On May 29, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was sworn into office following his emergence as winner of the February 25 presidential election.
In his inaugural address, eight things were prioritised but education did not make this priority list. Security, economy, infrastructure, agriculture, fuel subsidy, jobs, monetary policy, and foreign policy topped the list.
An inaugural address is not a policy paper, but it sets the tone and gives a bird’s eye view of a government’s agenda. Like a woman’s mini skirt, such an address is expected to be long enough to cover key issues and short enough to create interest. However, the address did not dwell on education but mentioned it in passing under the fuel subsidy subheading.
It will help to look at President Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana, President William Ruto of Kenya, and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa’s first inaugural addresses. These are Nigeria’s African peers and share similar social and economic development problems.
President Addo of Ghana in his first inaugural address, in January 2017, said, “We must create wealth and restore happiness to our nation. We can only do this when we have an educated and skilled population that is capable of competing in the global economy. We must expand our horizons and embrace science and technology as critical tools for our development.”
The mini skirt analogy applies quite well to President Ruto of Kenya’s treatment of education in his inaugural address, in September 2022.
“There is a robust conversation in the country on education, in particular the implementation of the CBC curriculum. Public participation is critical in this matter. We will establish an Education Reform Taskforce in the Presidency which will be launched in the coming weeks.
“It will collect views from all key players in line with the constitutional demand of public participation. We are particularly alive of the anxieties of parents on the twin transitions of the last 8-4-4 class and the first CBC class in January next year. I assure you that there will be a solution to the matter before then,” Ruto outlined.
In May 2019, Cyril Ramaphosa of South affirmed in his inaugural address that “Every school child will be able to read, and every person who wants to work will have a reasonable opportunity to find employment.”
The business of government is to govern, and set fair rules. In line with this government provides vision and direction and shines the light on the various sectors of society and the economy relying on a robust private sector to drive growth and create jobs. This is why inaugural speeches provide valuable indicators. It is the government’s first impression, body language.
Nigeria’s over 200 million strong population comprises about 43 per cent of children between 0-14 years, 19 per cent between 15-24 years and about 62 per cent are below age 25 years, according to the United Nations estimates.
A quick deduction from this is that Nigeria has a large young population, which can have significant economic benefits known as demographic dividends.
However, to harvest these demographic dividends governments and families require sufficient investments in their health and education while also encouraging new job opportunities for them.
Population size is one of the factors that can be used to plan education. Planners need to study changes in the composition of the population to plan for education, health care services, and economic development projects. The age of residents, gender, occupation, level of education, marital status, and living arrangements provide planners with the type of information needed to plan for the residents’ diverse needs.
In addition, education can moderate population growth. For the better-educated, birth rates are lower and population growth is slower. This makes it easier for countries to develop. A more-educated workforce also makes poverty eradication and economic growth easier to achieve.
To return to the statistics about Nigeria’s population and education planning. There are about 86 million children between 0 – 14 years. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in its latest global data, said Nigeria now has about 20 million out-of-school children. This represents 23.30 per cent of Nigeria’s children population. Similarly, about 124 million Nigerians are below 25 years old. It means that Nigeria has an urgent need to convert this raw youthfulness into refined diamonds. Education makes this happen.
Setting the agenda for education
The educational system in Nigeria is experiencing several challenges, including resource waste, infrastructure decline, and subpar working conditions. About 20 million children are not enrolled in school in the country, the highest in the world. Another 27 million students are functioning poorly in school. Numerous Nigerians have a high school diploma, while more than 60 million, or 30 per cent, are illiterate.
Additionally, many young Nigerians who meet admission requirements are turned away from public universities. At the same time, the country’s private institutions are constrained by, among other things, expensive tuition costs.
As the Tinubu-Shettima administration begins, it should concentrate on crucial areas that would help Nigeria’s education sector escape the dire situation it is now in. Edugist has listed some priorities for it to take care of initially.
Choice of education minister
Instead of choosing a political party stooge as minister of education, the next government needs to decide upon a professional. Under knowledgeable education ministers who rose through the ranks of the system, Nigeria’s educational system has historically performed better.
Take Professor Jubril Aminu, who held the portfolio position from 1985 until 1990. In his time, the 6-3-3-4 system was introduced. For Fulani and other nomadic migratory ethnic groups, Aminu also created “nomadic education” in 1989.
Professor Babs Fafunwa took over from 1990 to 1992. He revamped the federal education programme. Additionally, he made space for mother tongue education, a universal practice that most African nations haven’t fully adopted. The enormous benefits of mother tongue education are why UNESCO advises it.
One of the largest issues Nigeria’s educational system is facing is funding. The annual budget allocation for education is a pitifully small portion. This has been less than 10 per cent since 1999. This is below the 15 per cent to 26 per cent range recommended by UNESCO.
Poorer educational outcomes have resulted from Nigeria’s experience with the commercialisation and neglect of government secondary and primary school levels. Privatisation is not the solution either; if anything, it will likely make the gap between the rich and the poor wider. It will deprive numerous youngsters of access to quality education at an affordable price, raise the rate of illiteracy, and worsen tertiary academic achievement.
Financing for research
In three ways, research suffers in Nigeria. First, especially in the core sciences, researchers do their work unsupported. Almost all funding comes from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund. The Trust, among other things, funds and sponsors research projects, awards grants for research, and funds lecturers for academic conferences. However, it has limited resources, and its operations are sluggish, extremely selective, and occasionally politicised.
Second, because the government is not dedicated to research-oriented development, study findings are frequently left on library shelves. Researchers lack the resources to publicise their study and conclusions.
Third, because there are no reliable systems in place to monitor research output nationally, it is subpar and repeated.
Stop the constant strike
To represent academic workers in Nigerian universities, the Academic Workers Union of Universities was founded in 1978. Since then, there have been nearly yearly strikes that have interfered with the academic calendar.
The government must boost funding for the industry and uphold contracts made with the unions to end these annual disruptions.
Strikes can only be ended if the well-being of all employees, from teachers to lecturers, is prioritised.
This priority issues list has not exhausted the gargantuan problems facing the incoming administration. This is why the choice of an education minister is critical because whoever assumes office has to have a clear understanding of what the issues are from day one, unlike Adamu Adamu, the immediate past minister of education.