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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.

1 comment:

The Relentless Builder said...

The point you made about learning under trees is so true because so often we don't count the cost of education, and making it 'free' like you rightly pointed out does not only include school fees. Learning resources and materials go hand in hand with education. Furthermore, I agree with you on making it free up till the secondary school level. It would make a huge difference.