By ANIEBO NWAMU
What would happen if the Nigerian government proscribed ASUU, NASU, NANS and their cousins in polytechnics and colleges of education? What if, in a bid to prevent them from regrouping (as they did in 1988 by taking new names), the government outlawed unionism in all its forms in tertiary institutions?
In terms of learning and teaching, little would change in the public institutions. Individual lecturers unencumbered by the demands of unions won’t refuse to teach. Nor is anyone likely to resign: in fact, they would be more dedicated to their duties if private consultants got hired to manage the institutions and discipline erring staff members.
Not that I disagree with the academics and non-academics protesting bad working conditions and the near-total lack of research support in Nigeria’s tertiary schools. I’ve advocated education reform for three decades now. The demands of university teachers of the 1980s are not different from the demands of the current ones, though an agreement the federal government signed with ASUU in 2009 has become a signpost – a reason for the union to strike every year, terribly disrupting the academic calendar and frustrating young people.
The way good suggestions are ignored and good policies abandoned puts a question mark over Nigeria’s status as a nation. But we must begin to tell ourselves the truth — what cannot be helped must be endured. Only a mad person keeps doing the same thing and expects a different result.
Our universities and polytechnics are not what they should be – they’re glorified secondary schools. There’s little the Nigerian government can do now to make them competitive on the global stage. Not even allocation of 100% federal and state funds to education can do any magic. The current 5% or 6% given to education is a clear indication that government is not interested in running schools; never mind the pretenders who negotiate with the unions whenever they embark on strike.
I know education is a social service that should not be attached to profits, but I believe the ideal university of the 21st century is one that produces job creators rather than jobseekers. Can’t we restructure by privatizing universities’ faculties under a PPP (public-private partnership)? As many as seven new schools/institutes out of the University of Abuja could, for instance, be on offer for PPP. They could take titles such as “school of medicine and health sciences”, “institute of engineering”, “school of agriculture”, “college of arts and entertainment”, “writing and broadcasting school”, “ICT institute”, and “Biosciences college”.
If we don’t need universities, we should discard them. If there must be universities, there must be industries to support their graduates. Professors must be professors – the real professors, to me, are entrepreneurs who have changed our world, not those who plagiarize or quote from books written by ancestors or their children’s age mates; some of them even fail to copy correctly.
Our schools should no longer be populated by mainly dunces or become mere print houses for worthless certificates. Many a PhD holder these days can’t write correct sentences or understand the most elementary things in their area of specialization. Most Nigerian varsities, which find their graduates “worthy in character and learning” at every convocation ceremony, are themselves cesspools of corruption. In a typical institution, you pay N2m or more to be employed as a lecturer or non-academic staff. Teachers harass female students sexually. Contracts are overinflated. You pay a bribe before your child could be admitted to read “prized” courses like Medicine, Pharmacy and Law. My friend’s son scored over 310 in last year’s UTME, but for him to be admitted at UNN his father had to pay a N500, 000 bribe. He had lost admission the previous year because my friend refused to pay.
The worry now should be over faulty education and joblessness: we’re churning out more than a million mis-educated young people each year without preparing them for employment. Shouldn’t we stop deceiving ourselves by deemphasizing certificates? Before his son entered the university to study Medicine last year, my friend ensured he had honed his skills in repair of mobile devices, to enable him survive in the future. Graduates of Medicine (doctors) now wait for years before securing a low-paying job, and there is no sign the future will be more favourable.
The danger has been palpable since the 1970s, yet nothing concrete has been done. There are now private universities; are they better than public ones? The only difference is that you spend four years studying for a four-year programme (due to absence of strikes) while your mate in a public school could spend seven years. About 12 years ago, when I was hiring employees for a private firm, I discovered that many graduates from private universities were less employable than their counterparts from public universities. Why not? The lecturers hired by private schools are products of public schools.
It’s getting too late for us in Africa to perform a major surgery on the education system. Orthodox teaching and learning should, by now, have given way to work-based education to ensure that students transit smoothly from schools to workplaces. The path we’ve taken –manufacturing jobseekers amidst shrinking jobs, a convoluted system characterized by endless strikes and low productivity – can only lead to a blind alley. And when one finds himself in a hole, the wise thing to do is stop digging.
Countries like ours are in a cul-de-sac because you can’t convince a young person to forget about university education even with all its inadequacies. The youngsters have no alternative anyway. None of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and hundreds of other billionaires who had dropped out of school is a Nigerian. Even in Europe and America, these days, many complain about the failure of the education system to solve their problems, and one can therefore imagine the depth of the trouble we Africans are in.
Doing nothing shouldn’t be an option. Nor should negotiating with trade unions every year be. The internet and other technologies are changing the world in amazing ways; we either adapt or perish. Coming to terms with the failure of the education system should translate to taking drastic actions. Wise governments are putting on their thinking caps, fashioning out a better education system that could produce graduates that industries need. Incredible rates of joblessness that have been the lot of many countries point to system failure.
Our experiments with polytechnics, monotechnics or innovative enterprise institutions have failed mainly on account of jaundiced policies, lip service, and non-continuity. Nigeria’s flawed education and policy somersaults have to end. I propose that the unexploited talents of our people be merged with our education system to trigger a technology revolution that would bring both prestige and economic benefits to the country. That’s the secret of the Asian Tigers.
We have done it before. Over 50 years ago, the people of south-eastern Nigeria extracted crude oil and refined it to produce petrol and kerosene in their kitchens. They built rockets, airstrips, armoured tanks, cars, and bombs. Faced with necessity, Nigerians of the 21st century can achieve similar wonders. The creative energies of the present youth are unmatchable. They now seek expression in the arts — in books, in Nollywood, in music and other forms of entertainment. During a visit to auto-mechanic villages and computer villages, art and craft shops, you can’t help but wonder why Nigeria wastes its talent.
School curricula have been changed several times in a bid to make students transit smoothly from schools to jobs. There was the 6-3-3-4 system started over 30 years ago. Now some 35 new courses aimed at making secondary school leavers entrepreneurs have been introduced on paper. It is failing already like the 6-3-3-4 system. Who will be teaching whom?
This feeding-bottle mentality brought on by oil has to stop. All that is needed is a benevolent leadership with the will to do what is right. When, last year, Donald Trump said “if you don’t have steel, you don’t have a country”, I remembered Ajaokuta Steel Complex that has turned a white elephant – a project that has consumed billions of dollars over a 45-year period and yet unable to produce a strand of metal. What kind of country is this? Importing things it has in abundance and unable to exploit its God-given resources!
I aspire to be among those that will lead the next successful revolution in the education sector. The next generation should be pointed toward a practical education system that will lead to jobs. I say more in an eBook, Schools and Jobs of the Future: Some Thoughts on Career-Focused Education, now on Amazon Kindle.
When I hypothesize about scrapping ASUU and others, I mean it. Things might appear hopeless for a while, but we would adjust. Necessity is the mother of invention. An entrepreneur could establish the school of their dream without seeking validation from the National Universities Commission (NUC) or other failed regulators. Does it matter if the certificates issued are not recognized by the NUC or any government? Will it matter if graduates from the practical-oriented institutions are excluded from the NYSC? The market holds all the aces: employers would choose those with practical experience before choosing those with bags of fogged theories in their brains. You can’t beat excellence in any field.
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