• Monday, July 22, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Confronting our educational challenges: Lessons from our neighbours

businessday-icon

There are no arguments about role and importance of education in the affairs of man. There are also no arguments about the emergency status of our educational system. It may in twin recognition of its importance and its pitiable condition that the NESG 20(18-20/3/14) decided to focus on education. But the fact remains that we talk too much and at the same time, we suffer from acute talk-do gap! Even without the NESG20, we know that education is underfunded, understaffed and suffers from infrastructural kwashiorkor; that money is not the only problem because the motivation, commitment and attitude of the managers and operators is doubtful; that policy instability and ministerial turnover are major challenges; that the grave is the only structure that starts from the top and that trying to solve our educational problems from the top(the tertiary sub-sector) will only complicate matters; that growth is not synonymous with development and thus we should not merely increase access without asking: access to what and for what purpose?.

At the NESG20 Tom Rodmic of Profound Learning Institute advised us to transform our educational system and that this requires a vision. We all clapped but what happened to Ezekwessili’s vision and transformational strides? How many of them did her successors-even under the same government/party sustain?  He also told the story of the $110bn ‘Not one child left out’ programme in the US which failed woefully due to corruption and even sabotage. And that reminded me of our Universal Basic Education in which states refuse to access available funds! Other issues that came out from the various sessions include the need to concentrate on early child care, treating education as a right, not a luxury, adopting PPP in vocational education, innovation and skill acquisition, including character building and values in our curriculum, getting the RIGHT PEOPLE to manage our educational system at all levels and taking special care of teachers.  However, my intervention today is not on NESG 2O; it is on developments from other countries that might learn from as we continue to tinker with the appropriate permutation and combination to get our education right.

About two years ago, I suggested that we tried mergers/acquisitions and specialization in our tertiary education. I suggested M/A because some universities are standing on wobbly legs. I suggested specialization because some universities are actually ‘overtrading’. You may see a university with 120 departments having only 12 full-time professors and a few part time and associates! Well, Rwanda plans to merge its 7 public universities into a single multi-campus  University of Rwanda starting from 2013-2014 academic year. (Guardian 10/1/14, p30). This is to ‘transform the country’s higher education by increasing assets, promoting equity, ensuring quality of education and building infrastructure of high quality’. The merging universities are National University of Rwanda, Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, Kigali Institute of Education, Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, School of Banking and Finance, Umutara polytechnic and Kigali Health Institute, as well as other school affiliated to these institutions. Note that all the ‘legacy ‘universities are specialized. The same specialization is also evident in Ghana. Apart from the private universities which are largely substandard, and operate from rented apartments and uncompleted buildings’, 7 out of the 9 public universities are specialized: University of Energy and National Resources, University of Mines and Technology, University of Professional Studies, University of Health and Allied Sciences, University of Development Studies, University of Education and University of Science and Technology. Only two are general universities: Famous University and Legon University.

On 3/2/14, the CNN African Voices featured Dr Fannie Sebolela, Principal of, Khensani Primary School, a no-fee paying school in  Soshanguve, South Africa. This committed teacher transformed a school that was run down and just struggling to get by into a model institution and one of the best in South Africa. He trained himself up to PhD level while working as a gardener and further equipped himself with a diploma in ICT and an Executive Leadership Programme from the University. All this took him 18 years. Beyond the funding from the ministry (which is never enough), he partners with the business community to provide facilities and infrastructure for his pupils who are from poor backgrounds.  Thus, you see the need to build up primary education, ensuring that there are no-fee paying schools for the disadvantaged class, having quality teachers (somebody with a PhD teaching in a primary school; not those who cannot read their own affidavits); teachers with knowledge that breeds confidence and a kind of commitment that even school proprietors in Nigeria do not possess! The private sector is also involved. The lessons from these two instances are obvious.

Meanwhile, during the 6-month strike, some commentators, in good faith and out of mischief, lampooned ASUU, arguing that lecturers were equally guilty and were a part of the problem. But ASUU is always engaged in self-cleansing; it never asserts that ASUUists are saints and as it condemns authoritarianism, profligacy and financial recklessness and fights for transparency and accountability in the society, it also promotes the virtues and fights these vices within its fold and in the universities. ASUU also tries to ensure that members live up to its motto of knowledge, truth and service, encouraging and insisting that the members-as staff, unionists and citizens- must search for knowledge and truth, offer service and at all times, live the values we propagate.

That was why, long before the elongated national strike, ASUU handed out a PHD (Port Harcourt Declaration, 10/6/13) to all members.  Sequel to what the Catholics would call an ‘examination of conscience’, ASUU realized that there were several alarming orientations and practices amongst members including increasing opportunism,  demonstration of ethno-religious consciousness, decreasing accountability, transparency and objectivity, low level of courage, low integrity and increasingly dubious commitment to the goals and objectives of ASUU It therefore adopted the PHD as the principles and values that must guide thoroughly the thoughts, decisions, actions and practices of all ASUUists. Some of the principles include exercise of courage and discipline, hard work, thoroughness and result-orientation in the context of justice and fairness, ethical conduct, objectivity, transparency and accountability,  faithfulness in the moral values of freedom, justice,civil, political and economic rights, selfless work, professionalism in our primary roles as academics and as union officials and total rejection of ethno-religious and other primordial considerations in our work and relationships; patriotism and commitment to nation-building. This PHD was re-distributed last month, an indication that ASUU is also conscious of the need to regularly engage in soul-searching and self-cleansing.

 Ik Muo