Last week Wednesday November 11, the president named you as the minister of education of the republic, a portfolio that in my view is the number one posting given the literacy and general level of education in Nigeria. No doubt one of the reasons why we affirmed to the government that just left and even the few before it that their dream of romanticisation and choruses that Nigeria would be among the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020, was because of the very low level and dilapidating state of education in the country.
Any nation that desires to make progress and advance the course of its people must invest seriously and pay attention unequalled to education. In this country, attention to education has for long been politicised and little wonder it is therefore that we are in the mess that we are today. No doubt, Nigeria’s educational reality is at its lowest not just because our institutions of learning at low and high levels operate at very low capacity, the state of degeneration and dilapidation is unimaginable. This is a reality that the minister will soon come face to face with.
Nigerians who were lucky to have come a little earlier are quick to at the slightest opportunity to criticise the products of the tertiary institutions in the country. They are right because the quality has almost completely collapsed. We are quick to blame the products but little have we ever realised that the waning process itself is central to the low quality and poor content.
People have proffered different reasons for the poor state. Government and regulatory frameworks are at the centre though. The abject neglect that education has faced in this country endangers the present and the future. No doubt Nigeria is in deep crisis as far as education is concerned. The common mistake that we make is to always assume that the crisis of education is a northern Nigerian affair. This is wrong, the difference is that there is gap in educational attainments, which does not necessarily mean that some sections are educated and others are not.
From the north to the south, education is facing a very serious crisis; the difference may be in the degree. What do I mean? Possibly the percentage of children out of school in Delta State may likely be about 20 percent while that in Yobe may be in the region of 70 – 75 percent. In this scenario, it is clear that though the problem is more endemic in Yobe, Delta is not insulated from it because to have as little as 2 percent of young people out of school is endangering the future of both those who are going to school and those out of it.
What I am saying is that education is a huge national issue that must be gotten right if the nation is to know peace and move to the next level. Primary and secondary education has collapsed. The few schools that are working are private and accessible to only the children of the few elites who constitute less than 5 percent of the entire population.
Public schools have since collapsed and are not working. Tertiary education is following suit and that is why the quality of the graduates is alarmingly disgraceful to say the least. The nation’s universities, polytechnics and colleges of education are in various states of disrepair and difficulties. It was reported a few years ago that some universities in the country were ‘graduating’ students that never matriculated and mobilised into NYSC. Could this be the reason why some corps members could hardly write their names when they reported at the orientation camp?
One fact remains and that is the carrying capacity of the nation’s tertiary institutions is abysmally low. There is no university, polytechnic or college of education that admits up to 30 percent of its qualified applicants. Meaning, that if 30,000 young Nigerians apply for admission into say Ahmadu Bello University, at the end of matriculation examination, 20,000 or more often qualify for admission but the reality of carrying capacity limits the university from admitting up to 5,000 candidates out of the number that qualify.
Access is the greatest crime that can be inflicted on a young mind that is desperate to actualise his or her exuberance positively by going to school. This is the Nigerian reality that you have to contend with if only change will make meaning to the youth of today and even those of us that had it for free through the benevolence of the past state systems.
I am saying we must deliberately expand carrying capacity and improve access to the young ones apart from revival of technical and vocational education which has since collapsed.
As a fresher in Government College, Kaduna in 1974, I met a school inside the school and it was called BATC situated very close to where we went for woodwork, metal work and technical drawing practical. We didn’t know what BATC meant until much later in life. They hardly or do not exist at the moment in most of the country. The message here is why would a government that existed in an analogue era have more preferences for its people than the one existing in this era of information & communication technology?
I am of the strong view that education is the key to all the difficulties Nigeria is facing as a nation and proper management of the sector has a multiplier effect in resolving the problems of today and ensuring a robust tomorrow. The current reality paints a damning picture and hopeless future and we cannot run away from the ugly reality that we are in nor can we continue to romanticise and pretend all is well or will be well.
Professors from in and outside the classroom were severally invited at different times to resolve the issue but the real picture is that things continued to nosedive. I believe that Adamu has the courage and capacity to face these daunting challenges so that the rot in the system is reversed in the name of today and tomorrow.
The national policy on education mustn’t be the usual committee jamboree that only came out with weak and damaging prescriptions that have negatively run down the nation and its educational system. Education must be revived from the very foundation to the tertiary level and I believe the resources are available; what has been lacking is the courage and effective brinkmanship to face the odds.
While wishing the minister well, it is certain that the task ahead will not be an easy one because the decay all through the stages is pathetic.