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Prof. Lassa Says Education Sector Needs Total Overhaul to Address Rot

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Owing to the impact of education in the development of any nation or individual, a number of key stakeholders have repeatedly called for a declaration of a ‘State of Emergency’ in the sector, as a means of restoring the lost glory of the system.

One of such calls was emphasized during an interview with a former Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) and first professor of mathematics from Northern Nigeria, Peter Ntasiri Lassa. On his account, he gave deeper insight into the genesis of the rot in the sector and how policy reforms could aid government in salvaging education from its near total collapse.

What are you candid assessment of education in Nigeria, do you share the opinion like others that the sector has taken a turn for the worse?

For me, it is worrisome that Nigeria has become a country that has the largest population of out of school children in the world. It is being reported in several international and national educational reports that approximately 10 million of Nigerian children are out of school. We as a country have not been able to implement the policy initiative to drive the implementation of the educational system.

Those that are in school, the statistics show that only 64 percent completed primary school in 2012 and that only 43 percent continued into JSS 1. The situation is worse in northern states and particularly Borno State where 72 percent of primary school age children never attended school. These and other indicators are sufficient reasons to worry about the state of primary education.

In majority of primary schools particularly in rural areas, they do not have buildings. Children are sitting under the trees or open space to study. For example, in Sunday Trust of July 12, 2015, Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu reported that 80 percent of the state schools lack desk, and chairs.

Most buildings in schools are dilapidated and not good for human habitation. Even in townships where they have so called classrooms, there is no water, not to talk of toilets.

The infrastructures in primary schools are in sorry state for human habitation. The dilapidated buildings and poor enrollment figures drive children away from school and they prefer to go and patch bad roads where the motorists can give them N20 or N50.

In fact, when they come to school, no teaching takes place because the teachers are not around. Some teachers will take the children to their farms to cultivate them. UNICEF had reported that 40 percent of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend any primary school. The report indicated that the northern region recorded the lowest school attendance rate, particularly for the girl-child.

In the 1960s and 1970s, all schools had sports fields. Inter-school sport competition in football, athletics, hockey were held regularly but now no such sport competition is taking place in schools because schools do not have sports fields.
Do you see any link between the current economic recession and state governments’ inability to access grants provided by the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Fund?

Yes, the Federal Ministry of Education says it plans to take 28 state governments to the Federal Executive Council for sanctioning. There is N64.8 billion for UBE Fund which states could not access but the money is there for them. Yet, primary schools have no classrooms and teachers are yet to be paid.

In fact, the executive secretary of UBEC cautioned against states’ perennial misappropriation of UBEC funds and this has impeded the desire to improve basic education in the country.

Poor education output has been linked to unqualified teachers still within the school system, what effect do you make of this development?

Most teachers in these schools cannot read and write and they cannot read even the textbook which they are supposed to use to teach.  A former Kwara State commissioner for education expressed worry about many teachers who could not pass primary four class examination.

If those who are supposed to impact knowledge on primary school pupils cannot even read the very textbooks they are supposed to use as their basic books, how can they teach from the textbooks? It is like a blind leading a fellow blind. Teachers cannot give what they do not have. This is why the standard of education is falling when the foundation is weak.

Sometimes ago, the executive secretary of UBEC, Mohammed Modibbo revealed that more than 50 per cent of primary school teachers in Sokoto State could not read or write and also, a former chairman of Katsina State subcommittee on education declared that 11,000 Katsina teachers were unqualified. Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State had a running battle with teachers in the state. When the government wanted to give competency test to the teachers, they resented.

The NUT chairman in Edo State stressed that placing the blame of incompetence solely on teachers would probably be wrong as most of the teachers were hired because of their association with government officials or politicians not withstanding their incompetence and disqualification.

The sorry state of this is that many Nigerian children may have attended school but would turn out as illiterates like their teachers.

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As a result of these problems, what we have today cannot be compared with the teaching profession before independence. Since the military takeover of government, teaching is regarded as a cursed profession and teachers are regarded as those who could not make it to the so called prestigious professions. Irregularities in and outright non-payment of teachers’ salaries are now common features of the Nigerian society.

Where then lies the solutions to these myriad of problems?

The solution to these problems must start with the three tiers of government because they are the ones that make policies and guidelines on education in this country.

The states and local governments should join hands with the Federal Government to build durable infrastructure in these schools. Notwithstanding the statutory responsibility of state and local governments to provide primary and secondary education, the federal government should also intervene in this regard.

The intervention by the federal government is subject to each state’s contribution of a 50 per cent counterpart of each project.
However, some states are unwilling to give their counterpart fund for the matching grant and do not want to submit technical report of the project being executed.

This has resulted in accumulation of un-accessed funds which run into billions with UBEC. And while there are huge funds available to provide infrastructure in school, primary school children are studying in dilapidated or non-existent classrooms. Hence, there is need for the federal and state governments to have a total understanding and genuine purpose to improve education.

If there is to be an improvement in the entire educational system, there must be an increase in the input into teacher training institutions and improving the capacity of the teachers. If we want to improve the education at primary schools the government must insist that well qualified teachers are hired and their salaries must be paid as at when due.

Would you say dearth of quality teaching professionals are responsible for poor performance in WAEC,NECO and other public examinations?

First and foremost, the present performance of Nigerian secondary school student in examinations has turned a national embarrassment. This has led to the dearth of quality manpower, parents require academic excellence from their children, they do not have to depend on extra moral lessons for their wards, if teachers are doing their job.

Inspite of the negative outcry of poor academic performance no constructive plan is in the offing to improve the situation. Our secondary school performance in WAEC, NECO and other examinations at the senior secondary school level has been very poor, it has become worrisome that stakeholders and students will devise various method of overcoming this poor performance in exams. Some parents go as far as interfering in their wards education to discourage them from becoming teachers.

Some dubious methods are used to ameliorate the situation, these dubious methods have become serious in lowering the students’ performance, such activities as miracle centres, examination malpractices, cheating in exams as encouraged by teachers, school supervisors, invigilators have complicated the situation in the system, these and many other factors are responsible for the poor performance among secondary school children.

Students come to secondary school with poor primary background also secondary school teachers are not performing their jobs as teachers who know their subject matter and methodology of presenting the subject to their students.

Most of the time teachers are on strike because of non-payment of salaries,the situation has a demoralising effect on the enthusiasm of teachers to teach. Again, discipline in school goes a long way in determining the academic performance of students, a school that lacks discipline does invariably produce students with poor academic performance, such schools keep helping their students during examination and teachers teaching in such environment do not bother to go the extra mile in improving themselves academically.

What about the tertiary level, do you think this situation has permeated the Universities and Polytechnics as well?

Of course the decay has permeated all facets of the education system; recently, the Academic Staff Union of Universities expressed the sorry state of decay in Nigerian universities.

As an insider, ASUU said 200 and 300 level students could not write a simple letter. This was the report of the branch chairman of ASUU, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU).

In the same vein former Governor of Ekiti state, Ayo Fayose frowned at the quality of engineers being produced by the nation’s tertiary institutions describing them as unemployable.

The President of National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, professor Ademola Olaiton had cause to raise the alarm over declining standard of medical and dental education in Nigeria,  he attributed this to low funding and incessant strike action of lecturers.

Many individuals have advocated the need for universities not to compromise standards in their teaching so that their certificate will not be mere sheet of paper. Universities in Nigeria must improve academic programmes in order to produce globally employable graduates.


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