Classroom, workforce shortages key challenges for next president
The outcome of Nigeria’s forthcoming presidential election will determine how the country’s education sector will fare in the areas of infrastructure and workforce, among others, in 2023, experts have said.
For years, the country’s educational sector has been plagued by poor funding, infrastructural decay and workforce shortage, especially in public schools.
Many schools in the country lack enough classrooms, furniture, teaching aids, laboratories, computers, and even libraries are found in pitiful conditions.
Remi Alatise, a senior lecturer at the Fountain University, Osogbo in Osun State, believes the increment in the education budget allocation to 8.8 percent, which is the highest in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration since 2015, would amount to nothing if the infrastructural and personnel deficits, among others are not properly addressed.
“It is very important to address the infrastructural deficit, personnel deficit, and welfare of teachers across all the tiers of education, ownership notwithstanding over a period of time. It is not a one-off thing,” Alatise said.
The don said it would take only a visionary leader with a passion for education to bring the needed change because of the long years of neglect that have made the education sector to be in a state of coma.
He said: “Structural functionalists would argue that the education system is like a biological being, each part is dependent on the other, and malfunctioning of one organ or unit would affect the other because the unit works for and with the whole.
“Education in Nigeria, to me, is terminally ill and the physicians are unwilling or reluctant to rescue. The most important part of a building is the foundation. The quality of the foundational elementary education is too poor and this impacts the quality of students from secondary to tertiary schools.”
Michael Ukonu, a senior lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, believes that education development in Nigeria lies so much in the realms of hope and expectations as the country waits for who becomes the next president.
“The top three presidential candidates promised to pay off the backlog of arrears owed Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) by the federal government. If that is done, it will go a long way to stabilising the sector, especially at the tertiary level,” he said.
He said the country is hoping that 2023 will usher in better policy implementation in the sector.
“We are looking forward to the future as we await the new president and the fulfilment of his promises,” he said.
Robert Ibeawuchi, a civil engineer based in Benin, said the fate of education rests on whoever wins the forthcoming presidential election.
The three leading presidential aspirants have promised to revamp the educational system using different approaches.
Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, in his manifesto, promised to revamp the education system through a well-designed private corporation participation funding the sector if elected.
While Bola Tinubu, the All Progressive Congress presidential flag-bearer, promised to review the education curriculum at all levels to meet the emerging global best practices and socio-economic realities, and ensure a functional student loan system if elected.
For Abubakar Atiku, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, his administration would provide enough funds for education if elected, thereby bringing to an end lecturers’ strike and other lingering issues hindering the progress of the sector.
Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.
According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, as of October 2022, almost 20 million children are out of school in Nigeria. This is a far-reaching increase from the 10.5 million recorded in 2020.
Similarly, the salary of teachers is another major issue that has rocked the sector for years. Students spend five to six years for four years due to ASUU strikes borne out of the government’s failure to meet up with the lecturers’ welfare.
Given the lofty promises above, Nigerians believe that choosing the right person into power is the panacea to remedy the education sector.
“The person that wins the presidential election will be a key factor to what becomes of the education sector in 2023. First, he will try to consolidate his office against the second term election thereby will do everything possible to stabilise the sector,” Akanni Sulaimon, an education consultant, said.
“Besides, I believe with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) singing a new tone to strike, the sector, especially at the tertiary cadre, will improve this time around, all things being equal.”
According to Joseph Tejumaiye, the head of the Mass Communication Department at the University of Lagos, the problem with the sector is that the country has for years inherited leaders who unfortunately love to make promises without fulfilment.
“The N470 billion allocated to revitalisation and salary of lecturers by the incumbent government is not enough. Besides, there is action backing it. It has all been promised without action for years,” he said.
“There is a need for proper funding of the education system, let the laboratories function, and the libraries stocked, among others.”
Tejumaiye decried the system whereby a classroom meant for 50 students is made to house 130 students, which he argued is not conducive for ideal learning.
“We want a conducive learning environment for our students. ASUU is not self-centered. Action is needed,” he said.
Biodun Ogunyemi, the immediate former president of ASUU, said a fresh strike by lecturers of public universities in the country cannot be ruled out in 2023.