President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday decried the state of education in the country saying it “calls for a serious concern.”
He listed the effects of decades of neglect suffered by the sector to include an estimated 13.2 million children out of school, high illiteracy level, infrastructural deficit and decay as well as unqualified teachers and inadequate instructional materials.
President Buhari spoke at the Old Banquet Hall of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja during a special retreat of the Federal Executive Council themed: “Education in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects.”
According to him, it is no longer a secret that the quality of education in Nigeria requires greater attention and improvement, adding that it is common knowledge that the nation is facing numerous challenges in education and other sectors as a result of historical abuses, mindless impunity and corruption.
The president declared that Nigeria must give better attention to the sector, noting that the nation cannot progress beyond the level and standard of its education.
“We must get it right in this country. To get it right means setting our education sector on the right path,” he said.
The president said Nigerians should also “bear in mind that the security and stability of the country hinges, to a large extent, on its ability to provide functional education to its citizens.”
He said his administration was determined to turn around the sector for the better, stating that “We are already making appreciable progress in this respect. This will be part of our deliberate policy of revitalizing education provisioning and capacity building,” he said.
The president added: “Today, it is those who acquire the most qualitative education, equipped with requisite skills and training, and empowered with practical knowhow that are leading the rest. We cannot afford to continue lagging behind. Education is our launch-pad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future.
“One of the primary roles of education is to build and sustain individual and society’s development. It renews and improves the economic, social, political and cultural aspects of any nation. Education upgrades the living standard of citizens and enables people to become better and more productive citizens. It is a human right that creates a safe, healthy and prosperous society. It changes the visions and perspectives of individuals, enhances critical decisions and improves democracy. Indeed education is paramount and necessary requirement for all-round development.
“Nigeria’s participation in all relevant international education fora together with our investment in education and collaboration with development partners is an indication of high level of commitment towards ensuring that every capable Nigerian receives good quality education. These efforts are justifiable only to the extent that schooling is effective in promoting the realization of national objectives, attaining the Sustainable Development Goals and Education For All by 2030.These targets are, happily, in harmony with the manifesto and the CHANGE agenda of our Party, the All Progressive Congress. It is also in agreement with my campaign promises during the 2015 elections exercise and in pursuit of the yearnings and aspirations of the generality of Nigerian citizens.”
While charging the summit to work to enhance quality in, and access to, higher education and other challenges in the sector that could debar Nigeria from attaining the SDGs and be among the top 20 economies in the world, the president said the government would come up with feasible, implementable and far-reaching action to make education drive national prosperity and development.
In a reference to the on-going primary school reforms in Kaduna State, President Buhari described a situation where those engaged for teaching could not pass their own examinations as very serious and tragic.
‘It is tragic teachers can’t pass exams for their pupils’
Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai had in October announced plans to sack about 22,000 primary school teachers who failed a competency test.
Buhari stated: “To digress a little bit so that you know that I meant what I read, having been an orphan, I still feel that whatever I did in life so far was built by boarding schools. For nine years, I was in boarding school, three in primary and six in secondary school.
“In those days, teachers treat their students or children like their own children. If you did well, they would tell you (that) you did well; if you didn’t do well, they never spared the rod. When I finished my secondary school, I didn’t work for a day, I refused to work for a day, I left home, I refused to work in the local government, and then I joined the army. And the army of that time, we went through all we went through upto the civil war.
“And then, I listened to one of the Nigerians I respect, he said after his training here in Nigeria and the United States, he went to his alma mater, his primary school, to see what he could contribute. I won’t mention his name, but when he went, he couldn’t differentiate between the students, the children and the teachers.
“And what el-Rufai is trying to do now is exactly what that man told me about 10 years ago. It is a very, very serious situation when teachers cannot pass their exams that they are supposed to teach the children to pass. It is a very tragic situation we are in and this our gathering together, to me, is one of the most important in this administration.”
N1trn needed annually revive sector - Minister
Earlier, Education Minister Adamu Adamu urged improved funding for the sector, saying that it would take Buhari’s administration N1trillion annually for the next four years to fulfil its 13 campaign promises on education.
“Unfortunately, from 1999 to date, the annual budgetary allocation to education has always been between four per cent and 10 per cent,’’ Adamu said, adding that none of the E9 or D8 countries other than Nigeria allocates less than 20 per cent of its annual budget to education.
He also called for the declaration of a state of emergency in education, arguing that “if we get education right, other areas of our national life will be right and they will fall in line’’.
“What is needed is vastly improved funding accompanied by a strong political will. The strong political will needed to do all this is present in this government. What this government must now do is to make the funds available.
“Nobody has the moral and resource capacity to intervene promptly, substantially and sustainably in all areas of education provisioning better than the government,” he said.
He lamented that even in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria remains far behind smaller and less endowed nations in investment in education.
While suggesting ways of eliminating mediocrity in the sector, the minister said: “If we give regulatory agencies the teeth to bite and do their work, mediocre teachers will soon disappear from our classrooms. If we insist on professionalism with appropriate deadlines set for those who teach, the situation will improve phenomenally.”
He said Nigeria’s education system would improve if automatic scholarship is offered to students who take education as well as automatic employment and preferential compensation package to those who take to teaching as a profession.
The minister stressed the need to harmonize the learning and teaching in tertiary institutions as well as redefine national goals periodically.