Education a must for change, progress in Nigeria – Experts

Students writing examAt the Eko Hotels last week, it was a gathering of captains of industry in Nigeria to discuss the way forward for the crawling Nigerian economy. The gathering was organized by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group and sponsored by Etisalat. The summit members agreed on one very crucial issue, education as a necessary tool to move every aspect of the economy forward.

Though the two-day event, attracted eminent personalities from all walks of life from the private and public sectors of the economy, with discourse touching on several topics, education turned out to be one point that seems to have taken the lead over others. The organizers set education up for pre-eminence when they came up with the topic: “The Future of Education in Africa: a Dialogue with Hakeem Belo-Osagie,” for the second day.

The dialogue threw up education as the single most important factor in ensuring effectiveness of labour in making other factors of production yield desired goals, – enabling and implementing change; in the process generating intense intellectual fireworks that left many with the consensus that the Summit climaxed on the second day. The strong panel joined the Chairman of Etisalat Nigeria, Hakeem Belo-Osagie in dissecting the place of education in the evolving scheme of things in Africa, with specific focus on Nigeria. Driving the point home, Belo-Osagie said:

“To arrest the decay in education, efforts have to be concentrated on teachers’ training and welfare so that teachers would become self confident, proud of their profession and live well in the society.”

“The discussants at the Summit formed a consensus that “if Nigeria is to use her demographic potentials to create a dynamic economy, she has to improve education systems drastically; otherwise, the lack of skills would translate the growing population into growing unemployment, poverty and conflict.”

Belo-Osagie voiced his concern in these words: “How does the Nigerian State that has failed in so many respects succeed in the critical areas of education?” With unemployment, poverty and questionable leadership fuelling conflict, there is a growing tendency that only increased private sector participation as advocated at the Summit could save education from continuous decline in Africa.

Tending to agree with Belo-Osagie’s stance at the Rivers State Education Summit 2013, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka pointed at defective education as the major cause of the reign of terror currently threatening security, peaceful coexistence, businesses and governance in certain parts of Nigeria.

It is alarming that these thought leaders see crisis in education moving on to afflict the society. Belo-Osagie addresses it frontally: “We do face a crisis in education and it will keep worsening until we view education as a critical national need.”

There seems to be solutions in sight for this critical national need with the federal government taking on the matter with the Almajiri initiative and private sector intervention with companies like Etisalat playing active roles.

Belo-Osagie counsels that governments in Nigeria ought to concentrate efforts on providing quality education at primary and secondary school levels as against the current proliferation of tertiary institutions that deliver little educational values to the people and the economy.

“My view is that the bulk of government spend should go to primary and secondary schools with fewer universities so that everybody gets quality primary and secondary school education.”

Similarly, Soyinka opines that ridding Nigeria of dangerous illiteracy would require a multi-pronged approach, for which he endorsed the Almajiri education programme being executed by the Federal Government. Incidentally, the Almajiri education programme focuses, like Belo-Osagie counselled on basic education for all, particularly the disadvantaged segments of the population.

Education for everybody
The panellists shared Belo-Osagie’s view that corruption’s most deadly impact is the income it takes away from various tiers of government that would have gone into proper funding of education, necessary to propel human capital development needed to drive changes and sustain growth in several spheres of human endeavour in Africa.

Maintaining that quality basic education for everybody would aid both citizens and the society better than an army of tertiary school graduates who are ill-educated and ill-equipped to contribute to the economy, Belo-Osagie urged government to wake up to realities and address the decay of infrastructure in education.

He charged the private sector to step forward and redeem education as it has done in areas like banking, oil, telecommunications etc, where government is known to have met with limited success in the past.

He pointed out that the Nigerian model of active state participation in businesses in the 80s and 90s was not successful. “The economy has progressed to active private participation. What has been missing is the crucial role of education. The bulk of government’s spend on education goes to teachers’ welfare which remains incredibly poor, compelling many teachers to dissuade their children from aspiring to the profession,” he stated.

Contributing to the dialogue, Managing Director, Crown Agents Nigeria, Mark Abani, lent credence to the stance of Belo-Osagie, adding that the school system and curricular must be redesigned to ensure impartation of skills on students because “that would boost school products’ preparedness for and performance in the workplace so that graduates can add value to themselves and the economy.”

Stakeholders might still recall that a BusinessDay report in March 2011 following approval of four more private universities in Nigeria pointed out that that the approval brought the number to 45 private universities as against 70 universities then bankrolled by both federal and state governments in Nigeria.

Strategic drive
This number has increased with various approvals believed to be politically motivated as against a strategic drive towards the provision of quality education for the people of Nigeria. This number of private universities might be at variance with the number of private tertiary institutions, though private universities have grown substantially from the three that pioneered investment in that segment in 1999. Nigeria’s first private universities are Babcok University, Ilishan Remo, Madonna University, Okija, and Igbinedion University, Okada.

Though opinions may differ on the quality, impact, access and mission of private universities, what no one can argue about is that they constitute an alternative approach to — and certainly fill a growing niche in higher education in Nigeria.

Public education system
They also absorb the large chunk of young Nigerians who’s parents have lost faith in the public education system who ordinarily would have sought solution to their educations needs outside the shores of Nigeria, just as Belo-Osagie pointed out: “The bulk of government’s spend on education merely scratches teachers’ welfare on the surface, while quality of training and teaching are falling, forcing our young generation to seek quality education abroad.”

Probably the intervention of the private sector in education could help avert crisis or at least ameliorate a situation that has become so bad.

The Guardian newspaper’s survey in 2009 revealed that only 20 percent of parents would willingly send their children to public universities — largely because these are the only institutions that offer ‘dream’ professional courses in medicine, pharmacy, etc.

About 70 per cent, on the other hand, prefer degrees from private universities and 10 percent from abroad were cost not an issue. What is evident is that Africa and Nigeria are left with no other option than to improve on education at basic level to show readiness for the future, now characterized by change and technology.

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