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Fixing Nigeria’s education requires more than tokenism

In a couple of weeks perhaps, students of education in public universities will be beaming with broad smiles when they start receiving alerts as the…

In a couple of weeks perhaps, students of education in public universities will be beaming with broad smiles when they start receiving alerts as the sum of N75,000 begins to drop into their bank accounts, courtesy of the federal government’s special grant that was announced recently on the Teachers Day celebration. Their counterparts in the Colleges of Education will receive N50,000. The payments will be repeated in the second semester.

This is obviously a rescue operation for a beleaguered sector seen by many as performing below a pass mark. The gesture is one of the government’s moves to attract students into the field of teaching, which has been regarded as a low-paying field. Anyone who holds such a view would hardly be faulted, given the way teachers have been treated in the country.  Due to the obvious low esteem of teachers, very few students seek to study education courses in tertiary institutions. Perhaps most students in faculties/schools of education in universities/colleges only accept the courses as fate, when they cannot meet requirements to study their courses of choice.

There lies the snag in our policy of tokenisation. The government believes that it can recruit those who study education courses into the teaching profession by such a symbolic gesture. As good as the measure appears, it will fail unless the fundamental issues challenging the education sector are addressed. A country serious about building human capital towards increasing productivity cannot rely on incentivising accidental teachers, most of who would not practice after graduation.

It also raises the question of affordability and sustainability. Can the government really afford this now and in the future? Or is it another case of failing to think through policies before making pronouncements perhaps just to excite people and create another crisis of student demonstration when the promises are not met?

Or, would this be a case of giving with the right hand and taking away through the left hand. Are the institutions adequately funded and shouldn’t the focus be on investing in the productive base of education as against subsidising the consumption of the students of education, many of whom will tag it a share of national cake. Make no mistake in misunderstanding me, I am not against cash transfers but I am only concerned about priorities and appropriateness of tools aimed at achieving the policy objectives. It’s not on record that the best students of education in Nigerian Universities or Colleges of Education are on scholarships or have automatic employment after graduation. Is this announcement a prelude to an imminent declaration of scholarships for these students? Or is this just the case of another stomach infrastructure that would have little or no impact on the quality of the education sector and the broader economy?

As the case is with many of such public-sector announcements, its implementation could also be infested with duplicity, leading to several millions of naira being spent on the administration of the bursary, a phenomenon that creates another black box with tendencies for mismanagement of public funds. Just watch out, soon, you may hear of ghost students in faculties of education and you would be surprised to hear the number of students of education studies in some institutions. There is a possibility of ghost or fake education students emerging to collect or receive the alerts, a thing for which the public service is renowned.

There is nothing wrong with giving bursaries to students. But there is a problem when such pronouncements are made to give the impression that it will solve the plethora of challenges facing the education sector. The government must begin by solving the fundamental problems first. These education students are studying in schools where lecturers complain of inadequate funding or lack of basic amenities. So, is the bursary really the priority of the education sector now?

Ask any education student and he or she will give you a litany of challenges facing their courses. Sometimes the instructional materials needed for teaching are not available and teachers have to use their money to provide such things. In most cases, teachers have to use their money to buy teaching aids. For instance, a teacher who needs to teach separation techniques such as filtration, crystallization, etc., needs to show or demonstrate it in the laboratory.

Sometimes the apparatus is not available. Now, the teacher has two options: to teach it theoretically or use his or her own money to buy the apparatus in the lab to show the students. Otherwise, our children, who have gone to the chemistry lab to learn separation techniques, would just end up listening to their teacher describe to them the various techniques of this thing called separation!

Sad enough, in some cases, even the equipment or apparatus that are available may not be put to optimal use because of the inability of teachers to effectively use them. Many of them lack the training in current trends in technology; they do not have the professional competence to deploy such equipment to the benefit of their students.

Related to the above is an embarrassing level of inadequate knowledge of subject matters by teachers. Some who claim that they are teaching mathematics, chemistry, or the English language, or whatever do not have adequate knowledge of the subjects they teach. What is the subject matter? What is that subject all about? You see them teaching without having an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter.

The result is that they end up teaching on the periphery, leaving their students half-baked at their levels. This is part of the problem in our educational system. It is a vicious cycle where inefficiency keeps reproducing itself.

Thus, the government must go beyond symbolic measures in tackling the problems of education. The challenges here have gone beyond dilapidated buildings and chairs that students can sit on and learn, etc. There is a near-total breakdown in the ability of teachers to manage their classrooms. Some teachers do not have control over their classrooms. They play with the children when they are not supposed to play; they turn the classrooms into playgrounds.

There is pervasive poor evaluation of students because many variables now come into play. These days, parents actually influence the results of students; grades get changed and students’ positions are altered. Some of these things result from the poor administrative skills on the parts of school principals, rectors, etc. Supervision is so lax in some cases that teachers are not checked until irreparable damage is done.

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