It may not be out of place to say that expectations of stakeholders in the educational sector were not met in the outgone year as most of the problems confronting the sector remained unsolved.
The nation’s educational system is still bogged down by poor funding, industrial crises, brain-drain, poor remuneration, decayed infrastructure, and dearth of competent teachers. Unfortunately, these challenges run through all the three tiers of education – primary, secondary and tertiary.
With the dawn of a new year, education managers seem to be in agreement that the sector is in a precarious state and requires urgent and drastic intervention.
They stressed that aside proper funding of the sector, teachers should be well motivated to attract the best brains, while there should be development of innovation hubs to meet global challenges.
While there are concerns about how to make up for time lost to COVID-19 lockdown in the outgone year and leveraging technology to aid learning in the new year, 2021 budgetary allocation to education by the Federal Government showed the level of priority given education by this administration.
Despite the many challenges confronting the sector, the allocation to the sector has not fared any better. Out of N13.6 trillion budgeted for the year, N742.5 billion is allocated to education; the sum is just 5.6 per cent, the lowest since 2011, which falls short of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) recommendation. The international benchmark is 15 – 20 per cent.
In the breakdown, N579. 7 billion is for personnel cost, N35.4 billion for overhead and N127. 3 billion for capital expenditure.
The headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Education was given N65. 3 billion, while the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), received N77.6 billion. The remaining sum was shared among other agencies in the ministry.
Experts however lamented that the allocation is grossly inadequate to provide teaching and learning facilities needed to turn the sector around. They argued that since education provides the needed human resources to drive the economy as well as other sectors, such must be given priority.
A Professor of Counselling Psychology at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Ngozi Osarenren, said to kickstart the year, various problems that bedeviled the sector last year must be addressed. She tasked government to look at how COVID-19 lockdown affected learning, and should also address demands of university lecturers to restore peace to the troubled system.
The former Commissioner for Education in Edo State said although ASUU has suspended its strike, the onus is on government to honour the agreement between them.
Already, the scholar noted that government has defaulted by paying only two, out of six months salary arrears owed university teachers, which should have been paid before December 31, 2020.
“Also, Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) that was supposed to be paid before the same date is still outstanding. If government fails to implement the agreement reached by both parties by middle or end of February, ASUU will resume strike without any notice,” Osarenren said.
She also stressed the need to prepare the sector to seamlessly handle virtual learning. Osarenren noted that most schools, particularly those in public sector, do not have what it takes to undertake virtual learning. She said it is imperative for government to ensure that these schools have the needed facilities for online learning.
Osarenren urged government to support public schools by providing conducive environment for learning, adding that issues of crowded classrooms, dilapidated buildings and infrastructure should be addressed in the new year.
While reminding that funding is key to revamping the sector, Osarenren lamented that 5.6 per cent allocated to the sector in 2021 falls short of expectation.
She expressed regrets that the chunk of the allocation, which is N579. 7 billion went to personnel cost, while only N127. 3 billion is committed to capital expenditure. She said the allocation for capital expenditure is grossly inadequate to carry out any meaningful intervention.
“The money may seem much, but to put in place measures against the spread of COVID-19 in Unity schools and Federal tertiary institutions may not even “scratch the surface,” the scholar added.
She called on all key stakeholders, including parents, alumni associations, philanthropists, non-governmental organisations and others, to join in the provision of qualitative education to teeming Nigerian youths.
She pointed out that education is the greatest instrument for positive and effective growth and development of the Nigerian economy.
Public Analyst and Lagos lawyer, Tony Odiadi, said the focus this year, should be on increased funding of the sector, governance and standardisation of the country’s educational system. According to Odiadi, quality and content are part of the challenges confronting the system.
Besides, he noted that the charter system should be revisited, while increased private sector and alumni involvement in the funding and management of secondary and tertiary institutions should be encouraged.
Odiadi lamented that Nigeria lacks standards in education. “Our products from one area to the other, vary in quality; which is a time bomb for the country. Who is a school certificate graduate? What are his communication abilities? What can he do in terms of numeracy? The country cannot afford standards mismatch,” he warned.
To reposition the sector, he said COVID-19 pandemic presented new opportunities and new normal, hence, the situation may never be the same again.
According to him, innovation has increased the reality and demands of remote and virtual learning, and what is necessary is infrastructural support, such as ICT backup system, to encourage remote lectures, submission of papers, assignments, CBT examination, marking and grading among others.
Odiadi said poor allocation to education as shown in the current budget, is an indication that on the priority scale, the sector ranks very low to the present administration.
He said: “This is surprising, when globally the focus is on increased human capital development.“
Odiadi said for stakeholders, the agenda should be monitoring and evaluation of funding and expenditure in the sector; and enforcement of standards in education across the country.
He said the poor standards and disparities in examination performance is unacceptable.
“Teachers welfare is paramount. Teachers must be ready for assessment and evaluation. Non-prioritisation and non-payment of salaries is a recipe for disaster in the sector. 2021 must mark a fresh start in content, attitude and performance”, he submitted.
An analyst, Enitan Oredipe, said education has evolved to a stage where stakeholders must deploy technology to aid learning, and a flexible model to address the challenges of power and Internet connection.
Oredipe said there should be a sustainable plan to back virtual learning, while policy makers should also come up with resolutions on how to integrate such, as this would encourage home schooling, while providing other forms of learning in a simplified manner.
An educationist, Silas Nelson said talking of insecurity, corruption and economy without putting education at the centre will amount to nothing, as only qualitative education can drive meaningful development and engage citizens productively.
Nelson said government and every other stakeholder are expected to do things differently this year. According to him, government should pump in more money and establish education bank to grant soft loans strictly to willing students and schools, while students should go to institutions where they will study courses that will make them economically relevant and not just a particular school for any available course.
He stressed the need for government to bring critical stakeholders together to proffer solutions to problems confronting the sector, adding that teachers should also be motivated.
“When you pump money into the sector and teachers are not adequately motivated, you cannot get the best of results. Let them feel that they are part of the system and appreciate what they are doing so that they can put in their best. Their salaries might not be sufficient, but let them feel important,” Nelson added.
ASUU president, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, said if government had been honouring agreements with unions religiously, most of the challenges facing tertiary education sub-sector would have been solved.
Ogunyemi said the political class need to not only prioritise education, by increasing budgetary allocations to the sector; it should also optimally used same to achieve progress in the sector.
The ASUU chief noted that all allocations to education by Federal and state Governments in the last three years have been in the range of eight per cent of an approximated N43.5 trillion total budget.
This, Ogunyemi said, is grossly inadequate to provide sufficient and functional infrastructural facilities like decent lecture rooms clean water, modern toilets, science laboratories, sporting facilities, libraries and Information Technology (IT) facilities, and teaching materials, in addition to payment of good salaries and allowances.
President, National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, said parents should be more committed to their wards’ education and welfare.
He added that teachers should be more dedicated and impart real knowledge and skills, while the political class should make money available to run the system well.