I am one of those Nigerians whose support for the incessant strike actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities is qualified. Of course, I am in total agreement that the welfare of university teachers could be better and that standards in our universities have been on a progressive decline for years but I hold two things against ASUU’s industrial actions.
Having embarked on strike for over two decades, I frankly think that ASUU needs to find more creative ways of dealing with the continuous renegade attitude of successive governments to agreements. When you have situations where students spend one or more extra sessions in school on account of industrial actions, I opine that ASUU’s strike actions are fast becoming part of the same ailment that they are meant to cure.
.Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I shudder at the suggestion that these strike actions are towards improving the fallen standard of education in Nigeria. Again, there is no doubt that the education sector in Nigeria is in need of urgent intervention but I find hints that the solution lies more urgently at the tertiary level as suggested by a lot of people rather curious. It comes across to me as a veritable indication of our tendency to treat the symptoms of a difficulty rather than its cause.
Even if university teachers in Nigeria were to suddenly become the best paid in the world and our campuses become blessed with the best facilities possible, the standard of education in the country would remain parlous if the wrong quality of students get admitted into the institutions.
If things get so bad that we do not even have enough suitable candidates passing matriculation examinations into higher institutions, what would be the pride of our universities and their management if Nigeria ever gets to that position? What would the victories that ASUU would have won amount to when hundreds of thousands of our children are unable to attain university education because they cannot make a success of their secondary education or when those who are admitted are half-baked school certificate leavers who have manipulated their way to secure university education?
Although we do not seem to realise it, Nigeria is not too far from this post as we speak. Consider the results that school certificate and matriculation examinations have continued to show and you will get what I mean. This year, only 529, 4,25 of the 1, 692, 435 candidates that sat for the West African School Certificate Examination had the basic five credits(including English and Mathematics) needed for admission into higher institutions of study. That is a mere 31 per cent!
The rate of failure in the 2014 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations is equally alarming. Of a little over one million candidates that sat for the Paper and Pencil and Dual Based Tests this year, only 47 scored above 250 while over 715,000 of the number did not attain the 170 mark out of a possible 400! However, there are worse things than the mass failure that we see at this level.
Over 10 million children of school age are believed to be out of primary and secondary schools in Nigeria, in spite of the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 which makes education free and compulsory for the first nine years of a child’s educational career. Nigeria is one of the countries with the worst records of enrolment, retention and completion of basic education in the world. The truth of the situation is that if something is not done promptly, these 10 million children and so many others will not attend higher schools whether ASUU goes on strike or not.
This is why I think that the stakeholders in the education sector must come together to fight for the revival of the educational fortunes of the country rather than pick up individual battles which do nothing to improve the general outlook. They must force the hands of government at all levels to pay more attention to the education of future generations of Nigerians.
Most importantly, there is a need to take another look at the welfare of teachers across board. As we speak, many states in Nigeria have yet to start the payment of the agreed Teachers Salary Scale to their teachers. These governments still treat teachers like social workers whose rewards “are in heaven” as is commonly said in the country. To treat a group of professionals whose duties involve the use of a wide body of knowledge about the subject being taught and the most effective ways to teach that subject to students at every particular level of education is to mortgage the future of our country.
This is why we find second and third class individuals who have no business imparting knowledge on anyone at various levels of education in Nigeria and the mess they make of it is what reflects in the level of failure in examinations like those quoted earlier.
The Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education, Mr. Jibrin Paiko, last year raised the alarm that more than half of the teachers in some Northern states cannot read or write; what manner of pupils are such teachers going to produce?
In the interest of the country therefore, we must take a serious look at the quality of teaching at all levels of education but with more emphasis on the primary and secondary levels. We must quickly design a system that rewards good teachers and dispenses with bad ones promptly.
A corollary to this is the need to pay attention to the training of teachers. Why do we no longer have teacher colleges where people obtained Grade II certificates before proceeding to the Colleges of Education for their National Certificates in Education. Government should strengthen these levels of training while the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria should take the business of regulating the profession more seriously.
Then, we must find a way to educate the hundreds of thousands of youngsters who do not make good grades in their school certificates and matriculation examinations. Technical and vocational education remain essential to the development of any country and Nigeria could prepare its youths who are daily turning to commercial motorcycle riding or lured into a myriad of violent crimes.
As we move toward the 2015 elections, perhaps, the most prominent word on the lips of Nigerians is change. However, change, even if it happens, would be endured unless we give adequate education to every generation of Nigerians living at any particular time. It is the only investment with a sure interest.