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Sunday, 26 June 2011

JAMB and The Failure Of Public Exams

The Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board otherwise known as JAMB had last wek released its results for candidates seeking admission into Nigerian Universities. The poor results didn't come as a surprise to me; a worrying trend that has seen candidates' performance being on a downward spiral ever since I first sat for the exams myself over a decade ago. To gain admission into a Nigerian univesity, at least as I had previously known it to be, a candidate needs to score at least over the 200 mark something 56% of the over a million students who sat for the exams did not manage to achieve. It is also of utmost great concern that just under 3000 students which represents 0.2% of the entire candidates achieved a score of 300 and above.

So why are our young people increasingly doing so poorly in public exams in Nigeria? We need to first take a long hard look at what type of education is on offer in primary and secondary schools. As I write this piece, it has almost been impossible to get hold of what is called the new basic education curriculum for primary and junior secondary schools, launched in 2007. Four years after its launch, not even the Federal Ministry of Education's non-functional website can something as basic as the National curriculum document can be found ~ a topic for another day perhaps. However, from what I understand, the new curriculum will have an emphasis on voctional education and enterpreneurial skill. This is all well and good but the trouble is we are never short of good policy formulation but our biggest nemesis is to actually make it to work. The failure by successive governments to invest heavily in both infrastructure in schools; teaching and learning resources and more importantly a rigorous teacher training programme. The unattractiveness to teaching because of poor remuneration and other conditions of service has left the profession with a negative perception as one that is for people who perhaps didn't do well enough to go to university.

If you sum up all these issues coupled with corruption and ineptitude in the way our schools are run, it comes not as a surprise why many of our young people are failing because of an educational system that has failed and refused to reform. The decades of neglect has led to the chickens finally coming home to roost in the rot that pervades every aspect of education in Nigeria typified by the recent JAMB results.

We also need to ask ourselves if a test with only multiple choice questions by a single exam board is a true measure of the ability of students who end up going to university? Are the questions in line with what is being taught in schools? Do schools and Universities make any input in questions or at least the way they are set? There needs to be some deep soul searching by govt at all levels and they should begin to take steps to fix the mess that our educational system has become if we are to avoid headlines that portrays the educational underachievement that sadly our children have become known for.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Scandal of Private Education

I was having one of those moments whilst enjoying my half-term break, spending quality time with my family and reminiscing about my childhood days. I recollected time at my primary school, Pabod Model Primary school Port-Harcourt. I consider myself lucky to have been a recipient of state education at the time because it was a state school, yes, a state school! But it was a state school with high standards like many of its kind at that time something that sadly cannot be said of today's state run schools. Back then we had very good teachers who taught us very well, discipline was high and there was a healthy competititive edge about what we learned which helped bring the best out of each other. Above all, we enjoyed been at school which in itself was a motivation to do well. I strongly believe that my primary school laid a solid foundation to who I am today. I remember there was only one private primary school that I knew of at the time in Port Harcourt but we weren't far off in comparison to them in terms of standards but it is fair to say they were slightly better.

Since that time private education providers have multiplied in their hundreds and thousands but of what impact have they had on the quality of education in Nigeria? Let me first draw your attention to a recent news article on a National Newspaper about the Ondo State government's mission to close what the Commissioner for Education describes as sub-standard private schools. He disclosed that there are about 1800 private schools in the state and if you add that figure to the ones operating illegally the figure could rise to as much as 4000! This should be cheering news if all these so called private schools provide high quality education but worryingly they have become business centres setup by people who have no business in education and some have being turned into centres for exam malpractice. This problem is not peculiar to Ondo State because I can guarantee you the problem is widespread in other parts of the country.

But how did we get here in the first place? In any civilised society schools are established by law and in my understanding you need a licence to establish one which can only be issued if the would-be proprietors meet certain stringent requirements. It seems to me the process of obtaining a licence to set up a private school in Nigeria has been abused by those entrusted with the responsibilty.  This can only be possible by compromising the process which has been allowed to run riot for years with impunity. The other possible reason why we have this huge problem on our hands is the lack of a better alternative. State funded schools have been allowed to fail and not fit for purpose which has led many parents to seek better education for their children privately. This no doubt has fuelled the need and surge in private schools but in doing so has played into the hands of opportunists who have only helped in making a bad situation worse.

If we are serious as a country to provide quality education then governments at all levels need to improve standards of its schools. This should cover adequate infrastructure, appropriate teaching and learning resources and highly trained manpower. This needs to be done simultaneously by introducing a policy of re-licensing all privately run schools to ensure only those fit to provide high quality education to our children are left to operate ~ it is scandalous that a state in Nigeria can somehow have about 4000 private schools operating legally/illegally whilst a developed nation like the United Kingdom has only about 2500 well run independent schools. These schools should also be subject to periodic inspections to ensure they are operating within the highest possible standards. An independent agency separate from the education ministries and education authorities at all levels should be established to undertake this reform that is badly needed if our education system is to compete with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Can Education be Free?

The new Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha on his inauguration on May 29th at the Dan Anyiam stadium Owerri confirmed one of his key election promise to make education free at all levels in the state. The question though is that can education be truly free? The simple answer is yes, but some understanding of the concept of free education could help. Free education is primarily education that is funded by the state without the need for citizens to pay or make financial commitments. This financial burden is bourne by the state by way of taxation but in Nigeria let's face it the major source of revenue is oil not taxation. Quite a number of countries especially those in the developed world offer free education to its citizens but the interesting fact is that even some developing countries notably Sri Lanka can also match that. Sri Lanka is not a particularly rich country in terms of income when compared to Nigeria, depending mainly on exports such as textiles and apparel, tea and spices; rubber manufactures; precious stones; coconut products, fish but it boast of an income per capita head of US$1,972, the highest in south Asia despite 26 years of internal conflict. You do wonder why Nigeria with an enormous income from oil, its citizens are unable to enjoy free education at all levels, but that is a debate for another day.

Imo State earns about 2.7b Naira (about 32.4b annually) monthly from the Federation account (source: Federal Ministry of Finance). I would also like to think they get a reasonable amount from internal revenue. The question though is whether this amount is enough to achieve this key policy of the new Governor considering other sectors of the economy that will compete for this same amount? Well that is a question for Rochas and his team to answer as I would imagine they should have made a thorough assessment of expected income and how they intend to allocate these resources appropriately. This raises the issue of accountability which is at the heart of why we have been denied basic rights like free and quality education in the last 50 years. In my view education should be made free and compulsory to at least up to secondary education. The future of our country does not depend on the black crude underneath the sea neither does it depend on buying and selling of all manner of goods from the far east. The future of our country largely depends on the ability of our children to develop the dynamism and ideas for new businesses, enterpreneurial skills and new technology that will create wealth in an ever changing world. This will only happen with an educational system that is modern, well resourced and with a highly trained manpower to educate our children. It is no good making education free if learning is going to take place under trees or where resource materials like books, ICT are difficult to come by. This is a smart move by the Governor no doubt and history tells us that the legacy of leaders that have invested in education lives for generations after them. The late Obafemi Awolowo whilst Premier of the former western region gave free eductaion to his people and that in my opinion gave people from that region a leg-up in education to this day.

Imo State boasts of some good old famous schools notably St Augustines' Grammar School Nkwerre, St Catherine's Girls Secondary school Nkwerre, Holy Ghost College Owerri, Bishop Shanahan College Orlu, Girls Secondary school, Emekuku, etc. Sadly these centres of excellence have been allowed to rot and decay as a result of neglect. We can only hope that a populist policy of this nature would help mend the broken legacy of education and more importantly benefit our children for generations to come.