Of acceptance fees and exploitation

THERE was agreement among participants at a recent gathering in Obiaruku, Delta State, that we must as a nation be ready to join the global education advancement train if achieving purposeful leadership forms part of our aims as a nation, if accelerating economic development is our goal and if social and cultural development is our dreams. We must promote peace, support industries, improve the energy sector, and escape building a country that future historians will characterize as a geographical entity reputed  for loss of jobs or qualifies as a state where citizens daily slide into poverty. Catalyzing the process will among other things necessitate the review of the education curriculum currently in use in the country as the outputs or products of the curriculum no longer find a safe landing in almost any sector in Nigeria today. We must give attention to the education sector because going by the Global Partnership for Education, “education is one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and its future. The SDG goal number 4, is ‘to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all was explicit on this issue. Indeed, Nigerians cannot agree more with the above argument as education is globally recognised as the bedrock of development; with sound educational institutions, a country in absolute terms is as good as made, since the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes, and projects.  Education shapes the society and encourages the masses to look beyond the acquisition of certificates and focus on how to create jobs.

But we cannot forget that in the estimation of the government at all levels, such creed or ideology exists more in words than in action. A telling proof of this assertion is the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, which lasted between the year 2000 and 2015, and was among other intentions aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and hunger as well as achieving universal primary education. Nigeria and other Africa countries performed abysmally below average. It will be recalled that in a unanimous adoption of a motion moved by Hon. Chinedu Emeka Martins titled: “Call for Abolishment of Acceptance fee into Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria” during the plenary presided over by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, the house described acceptance fee as exploitative and called on the Federal Government, to immediately abolish the payment of such fees in tertiary institutions in the country. But today, despite the resolution by the house, the practice remains unabated in virtually all the public higher institutions of learning in the country. With this non-adherence by the tertiary institutions in the country, the questions may be asked: what does the acceptance fee signify? Why must students pay acceptance fees for an admission they voluntarily expressed interest in and for which they paid examination fees? Who will stop the universities from such practice since they have rebuffed the house’s directives? Or must we as a nation allow evil to go on and then reap whatever fruit that comes out in the nearest future?

This practice poses risks. And except the Federal Government intervenes, the potential consequences could be higher than those of the other challenges currently ravaging the education sector. By getting preoccupied with revenue generation without consideration to the students’ comfort or well being, the tertiary institutions define leaning too narrowly in a manner devoid of fairness, forgetting that if learning must persist, stakeholders must look inwards, reflect critically on their own behaviour, and identify the ways they often advertently or inadvertently contribute to the institution’s problems and then change how they act. Fundamentally, if we look at the present challenge in our schools and conclude that we don’t have a mutual responsibility to ensure that these children have access to quality and affordable education, it means the nation will be confronted with two sets of challenges-first, gradual slide of the educational system, and flooding of the nation’s socioeconomic space with graduates that are ill-informed or misinformed.

India in the 1960s/70s vividly represented an example of what becomes the fate of any nation that ignores, politicises the educational system or allows tribal/ethnic considerations to take the place of merit when taking decisions on educational policies. At independence, India had so many outstanding people in all fields of scholarship, but for a number of reasons,  from wastage of  decades in state planning and controls that have begged it down in bureaucracy and corruption; the caste system, which has been the enemy of merit-as each caste demand its quota in all institutions, whether recruitment into the IAS or entrance to the universities, and the endless wars with Pakistan that made both poorer, India allowed the high standards the British lef to be lowered. There was less insistence on merit in examinations for entrance into top schools and universities, the professions and the Indian civil service (ICS). Cheating at examinations became rampant, universities allotted their quota of places to MPs of their states, who either gave or sold these places to their constituents. There is a very big lesson for us to draw from this narrative as our government daily replicates these factors that led to India’s down fall in the past.

More important, until the nation tackles the shocking phenomenon of declining standards of physical infrastructure and the near-total collapse of basic facilities, and stamps out  thoughtless demands for fees of varying amounts proposed by the school authorities, which are squeezing life out of innocent students and their parents, the nation will, like the Germans of old, continue to experience challenges of youth unrest. Between 1930s and 1940s, many members of the Nazi party in Germany were extremely well educated but their knowledge of literature, mathematics, philosophy, and others simply empowered them to be effective Nazis. As no matter how educated they were, no matter how well they cultivated their intellect, they were still trapped in a web of totalitarian propaganda that mobilized for evil purpose. From the above, it is evident that being educated is not when one bags a PhD, but when one is equipped to master the arts of one’s vocation. Nations spend millions of dollars to create literate citizens in order to have crime-free environment.

While we wait for the Federal Government to choose the path we should follow as a nation, one thing stands out. Continuing with the present style of education will never engineer national progress but can only set the stage for development collision.

Utomi writes in from Lagos

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