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Mallam Adamu’s confessions and choice of Nigeria’s next education minister

Mallam Adamu Adamu, Nigeria’s longest-serving minister of education leaves office as Buhari’s 8-year-old administration fades. What is most important now is the choice of Nigeria’s next minister of education. We have attempted to unpack and give some indications in this editorial.
Mallam Adamu's confessions
Source: TechGYD
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Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) leaves Aso Rock, the presidential villa today and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, becomes the next tenant from May 29, 2023, to May 29, 2027. This change of tenancy rights ends a governance cycle and ushers in new managers of Africa’s largest economy.

Buhari’s administration will be remembered for some gross inefficiencies such as the about N400 billion lost to fuel subsidies monthly, but also for some achievements, signing the Petroleum Industry Act. Both instances are from the petroleum industry. Each sector of the economy will have a different tale.

Education limped along through trials in the last eight years. Under Buhari’s watch, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was on strike for over 600 days. This is the longest an ASUU strike has lasted under any president since 1999.

And in what comes across as confessions, Mallam Adamu Adamu, Nigeria’s longest-serving minister of education has been reported to have at a valedictory session with officials and heads of parastatals of the Ministry said: “I didn’t know anything about the education sector when I was appointed Minister except superficially.”

This may explain why he could not push the needle on out-of-school children because last year he was also reported to have publicly accepted to have failed Nigerians in that regard. The noble thing to do though would have been to resign.

Again, let us put this in context. The 69-year-old holds a bachelor of science degree in accounting from Ahamadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna state and a master’s degree from the University of Columbia’s School of Journalism. He has practised journalism since 1984. It means Adamu has neither an education certification nor has he practised in education, before his appointment.

Adamu also served as a special assistant to Buhari, then chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund. Before he was appointed minister, in 2015, he was the secretary and member of Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Transition Committee.

“I didn’t know anything about the education sector…”

A random check of the academic and professional background of ministers of education in some countries does not show a strong correlation between being a professional educator and becoming a minister of education.

In Finland, Li Sigrid Andersson, 36, holds a bachelor of social sciences degree in international law. In Kenya, Ezekiel Machogu, the cabinet secretary in charge of the Ministry of Education has a bachelor of arts degree in political science.

For Rwanda, Valentine Uwamariya, 52, earned a bachelor of science degree in Organic Chemistry from the National University in Rwanda, and a master of science degree in Electrochemistry from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Thereafter in 2007, she got a scholarship to study a PhD Programme at UNESCO-IHE and in 2013 she earned a doctorate.

She served as the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of Training, Institutional Development and Research in the newly established Rwanda Polytechnic just before she became the minister of education.

One last example, in South Africa, Angie Motshekga the minister of basic education Motshekga studied at the University of the North, where she obtained a bachelor of arts degree in education. From the University of the Witwatersrand, Motshekga obtained a bachelor of Educational Science degree and a master’s degree.

In 1981, Motshekga was employed as a teacher at Orlando High School. She worked at the school until 1983 when she resigned following her appointment as a lecturer at the Soweto College of Education. Motshekga became a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1985. She lectured at the university until 1994.

The case of Sierra Leone

The aim of this random background check of the ministers of education in these four countries is because of their significance. Finland for its teacher-centred education system, South Africa and Kenya for the size of their economies on the African continent and Rwanda for its institutional and educational transformations in the last decades.

On the African continent, only in South Africa and Rwanda are the ministers of education educators. It means that Adamu’s educational background need not have constituted a major handicap. There are instances of people switching from non-educational to educational careers and succeeding at it.

Whatever the case, it is time to crystalise public opinion around the ideal candidate for the job. In one of our editorials on how to deal with teachers’ shortage, we proposed Finland’s model.

However, who would lead the charge in Nigeria’s education sector, a success story to learn from is Sierra Leone’s David Moinina Sengeh, 36, minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Chief Innovation Officer of that country, the first-ever. Sengeh won Best Minister Award 2023 at the World Government Summit, Dubai in February 2023. This implies he is the best minister of education in the world.

Read also: Sierra Leone’s dreadlocked minister of education drives radical inclusion

The 36-year-old earned at the second edition of the African Genius Awards the Outstanding African Genius for 2022 on Africa Day at the Future Africa Institute, University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Sengeh is a biomechatronics engineer and data scientist who holds several patents and is widely published across the education, healthcare, artificial intelligence and policy domains. He is an Afrobeat music rapper and clothing designer. He is well-rounded.

Videos went viral of him visiting schools and sitting in a classroom to take students’ attendance. He drove policy innovations and fought for inclusive education for all. Under his watch, a bill was passed into law allowing pregnant girls to return to school. He recently published a book, ‘Radical Inclusion’ which has been the rev of development experts.

Presenting the 10 highlights of the past five years, Sengeh in a Facebook post wrote that the ministry has changed all curricula and syllabi to reflect 21st-century skills; employed over 12,000 new teachers and trained over 22,000; added about 1,000 classrooms to schools to hold the additional 1,000,000 learners to school.

Other milestones include adding over 120 per cent of children with disabilities in schools and achieving gender parity; having over 100,000 boys and girls pass their senior secondary school exams; deploying over 10 million books, teaching and learning materials; deploying technologies used millions of times by hundreds of thousands of pupils; expanding school feeding to nearly 800,000 children; led the world in global education visioning, financing and monitoring; added 22 per cent of the budget in education.

For a country such as Sierra Leone, these are no little feats.

Lessons for Nigeria

The Nigerian and Sierra Leonean contexts may be different in several ways. Nigeria has over 200 million people while Sierra Leone is 8.421 million people strong. However, the lessons to learn are more about the qualities of an individual and less about the size of the population.

Innovation mindset: Nigeria’s next minister of education has to be open to and drive innovation in the sector. The innovation here comprises driving policy changes that make universal basic inclusive education more accessible, affordable and suitable for the 21st Century.

Selection based on age is discriminatory, however, a minister less than 50 years old or in their fifties with a strong background and track record in science, technology, engineering, innovation and mathematics would serve Nigeria well. It will also be desirable but not necessary when the minister has some degree in education. Exposure to education on different continents of the world would be useful. Above all the minister must have been born and raised in Nigeria to ensure an understanding of the local context.

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