nigerian economy. We care about education, and believe that, beyond consternation and display of outrage, it is important for those who have the means, skill and resources, to work with the authorities to revive and/or improve our education system.
Contributors: Nigeria Leadership Initiative, Do More for Nigeria, The Future Project, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
If you wish to participate in the ongoing discussion on education or contribute to the solution in any way, kindly email, SMS or call: firstname.lastname@example.org, 07034904820, 07028101959, 08022226712
Data Sources: Federal Ministry of Education, Nigeria; National Universities Commission; McKinsey & Co. Report on Best Performing School Systems, THISDAY, Nigerian Muse