Are we striking out the future of Nigerian Youths?
When one looks up education and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria, the first thing one finds, are phrases such as, “ASUU Strike”, “ASUU Strike update”, and “ASUU Strike update today”.
As the ongoing strike enters its 6th month, what is now apparent is that unfortunately, most Nigerians may now associate ASUU with “strikes”.
Prior to the establishment of ASUU, the Nigerian Association of University Teachers was founded in 1965. ASUU was then established as a teachers’ organization in Nigerian Universities in 1978, covering all academic staff in all of the Federal and State Universities in the country.
This trade union was created to defend the rights and welfare of its members and is tasked with encouraging participation of its members to participate in the affairs of the university system, protection, and the advancement of the socio-economic and cultural interests of the nation.
The Union also works to create a supportive and conducive workplace for its members and to guarantee their appropriate welfare and job security.
The phrase “ASUU Strike” now poses one of the biggest and continuous threats to the Nigerian educational system. Since the restoration of democracy in 1999, ASUU has gone on close to 16 nationwide strikes, creating a severe disruption not only with students’ academic calendars but also a potential negative effect on important socio-economic indices and the future of our youths.
Education is generally very poorly funded at all levels in Nigeria which explains the level of decay in the system.
Education should be properly funded, and many proactive measures need to be put in place. For the university system to function efficiently all stakeholders need to work in harmony. Therefore, ASUU as a trade union, to fight for good working conditions and higher standards of living for their members, has engaged in incessant strikes.
The constant disruption of academic activities in the nation’s public universities however, come with severe impacts and potentially long-lasting negative socio-economic effects.
Constant ASUU strikes inevitably lengthen students’ time in school and have associated negative effects. Some students have had to spend up to seven years, completing four-year courses. Students frequently mention their years of graduation by adding the mathematical integer “X”, which stands for an unspecified number of years. This not only has an implication of additional costs, like those spent on accommodation but also has repercussions for some types of employment, where age may be factor in hiring and may also greatly affects other life plans.
Not to mention the negative impacts on mental health, some studies have reported increased levels of depression and anxiety as a result of not knowing when and if universities will resume and also looming future job opportunities.
Furthermore, after lengthy strikes, there is a high tendency for some students to perform poorly in exams. This is not unrelated to the unstable academic calendars; short contact hours and overwhelming academic workload students are expected to quickly cover. Essentially, the teaching and learning process will not be as effective as it ought to be.
In some instances, due to persistent delays, and already spent accommodations funds, some students do not return to the education system, either turning to other means to earn a stipend or engaging in illicit activities.
The main friction between ASUU and the government has mostly been around the issues of funding. The underfunding of the education sector, which affects the level of infrastructure, amenities, equipment, facilities, and research, undermines the capacity of the universities to maintain desirable standards.
UNESCO recommends that national governments should always allocate at least 26 per cent of their annual budgets to education. Budgetary allocations for the education sector are insufficient; over time, this has negatively affected the nation’s educational system. Universities in Nigeria that once attracted academics from far and wide and were centers of brilliance have now deteriorated to merely a shadow of past performance.
Nigeria loses over N1.2 trillion per annum to overseas studies, neighbouring West African countries, now come across as better alternatives for Nigerians seeking quality education on the continent.
It’s worth mentioning that, human resources development lies at the heart of economic, social, and environmental development. It is also a vital component for achieving internationally agreed sustainable development goals, and for expanding opportunities to all people, particularly the most vulnerable groups and individuals in society (United Nations, 2009).
The educational sector is the bedrock of any society that wants to meet the challenges of a dynamic world. Continuous ASUU strikes and lack of funding in our educational system have not only put the future of our youths in danger but may also stifle our nation.
And so, therefore, it is imperative that we ensure that all stakeholders join hands and do what necessary to ensure quality education in Nigeria.
Imasekha, a co-founder at Edugrant, an online platform, writes from Lagos