Nasir El-Rufai: For Nigerians, It May Be Time To Panic

Consider these scenarios: 50,000 teachers cannot pass a basic test in elementary English; illiteracy rate of about 70%; only 10 out of 1.6 million candidates that sat for university entrance examinations scored a pass mark of 300 and above out of a possible 500.

Add this to a situation where 10.6 million children are out of school – the highest school aged children out-of-school population in the entire world, then relate these to the fact that all these take place in a nation with a GDP growth rate higher than all other African nations except South Africa.This conundrum is representative of the inherent contradictions in Nigeria, where the government keeps brandishing largely useless growth figures in our faces, but where people are confronted daily by an increasingly divided citizenry, deteriorating security conditions, decaying infrastructure, rising unemployment, unprecedented corruption, impunity and falling standards of education.

Ordinarily, the scenario depicted above would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious. Unfortunately, for 170 million Nigerians who normally should set the pace for the rest of Africa in human capital development and educational attainment terms, the reality on ground is that they are plagued with a largely dysfunctional system that encourages an ever growing population of young people who would constitute an uneducated, unemployable generation with little useful roles to play in society.

The Ministry of Education would be quick to come up with excuses: attribute its many failures to a lack of finance and complain that it is not allocated some 25% of Nigeria’s national budget as is recommended by the United Nations. Yet of its dismal 1% budgetary allocation in 2012, the ministry only expended 20% of its capital provisions as at September the same year. This simply points to the fact that the ministry itself has no vision to accommodate the resources they often put forward as needed.

This immediately brings questions to mind, can this ministry that cannot implement a 1% budgetary provision wholly be trusted with 25%? Can the government afford to fund this ministry as much as it deserves? Is it not a fact that a former Education Minister, Dr Oby Ezekwesili admitted the above, and included the ‘Adopt A School’ program as part of Corporate Social Responsibility? Sadly, no sooner than she left office was her ‘Crisis’ reforms document thrown out too. What place does alternative education have in our current education system? How did our technical schools that served to train experts at skilled work loose relevance?

The truth is Nigeria’s education sector is in need of reforms and every Nigerian should take up this responsibility, demand an education revolution from our government. Peaceful protests like the Occupy Nigeria or the Project Cure rallies that have been beneficial for fuel subsidy as well as currency restructuring would do just as good for education. The creation of specialist universities may prove to be more beneficial than universities that aim to offer all courses.

Would it not be a more informed thought if the President considered strengthening the capacities of existing universities as opposed to building new universities in every state?

Challenges abound with reforming our education system. Time for one; reforms would take a little more than 4 years focused on planning, training, implementing and some more training. Take China as example, the country has had over 50 years of mandatory 9 year basic education and various laws guaranteeing access to education for minorities, women and the handicapped, yet the country has not totally attained universal basic education coverage.

Nigeria has not even started. Discouraging as this may be, it is not reason to delay the reform process that would benefit generations of Nigerians to come.Yes, there is a Universal Basic Education Board and 35 other state versions called State Universal Basic Education Board but what are these SUBEBs doing? Take a state like Kaduna for instance with a school aged out of school percent population of 51.6%, the state SUBEB has a zero capital allocation for the years 2013 and 2014, while there is a recurrent expenditure of N116.5m and N128.2m respectively.

In view of the above, you decide if this demonstrates political will to curb the education menace?This lack of political will to train and develop the people we refer to as Nigeria’s future goes beyond formal education; we see it even in the field of technical education too. The 2013 National budget has a capital provision of N40 million set aside for the National Business and Technical Education Board while its recurrent provision is N1.2billion, also there is a N300million capital provision for the National Board for Technical Education Secretariat while its recurrent expenditure is N1.3billion- about 300% above Capital Expenditure.

With miserable capital provisions as detailed above most technical schools are shut down, the few that function do not have updated curriculums and therefore offer training that is of very little relevance to modern trends and realities.For Nigerians who belong to the dwindling middle class and are rich enough to afford foreign education or training for their children and perhaps feel like the dearth of education infrastructure in Nigeria should not bother them, they are sadly mistaken. I conclude with the tale as narrated below, it is my hope that from it we all have a rethink.

A man wise beyond his years once said, ‘the children we do not train now would kill those we have trained.’ He then explained how a Harvard trained student came visiting his parents in Lagos for a week and how on a hot afternoon made worse by the failure of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (P.H.C.N) to provide electricity, he decided to take a walk. As he walked, he saw a miscreant steal a lady’s purse and sought to challenge the man. The man simply pulled out a gun, shot this foreign educated student and rode off on his motorbike.

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In the beginning...Let there be Light

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