Buhari’s first two years and the fate of education

President Muhammadu Buhari

While it is generally accepted that education is power, the Federal Government’s allocations to the sector is considered by stakeholders to be too small to lift it and drive the needed development. Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal and Mohammed Abubakar write on how education has fared in the first two years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

The Chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Lagos chapter, Dr. Laja Odukoya, is least impressed with the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. And Odukoya does not hide his disgust for the way he feels the Federal Government under the All Progressives Congress (APC) is handling education matters in the country.

But he is not alone.
The Deputy Director, Distance Learning Centre (DLC) University of Ibadan, Prof. Oyesoji Aremu too is finding it difficult to figure out why the Federal Government is not keen on given the nation’s education sector the attention it requires.

The commitment of a government to a sector is gauged by the financial contribution it makes for that sector in its budget. In the 2017 budget, the government allocated a sum of N398bn to the Ministry of Education.

Reflecting on that financial figure, Odukoya thinks it represents the level of disdain in which the present administration holds the education sector and foretells future crisis in the sector.

The UNILAG ASUU chairman noted, “Clearly this government has a pathological hatred for knowledge and education. What other evidence do we need to confirm that the government is not willing, ready or capable of resolving the crisis in the education sector?

“A government in deficit to the tune of N800bn to universities for National Economic Empowerment and Development and Strategy (NEEDs) assessment revitalisation funds and over N60bn as Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) to lecturers, budgeting N398bn for the whole education sector should not be taken seriously. Am afraid, there is crisis ahead.”

While it does not appear the Buhari government wants any “head-on collision” with ASUU and other stakeholders in the sector, with its recent constitution of a committee to look into lingering issues between it and the academic union, the budgetary allocation for education will likely remain a sore thumb that sticks out.

The UI scholar, Aremu, unequivocally pointed out that the Nigerian government has never been able to meet the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) benchmark of 26 per cent of budgetary allocation to education.

That reality riles him.
He said, “Generally, education sector has not been receiving the desired budgetary allocation annually. As a matter of fact, it is always below the UNESCO benchmark of 26 per cent. What this portends is that the sector is again, underfunded.

“While one would be somehow cautious on this, given the state of economy and the fallen crude oil price in the international market, the fact remains that education sector should be accorded greater attention in budgetary allocation as obtains in less privileged African countries.”

Aremu further asserted that the damage of such money set aside for education will be telling. “It goes without saying therefore, that implications of the current budgetary allocation to the sector would rub up negatively in terms of overhead cost and infrastructural attention. Where these persist, it is the quality of education services that would be compromised,” he said.

Both Odukoya and Aremu think there is still much to be done by the Buhari and his government in improving education, especially with the staggering fact that at least 11 out of the 20 million out-of-school-kids are from Nigeria.

However, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, believes that the Buhari administration is committed to promotion of education, research and development. He illustrated that with the presentation of a draft of education reform plan tagged, ‘Education for change: A ministerial strategic plan (2015-2019)’ to stakeholders and development partners, recently in Abuja.

Adamu told the audience that the document captures the challenges and issues facing the nation’s education system. Contrary to the claim of Odukoya that Buhari’s government has hatred for education, the minister argued that the current administration is committed to an education sector that prepares young ones for responsibilities of citizenship and national development.

The document, according to the minister, is also paying attention to the issue of out-of-school children, basic education, teacher education, adult literacy, curriculum and policy matters on basic and secondary education, technical and vocational education, education data planning, library services and information and communication technology.

“60 per cent of the 11.4 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls. Only a fraction (17 per cent) of 3.1 million nomadic children of school age has access to basic education despite decades of intervention.

“Similarly, only a small proportion of the ministry’s 2010 estimate of 9.5 million almajiri children have access to any basic education and an increasing number of displaced children (about one million) are being forced out of school in the insurgency-stricken states,” Adamu said.

In defence of the Federal Government, the minister pointed out that the document had proposed strategies for engaging with state governments in addressing the problems of out-of-school children.

Government planned to raise the national Net Enrolment Rate (NET) by enrolling 2,875,000 pupils annually for the next four years as well as renovate schools destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents and construct additional 71, 874 classrooms annually for the next four years.

In addition, government is expected to provide additional 71, 875 qualified teachers through the deployment of 14 per cent of the new teachers to be recruited annually and raise the enrolment of girls in basic education schools by 1.5 million annually for the next four years.

Concerning basic education, the minister said 15 years after the launch of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, pupils’ learning data remain unsatisfactory and mean scores in English, Mathematics, and life skills are very low and generally not up to standard.

But almost one year after, there is no sign that implementation had commenced on the document. However, it has not altogether been a tale of woes as a few of the parastatals have been able to keep pace with their activities, even though low-keyed.

Examples of such agencies are the National Universities Commission (NUC); Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) which have brought fresh verve into the conduct of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), using the computer based test (CBT).

The director of information and public relations officer of NUC, Ibrahim Usman Yakasai, told The Guardian that the commission has been carrying out its activities of regulating the university system with a view to bringing them in line with the 21st century demands.

For instance, he said the commission was embarking on a comprehensive
review of the university system curriculum as well as rejig the accreditation processes.

His words, “Well in the tertiary sub-sector, especially in the university system, a lot has been done. What government has been trying to do in the last two years is to return the universities back to their lost glory; refocus them, if you recall, there was a presidential directive that all specialized universities should go back to their original mandate, do what they were set out to do in the areas of technology, agriculture and others, and government is injecting so much money into the system, especially in the areas of research and capacity building.

As a regulatory agency, Yakasai said the first thing the commission was to
embark on is a comprehensive curriculum review; to raise the standard of the country’s university system to meet up with current trends.

“In the area of accreditation, we have introduced a new system, where instead of the old order where we embarked on haphazard accreditation, we will do the exercise only twice a year. By doing that, we can capture the entire system. That is why we directed that they streamline all their programmes to make sure that they are ready before we visit them and we do this twice in a year.”

Despite the claims by government officials, university teachers have a different opinion about the present administration and its policies on education, which they rated as the worst in the history of the country.

At a press briefing in Abuja in March, after its National Executive Council, (NEC) meeting at the Modibbo Adama University of Technology,
(MAUTECH) in Yola, Adamawa state, ASUU president, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi gave the Buhari administration a thumps down, especially in the area of funding of the sector.

Backing his claims with statistics, the university teacher said, “It is no longer news that budgetary allocation to education remains the lowest in the last five years. For instance, in 2013, 8,77 percent of the federal government budget was allocated to education. This rose marginally to 9.04 percent in 2014 and again, 11.29 percent in 2015.

“However, it came down to 7.98 percent in 2016 and 6.14 percent in 2017. This no doubt, is a far cry from the UNESCO’s benchmark of 26 percent annual budgetary allocation to education sector,” noting that patterns paltry budgetary allocations and releases to education sector has also been observed over the years.

“These trends are worrisome and very depressing for an underdeveloped country like ours, where education should be used to transform the economy, polity, culture, science and technology and other sectors that can enhance the quality of lives of the people.”.

Two years into the administration of Buhari, not a few education experts think that there is still much ground to be covered.

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