By Chidi Odinkalu
The future of every country lies in how it invests in the development, awareness and productivity of its citizens. This investment is done through education.
We used to have a good education system in Nigeria. Until the late 1980s, our universities competed very well with their peers in the world and we had the records of achievement to prove it. Parents were happy to send their children to our public education system, safe in the knowledge that they would equip the children to compete effectively in life. Teacher education systems were in existence and quality of faculty in most schools was reasonably assured.
We are no longer able to make any of these claims today. The educational system is in such a bad shape, it has become a threat to co-existence, national productivity and competitiveness, and national security. Consider these:
- The strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and the ensuing shutdown of the public university system, will be 90 days old on the day we’ll be celebrating 53 years of our independence. Today, the strike is 84 days old. Keeping smart young people idle for this long constitutes a high risk to themselves, their parents and to public safety and security;
- Adult literacy rates (15+), are well below 50% of the population: 38.38 for women; 59.38% for males or an average of 48.66% for the adult population or a total adult illiterate population estimated to be about 21,823,300
- Notwithstanding the commitment in the Universal Basic Education Act to free and compulsory basic education for all children in Nigeria, UNESCO estimates that over 10.5 million children in Nigeria do not have access to education. Net primary school enrollment is 90.94%, falling to 80.87% for the girl child;
- Net secondary school enrollment is 26.95% – 24.93% for girls and 28.88% for boys. The geographical variations within Nigeria are stark. North-east Nigeria, for instance, has average net secondary school enrolment figures of less than 6%.
- Nigeria ranks last – 136th – of 136 countries surveyed by UNESCO with reference to public spending on education as a proportion of GDP: the proportion of public spending on education in Nigeria as a percentage of our GDP is 0.89%. Education expenditure as a proportion of Gross National Income (GNI) is not much better – 0.85% or 167th out of 168 countries.
These figures are grim. They must worry every parent, adult, citizen or community.
These statistics also create categories of citizens, with large proportions being consigned into avoidable impoverishment with grave national security consequences. And they call into question the sustainability of our political economy, governance and development plans, including, in particular the Vision 20:20:20.
It is clear the policy environment for education as a guarantor of our national development needs a fresh look by all interested in the future of Nigeria. Government cannot clearly do education alone but it is also clearly not doing enough. The education unions are also not doing enough. Alumni networks are too indifferent and agnostic and must become more involved in education policy. And the regulatory environment for private providers of education must be strengthened.
Education is too important to be abandoned to government, the profit imperative or any one set of interest alone. The model of education policy design and governance needs attention by all interested.
This is the background against which the Unity Schools Old Students Association (USOSA) has convened a civic intervention in the education policy framework. Under the platform of the Unity Schools Old Students Association (USOSA), we’re convening a day-long, National Dialogue on Education in Nigeria with the theme: Education, Good Governance & National Unity to take place in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, on 24 October 2013.
USOSA is the Alumni Associations of all the 104 Federal Government Colleges, Federal Government Girls’ Colleges, Kings College, Queens College, Federal Government Boys College, Apo, Federal Science Colleges, Suleja Academy and Federal Science and Technical Colleges in all states of Nigeria and the FCT.
Through this convening, USOSA seeks partnership with the network of all active stakeholders in education in Nigeria, including all Old Students Associations, unions of teachers and workers at all levels of the educational system, networks of parents-teachers associations (PTA networks), and all persons who find are willing to contribute to the search for a more serviceable educational system and policy framework.
This One Day Dialogue will, additionally, draw participation from students and all sectors of policy making bodies in Nigeria including Executive and Legislative Arms of Government, the security and uniformed services, faith leaders, professional and civic leaders as well as politicians and will be designed to foster a better understanding of the present challenges faced by the Country and how best to deploy instruments towards achieving lasting solutions to them. This is the niche that the event is designed to achieve.
The principal objective of this Dialogue is to provide a Forum for informed exchange of ideas and for exploring sources of support for durable solutions to the present challenges that afflict National co-existence, productivity and security in Nigeria.
The main business of the summit/dialogue will take place in break-out, syndicate sessions which will be preceded by a high profile opening session. The syndicate groups will be as follows:
- Education and Public/Security;
- Education, Good Governance and National Unity; and
- Education, Human Asset Development and National Competitiveness.
- This effort will hopefully produce a set of ideas that provide the bases for further advocacy with government at all levels – federal and State; Executive as well as legislature. We also hope to rally the private sector which has a self interest in an informed and skilled work force in Nigeria as well as Alumni networks.
This initiative does not offer any quick fixes or ready-made solutions. We are clear, however, that with the current situation in the education sector, indifference is not an answer and doing nothing is not acceptable.
We also believe that this situation cannot be resolved without the constructive involvement of civic groups and communities of interest, especially of Nigerians who have had the benefit of good education from Nigeria.
Odinkalu chairs Education Sector Advocacy and Reform Committee of the Unity Schools Old Students Association, (USOSA).
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