By Matthew Agboma Ozah
International conferences, summits or seminars have their usefulness and advantages. They provide a forum for reasoned discussions, and for positions to be taken on contemporary problems facing nation states as well as focus the world’s attention on issues that affect humankind’s peace and well-being. But when they are held as a matter of routine and on issues that will not go away, there are the possibility and risk of calling such meetings window-dressing. The continued deteriorating standard of education in Nigeria presents one such problematic and recurrent discussion. Much energy and tones of prose have been expended over several decades in extolling the theory that, for any nation, education is the soul and key to a bright future for its citizens.
The recent Global Education Summit held in London, United Kingdom gives relevance to the fact that a well funded education sector would unlock development and grow the economy for the good of all in the country. In this context, fresh opportunity for a five-year pledge for leaders firm support to Global Partnership on Education’s (GPE) was reached in the London Education Summit to help transform the education system in up to about 90 countries and territories around the world. The London education summit also provided an opportunity for leaders present to brainstorm on the way forward for transforming education and deliberating on innovative solutions and commitment to address the core challenges facing education. The mindless neglect and poor funding by successive governments of Nigeria’s docile and poor education seems to receive a tap, and wake-up call from its protracted slumber. Yes, the hope for Nigeria’s education sector to regain its lost glory is coming from President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent pledge as a participant in the just concluded Heads of State Call to Action on Education Summit in London.
At the summit, President Buhari saw the need for his administration to increase the budget for the education sector by 50 per cent in the next two years. He said: “We commit to progressively increase our annual domestic education expenditure by 50 per cent over the next two years and up to 100 per cent by 2025 beyond the 20 per cent global benchmark”. Good talk you may say. However, given the scale of challenges facing the education sector in Nigeria for instance, the London pledge should go beyond the rhetoric of a summit or conference that earns a resounding applause. But to grab education challenges by the jugular is to rub your hand where the pain is to get relieved. It is disheartening to note that successive governments in Nigeria have consistently maligned the education sector by starving it of funds. Yet, government and its officials continue in their sermon that education is the utmost in human existence and nation building. Such beclouded action and sweet rhetoric is not healthy for the education sector and the nation in general. It is important for the Buhari administration to keep the ‘London Education Summit’ pledge dearly and not let it be gone with the wind like, the free school feeding programme or the monthly five thousand naira stipends for graduates among others.
If there is one thing Nigerians wanted from President Buhari administration when they elected him into office in 2015 and returned him in 2019, it was to improve the poor standard of education. Today, the ugly state of affairs in the education sector is alarmingly disturbing particularly the case with the girl child where cultural practice of early marriage stops the girl child from going to school. Also disturbing is the school children of the North East where insurgency is a contributory factor to the already deplorable condition of education in the country. Of late, the bandits have somehow shifted from their usual slogan of Western education is evil by destroying school buildings and infrastructure to kidnapping school children and demanding ransom. To worsen the pathetic situation, the Buhari administration recently said it would no longer negotiate with bandits. Yet, there are no viable signs of government winning the fight against insurgency. It is important for the ruling government, in whatever way or manner to commit more resources and energy to defeating the insurgents.
The question of mandatory overhaul of the education sector cannot be over emphasised as the drop in quality of the teaching personnel affects the quality of graduating students. To make matters worse, teachers’ poor treatment result to frequent strike action over their welfare or demand for improved infrastructure in the education sector. The decadence in the education sector is further messed up by the all comers affairs due to the absence of employment opportunities hence individuals from other fields found themselves as teachers to make ends meet, not necessarily because of interest or motivation. The facts on the ground remains that, Nigeria’s political leaders owe the people a great deal of service, especially those they constantly refer to as the future leaders’ sound educational background by meeting the UNESCO 26 per cent evaluated standard in education funding.
On its part, government should have a clear idea of the education sector’s catalogue of challenges and ensure a diligent handling of the issues. Again, given the audience at which President Buhari made the education pledge, one hopes that it should not end with the applause it received on the floor of the summit. The Buhari administration must realise that the downward drift in education standard must stop now and government must be seen to truly move education forward by giving the sector a robust allocation in the annual budget. Anyway, the ‘London pledge’ and the ball are clearly in government’s court.