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Sunday 29 May 2011

What President Jonathan said about Education

It is exactly 00:50 am UK time early Monday morning. As you may imagine my whole household including my wife and two sons are all deep in their sleep. I had been trawling the Internet like I always do on the lookout for news about Nigeria to feed my ever increasing hunger for all things Nigeria. Even more so on this day we made history as a nation. For the first time we swore-in a president of minority extraction; a product of what many argue as the best election in our history.

I am not about to begin a political discourse about Nigeria as there are plenty of websites, social media and the Nigeria blogoshere that already provide insightful debate, news and articles that addresses the new wave of political consciousness amongst Nigerians. However, I have taken an instinctive decision to start this blog as a way to convey my very deep passion and thoughts about education in Nigeria. In a era of information consumption, I feel compelled to share my experience and knowledge about the education that works for our country. I do not claim to have all the answers but at least I can make a small contribution. Anyone reading this may want to take a pause and ask, what is your background that qualifies you to discuss all matters education in Nigeria? The simple response is that I am a product of Nigerian educational system having had my primary, secondary and University education in Nigeria, so our educational system is not alien to me. I am currently a secondary school Teacher in a UK secondary school having previously obtained a PGCE (Post Graduate Cert in Education) and Qualified Teacher Status. I am also halfway through a research project as part of my MA in Education dissertation.

Now President Jonathan has been elected, the clock has already started ticking and the countdown to what many Nigerians believe is a new dawn of transformation has already begun. I was looking forward to read the president's inaugural speech to see how he sets out his economic and developmental blueprint with my particular emphasis as to how it affects state education, which we all agree has been neglected and destroyed by previous governments. My hopes were dashed when having read through the 4-page document education was only mentioned twice. However, this wasn't the main issue but the real problem was that where education was mentioned it portrayed a lack of detail or specifics about what plans his government have for this very important sector. The same could be said for most parts of the speech in all honesty but I will leave that to other commentators to ponder. The first mention of education stated"We will create greater access to education" and the other mention of education stated "I will continue to fight for all citizens to have access to first class education". The common theme about the two statements is to do with access but you cannot have access to quality education if you do not have a strategy in place or at least tell us if you have one.

Since the speech fell short of telling us anything about what to expect in education maybe I could offer some suggestions. There are some challenges that this government needs to address for primary, secondary and higher education. I will go with the knowledge that local governments control primary education, state governments are responsible for secondary education and the Federal government runs federal universities. We focus so much on university education in Nigeria and tend to forget that primary schools are equally as important. There needs to be a massive programme of infrastructural refurbishment of all primary schools in Nigeria with both Federal and local governments partnering and adopting a model for development. A minister of local government should be appointed to be responsible for this partnership and also oversee all other local government related matters in the country. Secondly, teacher training programme needs a root and branch reform. Improve the remuneration of teaching professionals to march those in similar other professions thereby making teaching attractive. Consequently I will raise the bar for those aspiring to become teachers by merging all existing colleges of education with universities to ensure teaching is upgraded to a minimum of degree level profession. The content and context of provision needs to be reformed to ensure it adequately supports the curriculum with greater emphasis on classroom practice and an adequate theoritical programme that informs practice. Continuous professional development should also be an integral part of remaining in the teaching profession to ensure training doesn't just stop after qualification as a teacher.

On higher education, I will urge the president to put a stop to his recent promise of setting up more federal universities as I do not believe they are necessary. We can hardly fund the universities in existent and setting up new ones would only make the problems worse. I also consider state universities as luxuries as in my opinion no state government in Nigeria can fully fund a proper university even if they invest all their monthly allocation to their universities. But this is a matter of individual state governments' to decide. Another radical reform I would propose is to convert all polytechnics to vocational educational centres. This should be adequately funded to offer courses in motor mechanics, construction, hair dressing, tailoring, cookery etc to provide an alternative to academic pathway which universities provide.

Finally, even though we have a fairly new National curriculum, there needs to be a periodic review to ensure it is relevant in the 21st century. By and large you cannot grow any economy without a sound educational system that supplies the quality human resources and skilled manpower that is a pre-requisite for wealth creation. Education not oil remains the bedrock of our future development and prosperity and we cannot afford to let a whole generation of our children down anymore.