Education is the spark of life when we’re considering national growth, and it’s the first step to technological development of any nation. Some nations attach high premium to education because they operate what experts refer to as “knowledge-based economies.” It’s not surprising that developed nations still make education the cornerstone of their developmental efforts. While in Nigeria, our educational system is in shambles because of several factors that time and space will not permit me to discuss. When you view our educational system, the odds are skewed against the nation’s higher education with its failure to meet growing demand of the industry.
Scanning through this year’s budget proposal, I observed that Nigeria’s education sector has the least capital allocation of about N56 billion which is lower than 26 percent of the nation’s budget recommended by the United Nations. For several years, education has received measly and diminishing percentages of the national budget. In 2016, the education sector received only 8 percent of the budget, while in 2017 it dropped to about 6 percent of the total budget. Observers of the decline in budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Education say that the Ministry has remained the least funded, and in times past, competes at the bottom with the Ministry of Women Affairs.
One may argue that the nation’s economy, which is just about to kick out of recession, is responsible for the insignificant budget allocated to the education sector. Due to funding constraints, the infrastructure of most public universities are in deteriorating conditions. I have equally argued that the decay of infrastructure in the nation’s education sector is significantly responsible for the poor quality of graduates from tertiary institutions. Despite inadequacies of infrastructure, recurrent expenditure dominates the 2017 budget of Nigerian universities. That is why I think that facilities in the education sector should be considered as part of the country’s infrastructure. Accordingly, a substantial part of the 2017 budget on capital expenditure should have been channeled to the upgrade of existing infrastructure that are in a state of decay in all federal universities.
With a declining budget allocation to the Ministry of Education, we need to ask: what type of education do we want to give our children as a nation, and perhaps, what do we want our youths to use the education for? Nigeria needs a globally competitive education system that is pro-industry. And if the federal government has a policy to revamp the nation’s educational system, the policy is not reflected in the yearly financial allocation. Besides inadequate funding, other problems of the education sector include unstable academic calendar, ageing academic staff, obsolete research equipment, inadequate staff professional development programs, and low morale of staff.
With numerous challenges facing the nation’s education sector, it could be seen that it’s just a mere wish that Nigeria wants to be a technologically developed nation. Some analysts have argued that Nigeria needs a national education summit in the light of second machine age. The proposed summit they say, is to get both public and private sectors’ education practitioners to realign their current efforts towards competitive human capital development, or risk being left out in the second machine age.
In a technological age, human resources, not capital, not income, not even crude oil and other mineral resources constitute the ultimate basis for the wealth of nations. Capital and natural resources, are passive factors, while human beings are active agents who accumulate wealth, exploit material resources, build social, economic and political organizations and carry forward national development, according to Fredrick H Harbison, a professor of Labor Economics at the Princeton University. Any nation whose leaders lack the vision to prepare its youths through a well-defined education policy and implementation strategy, with a view to developing their skills and knowledge so that they could be utilized effectively in the national economy will not develop.
The inability of the nation to prepare its youths for future jobs, according to reports, is responsible for Nigeria’s lag behind other African peers on the World Economic Forum (WEF) human capital optimization Index. Accordingly, “Nigeria is failing to prepare about 70 percent of its population who are below 30 years of age for jobs and skills of the future, due largely to obsolete education curricula.” In the WEF report, Nigeria came 25 out 26 countries assessed, coming ahead of Chad. If this trend is to be reversed, Nigeria must evolve strategies that will bring her youths out of the current channel of educational backwardness.
Apart from inadequate funding of the education sector, is the issue of academic fraud and corruption. Nigeria’s education sector is vulnerable to corruption. Limited access to education in Nigeria has contributed to the use of bribes and the infamous “man-know-man” syndrome to gain admission to universities and other higher institutions of learning. From cheating during examinations to more complex behaviors such as impersonation and falsification of academic records.
Recently, I read in a BusinessDay edition of 25 April 2017, that the Cross River State Government granted amnesty to 754 teachers who falsified their records. Political interest is the deciding factor instead of morals and the rule of law. It’s unfortunate that criminals are teachers in our schools. Teachers should be seen by students as role models. Not all teachers are morally bankrupt. But what will those with forged credentials teach their students? They teach students to pay for grades/certificates with gifts, money or sexual favors, terrorize examiners and assault invigilators.
In order to improve the educational standard and quality of its human resources, the Federal Government must invest in internationally significant research. Embark on a teaching orientation of our students that prepares them for work in the global economy, and enlarge the curriculum of tertiary institutions to include entrepreneurship which reckons with pro-industry expertise. If the Federal Government refuses to resurrect merit and bury mediocrity immediately, Nigeria will continually lag behind economically and perhaps, remain a straggler ad infinitum.