Quality education is a critical factor in implementing national development programmes. Given the current educational system’s inadequacy to meet the nation’s developmental needs, we call for declaration of emergency in the education sector with a view to developing a holistic approach that scraps mushroom schools in two-bedroom apartments, enhances teacher remuneration, revives the inspectorate divisions of state ministries of education, ensures vigorous enforcement of standards by university accreditation teams of the National Universities Commission and put a halt to further approval of new private universities.
Over the years, there has been on-going debate on the state of education in the country. These centre on expansion of access to education and sustainable quality of the products. Access has been greatly expanded with massive construction of primary and secondary schools as well as establishment of many colleges of education to produce teachers to man such institutions. As part of the incentives, student teachers had enjoyed free tuition, were provided free hostel accommodation and, in some cases, were even paid stipends for the duration of their programmes. Western region blazed a revolutionary trail in universal access to education when it began free primary education programme in 1956 which tremendously opened the education door to many children who otherwise would not have had the privilege of formal schooling. That innovation has given people of that region, now comprising the seven states of Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo and Delta an edge in literacy in the country till date.
Religious bodies, especially those of Christian denomination, as well as communities were also actively involved in expanding access to education across the country, particularly in the establishment of primary, secondary schools and teacher training colleges, creating a healthy collaborative effort between the state and the people. In fact, many of the famous secondary schools in the country were established by religious bodies and community organisations. In the early 1960s, education was mainly a regional affair, even up to the university level. Except for the University College, Ibadan, established in 1948 by the colonial government as an affiliate of University of London, and University of Lagos, the other three institutions which constitute The Big Five – University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University and Ahmadu Bello University were established by the Eastern, Western and Northern regional governments later taken over by the federal government during the military era.
The incursion of the military into public governance in Nigeria and its unitary command structure eroded the commanding height of federating units in education, with the federal military government assuming a dominant status. What is generally regarded as the beginning of the rot for education in Nigeria was the military government’s precipitate take-over of institutions established by religious bodies and communities, without adequate policy guidelines and management capacity to ensure quality control. Today, Nigeria faces the critical issue of high quantity, in terms of number of institutions, but low quality in terms of products of its education system. We see the focus on quantity as emotive pandering and misplaced priority by successive governments in the country at federal and state levels.
The problems afflicting Nigeria’s educational system can be summarized into three – poor infrastructure/funding, low teacher incentive/morale and poor quality control measures. With very few exceptions, virtually all educational institutions lack adequate infrastructure for a conducive learning environment. Primary schools, the foundation of schooling, are the worst hit, followed by secondary schools, thus Nigeria’s education system rests on a rickety foundation. It is therefore not surprising that the super-structure – the university system – is tottering, with many of its products considered unemployable.
For instance, no Nigerian university is listed among the top 10, even in Africa, where the first seven places were taken up by South African universities with University of Cape Town rated first and University of Ibadan placing 12th. In world ranking, University of Cape Town is ranked 120th and University of Ibadan, the only Nigerian institution among the best 800, is listed 601st by Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2015/2016.
We consider it irrational for both federal and state governments to continue to establish new universities when existing ones are not adequately funded and managed. Private universities numbering 74, with more being contemplated for approval, is a joke where virtually all of them cannot fill their student quota and suffer academic staff deficit.