A picture that went viral recently drives home the point that the nation’s education system has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. The picture is that of some public secondary school students who, as a result of inadequate provision of chairs and tables, have to make do with used tyres as seats in a crowded and dilapidated classroom building. Some of the students even sit on bare floor and put their writing materials on their knees. This pitiful pass is not a peculiarity of that particular school as the condition there is akin to what obtains in many schools across the country; many students are subjected to harrowing and sometimes dehumanising experience in their bid to acquire knowledge. The fact, however, is that many students in this category do attend schools but fail to get the right and desirable education.
It is stating the obvious, but the Nigerian education system, which produced world-acclaimed scholars and professionals like Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate; Professor Chinua Achebe, Professor Ayodele Awojobi and others in that category, has been reduced to one whose products are mere minions, with insignificant impact. Unlike what obtains in other countries where achievements of the founding fathers in sciences, arts and other endeavours are surpassed by the succeeding generations, in Nigeria, references are always made to the feats of the past without any attempt to replicate or surpass them.
The sorry state to which education in Nigeria has descended is accentuated by the performances of students in external examinations. Each time the West African Examination Council (WAEC) or the National Examination Council (NECO) announces examination results, the hearts of many public-spirited Nigerians sink because of the high failure rate. The tertiary level of education is not spared the decline as there is no Nigerian university ranked among the best 1000 in the world and only three among the best 30 in Africa.
According to the World Bank, total public expenditure on education in Nigeria rose significantly between 1998 and 2001, from 14.2 per cent to 17.5 per cent of total public expenditure, but declined afterwards.
The British Council in ‘Gender n Nigeria Report 2012’, states that “Work done on a sample of nine states in 2006/7, based on data up to 2005, suggests that public spending on education was then between 4.7 per cent and 5.2 per cent of GDP. This is slightly above the median expenditure level for sub-Saharan Africa (4.4 per cent) but still below South Africa (5.4 per cent) or Senegal (6 per cent).”
A 2018 report by BudgIt shows that expenditure on education rose from 9.86 per cent in 2012 to 10.21 per cent in 2013, 12.05 in 2014 and 12.46 per cent in 2015 but declined to 9.17 per cent in 2016, 7.31 per cent in 2017 and 7.04 per cent in 2018.
The Federal Government has voted N620.5 billion, representing 7.02 per cent, to education in the 2019 budget. Many of the state governments have marginally increased their funding of education. But as observed by the UNICEF, increased funding has failed to translate to improved education in the country. The reason is that the bulk of the allocation to education goes to overhead and other routine expenses, while an almost insignificant portion of the money is devoted to capital projects. The import of this is that the money voted to education amounts to little or nothing in real terms. Neither the money voted to education by the federal government nor the one by the states will translate into a transformed education sector. It is not likely to result in a higher enrolment rate or better infrastructure for schools. It means that there would continue to be students sitting on tyres in classrooms, it would mean that number of students would continue to outstrip facilities available in schools, it would mean much of the present situation being repeated in future.
If we want a change in our education system, we have to change our way of doing things; we cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different outcome. If we continue to devote 86 per cent of the allocation to overheads, the standard of education in the country will continue to decline and Nigerian universities will continually fail to hold a candle to other universities across Africa and beyond. If we fail to change our attitude to funding education, though young people will continue to go to school, they will continue to fail to get the kind of education that would make them compete favourably with their contemporaries from across the world; they will continue to come out of school deficient in skills required for value creation and societal transformation. If we fail to tinker with the way we handle education, Nigeria will continue to refer to the good days as being in the past. If we do not do the right thing with our education system, we will continue to lose fortunes to other countries with good system of education as those who desire something better than is currently available in the country and can afford to pay for it will continue to go outside the shores of this country to get what they want. If we fail to fix our education system, it means that there will continue to grow an army of unemployable and malcontent graduates and insecurity will remain a serious challenge.
Is any of these what we want as a people?