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Bad politics wrecking Nigeria's education progress -PAI Obanya.

YOU designed the Universal Basic Education programme (UBE). Almost two decades after, what is your assessment of it in terms of your expectations and in terms of national aspirations?

Without being immodest, I did not simply design it; I literally invented it. I was invited to a meeting where the nation was discussing UPE (Universal Primary Education), which was former President Olusegun Obasanjo's dream to re-introduce UPE.

But since I was UNESCO Regional Director for Education, and we had been doing so many other things in Africa, after listening to people, I suggested the UBE. The question then arose: What is the difference? And I said UPE meant Universal Primary Education; UBE means bringing people to a level where they have learnt how to learn. And it doesn't have to take place in school.

When the world organised a conference on basic education in Jomtien in 1999, my UNESCO office in Dakar (Senegal) where I was deputy director then had to do the African input into it. And when we came back, the whole of Africa had to define its own formal content of basic education. The ministers decided on Primary+Junior Secondary; first because at the age of 15 or so, the children are too young to be driven into the world.

Two, what you have to learn these days to start life have become to so complex that you have to stay longer under tutelage. So, the decision was Primary + Junior Secondary - which is not automatically 6+3. In the Francophone countries, it was 6+4, because junior secondary was four years. In East and Southern Africa, it was 6+2 because junior secondary was two years,

The first mistake we made started politically. The corrupt system in Nigeria did not even allow me, after laying the foundation (to implement it). It wasn't that I was to be employed as executive secretary. I'd done something higher than that.

People tinkered with the Act, which was originally done under Bola Ige's tutelage. So, to make it become a commission so that they could have control (and part of the trick was to edge me out), I suddenly got a circular reorganising the place and saying that I was going to become a special adviser. I appeared before the minister and I said I wasn't interested, and left. That was the first mistake. We didn't allow the designers to even operate it; and in the process, we misinterpreted it to mean primary + secondary. It's more than that.

Two, the original intention/design was that basic education is basic. The starting point is early childhood education. The starting point where you start 'formal' is literacy. Why do you need a separate national commission for literacy? And it was going to embrace both formal and non-formal; so why do you need a separate one for literacy and non-formal (education)?

It's going to include everybody; why do you need a separate (commission) for nomadic (education)? You can quote me anywhere: having a UBEC (Universal Basic Education Commission), a National Commission for Mass Literacy, a National Commission for Nomadic Education is waste of resources! You're duplicating the same functions and you're behaving as if UBE means formal Primary 1 to Primary 9. I think in the process, we have over the years laboured over how much money would go in.

You hear things like there is some funding somewhere, it is not being accessed. Those ones are secondary. The primary thing is to be sure of what we are doing!

Secondly, (we need) to empower the local government in particular to be in charge of basic education so that you can allow flexibility from state to state, from local government to local government; because what is needed in one place is not what another person needs.

If you talk about not having access to some funds that are idle, it is also because the states or the local governments did not participate in deciding the priorities and where the money would come from. You decide up there and you say the states are not buying in. That is not in tandem with the spirit of federalism.

If you decentralise the way we should in a federation, each section would be facing its own challenges and would probably be mobilising its own resources and would probably be dictating to the federal authorities where the needs are.

The other problem is these frequent changes in top management in advisory bodies. As I was leaving, Professor Gidado was stepping in. Before I knew it, somebody else had stepped in. Before that one could spend a few minutes, a gentleman stepped in. Before I knew it, he also stepped out. And 15 years after I left, I was invited to join a group that would give UBE a road map. The road map probably exists in the computer system of some of us.

You cannot trace it anymore. The person in charge is no longer there; a new person is there. The same thing is happening to the boards. And one problem with boards and agencies in Nigeria is that you don't welcome expertise; anybody can be on any board. And you don't put people who are already well established so that they don't go there to look for money.

Nigeria has this unenviable record of being the nation with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world - and it's getting worse

There are many ways of looking at it. One, Nigeria has no reliable statistics on education. In my experience internationally, 30 years ago we (Nigeria) were classified as 'N/D', Non-Data. Later we became 'Latest Year Available'; that is if you're working on 2018, our data is 2014. Now we rely on multiple sources: this one is UNESCO data, this one is UNICEF data, this one is UNDP data. Nobody says federal ministry or state ministry of education data

Are you by any means saying that claim is not correct, that we have the highest number of out-of-school children?

There is a challenge, but we don't know the intensity of that challenge because we don't have our own reliable data. Secondly, education in Nigeria has been allowed to develop along geographical lines, by which means you can split Nigeria into three. The areas nearest what you can call southern states have enrolment and other records on education that are close to what you might get in Mauritius - which is by far the highest in Nigeria. The Middle Belt countries have something 'middle'. And it is the extreme that you have all these problems.

If you say 10 million out of school, they are not from Ogun State. They are not from Akwa Ibom State, and they are not from Oyo or Osun states. They are concentrated in certain parts of the federation. I am saying if you had allowed the management of universal access to basic education to be so decentralised that every state is facing its own peculiar problems where the problem is access, it would face it squarely. Where the problem is quality or something else, it would face it. But the other problem related to this is that the solution is always coming from outside.

There is a policy making process in education that doesn't involve the direct stakeholders. You're talking almajiri and there is no almajiri among those talking with you. You come from outside; you have gone beyond the level of almajiri and you're designing for them, and you're imagining that in their system there is no education. Whatever the system, and whatever the level of technical evolution, there is education.

You can modernise, you can update, you can expand the scope, but you don't start from zero. And you can't do this without taking the real people into consideration. If I want to do something for market women, I must not do it FOR them; I must do it with them. And it's this problem of doing it for them that is the problem. So, problem number one, we don't even know the statistics, and the statistics goes beyond absolute numbers. You have to say how many boys how many girls from this type of home and this type of location and so on. Two, what are the specific needs in specific places? And three, how can we get this working together, to think through what they want to do and to see it through?

Some people believe that Nigeria's tertiary education curriculum is obsolete and needs updating

It's not just tertiary education curriculum. Education does not start from tertiary. And when it comes to learning, the basic things you learn from Day 1 are the things you expand on as you go along. So, the reform has to start with the goals -meaning what type of human beings does the education system intend to produce, and for what purpose? What type of country? What are the developmental needs?

What type of human beings should occupy, and what type of intellectual, technical, attitudinal package would you give to these people whether they are in or out of school so as to fit into the society? And fitting into the society doesn't mean you would go there are fold your arms and say this is the way it's done. You're saying what type of individuals who would not only act, who would not only obey but who would think out of the box so that things would become better.

And when you do this, you would be going beyond the package, which is just history, geography, chemistry and so on; instead, you would go along knowledge areas. In old times, we talked of General Knowledge; General Paper. You talked of Integrated Science, and so on. It's a way of saying let's lay a solid foundation. So, if we were to do everything, we should use basics; basic education for solid foundation. The curriculum for basic education is well-spelt out. It is one, literacy. And if you take literacy, there is no end to it; you can teach it up to my level. You say numeracy; there is no end to how far you can go.

Then you say life skills; these have always existed. In a nation of palm wine tappers, anyone that cannot tap wine cannot exist. If you're a nation of cattle rearers, if at a certain age, you've not acquired the life skills, then you have the most important of the skills - learning to learn. So, this laying of the solid foundation is our number one problem. Number two problem, there are skills that the world outside there needs. And these skills are not technical; they are not mechanical. Most of them are social and human. I give you an example: flexibility; meaning you don't say 'that is how it is done'; let's try another one.

I give you another skill; communication, which does not just mean English or any language. It means language used for specific purposes, to explain, to compare, to persuade and so on. You also need human relation skills. How do you relate to other people who would be different from you? That tells you to do team work, because teamwork is needed today. But it needs more of analytical reasoning skills, so that you don't act on emotions. So if you employ people who have degree in Mass Communication and they cannot do (the job) but you get B.A. Arabic Studies and the person can do it, you would prefer Arabic Studies.

That's why you find in the banking industry when you advertise, the person from Banking and Finance but the person from Yoruba/Igbo Studies could get it. This is because early specialisation is no education. It makes you forget the fundamentals.

One other big issue in the education sector is funding; education financing. Academic staff, every time they have the chance, stoutly resist any form of introduction of tuition fee

Let me start with one thing: there is nothing like 26 per cent of budget (recommendation) by UNESCO for education. Quote me! I'm happy (Peter) Okebukola has been quoted. I was 11 and a half years assistant director-general of UNESCO responsible for education in Africa, and each time somebody is posted to Abuja office, I get a call: 'Oga, what is this 26 per cent about?' It does not exist! UNESCO does not impose, UN does not impose anything on anybody, because it is United Nations. What is advocated is sustainable funding - not only of education but everything else. What does 'sustainable funding' mean? One is that it does not necessarily mean government wholesale funding. It means also getting the resources from other sources around you where possible.

So, what funding model do you recommend?

Sustainable funding is the model; and it has various specifications. One is to go beyond government to non-government sources. These non-governmental sources would depend on where you come from. If you come from some rural Igbo communities, they will have a town union; they will have association of boys who are dealing in motor parts in Lagos. If you come from another society where they don't have this type of thing, they have church and mosque unions. All these are also non-governmental. And when you say private sector, it is not corporations only; it is everything down the line, including the boy or girl selling MTN cards. The second thing is that once you start funding, don't go below what you started; because what one million will buy today, it may not buy tomorrow. But the most important point is that government should stop merely 'spending' on education and 'invest' in education. If for example in Nigeria you have a ministry of education with 21 agencies, they have boards; they have bureaucracy; they have people working with them and so on. If for example for every one of these you have official cars, you see where money is going to. If for every district you have representatives, federal inspectorate and so on, you see where the money is going to. So, money goes into things that don't have multiplier effect, and you add up and say so so billions of naira is for education. By investing in education, you put the resources where the action is. Teachers make a lot of difference. Materials for learning make a lot of difference. The buildings and equipment where people learn make a lot of difference. If you invest more of the money in these, the results have a multiplier effect.

There is also something we've always been asked to explore; and that is the 'intangible resource'. I will explain. When the Christian missionaries came to your village to start a school 100 years ago, I don't think they brought British Pound to the village. Somebody spoke persuasively to who mattered in the village, and that person spoke to those who had the energy in the village to donate the land, to clear the bush, to mould the sand blocks, to help in erecting and fencing round, and so on. These we used to have.

The time when some parts of the country got a head-start in formal education, that's what happened. But with progressive government takeover, people now fold their arms as if to say 'after all, it is free education; it is government'. If government could really govern and carry people along, the people's voluntary service which could also be money or not money is the most important thing.

So when you say invest in education, it is not just how much money but first the people's will; second, whatever you have, let it come from non-government sources; and three, let it target what is most important. But you can't get beyond government if you don't put your house in order. The people, private sector must see clearly that you're transparent in what you are doing before they can chip in. Whether you call it ETF or whatever industry tax, they may pay grudgingly and yet there'll be no impact.

So, Nigeria should not start by saying we put so so billions; let's start by specifying what we want to do and how to do it before the billions can come in. That is what UNESCO or anybody is talking about.

Why is it such a bad thing to ask parents to share the burden of education funding?

I don't think anybody is against what you call user fees; people are paying it in one form or the other. The same parent who is not paying school fees the way we say it is also paying for private tuition for the same children. What people are against is, one, you don't bring them in only when you are talking money.

You see, policy development is something like A to Z. It begins with conceptualisation. Bring all the people in (when you're packaging the idea) so that when it comes to implementation, people know what it's all about. But government prefers bad politics - and I mean bad politics (because politics in itself is not bad). Politics is when you think bettering the lot of the next generation, like we all do for our biological children.

It becomes bad politics when it is 'what can I get from it? This bad politics has led to saying 'education is free; we are in charge'. So people take it that they are in charge, but they turn their backs on government schools and patronise non-government schools.

Good politics; people-oriented politics will give rise to people-oriented policies, which will give rise to people-oriented programmes and the products will be what you expect. But we wait till the end and join the products. The politics of 'I will do this for you; I will give you this' does not pay! After some time, the people will get tired and say 'they've said it before'; so they will say 'give me money make I go jare'.

But if it is 'Let's get together and do something for ourselves' (it works). That's what the missionaries did. They built hospitals, leper colonies and did all that. You think the money came from Ireland? You go to the dirtiest village, there is a beautiful church and a beautiful mosque. They didn't build those from Saudi Arabia or Rome. It's the same villagers. This same thing can be done for schools and everything else.

Let's talk about access. We've established private universities, we've gone into ODL (Open Distance Learning), yet access is still a big problem. What are we not doing right?

You may build many universities or schools and still have no access. We are talking about access at the higher education level, but the whole thing has to start from below. Let's start expansion of access from basic education; and let it not depend on political whims and sacrifices.

What we have not done right is simple: we are siting schools, we are not establishing schools. You say 'I'm governor of this state, we have no state university'; then you look for your own village and put a signboard 'University of Lakoloja'. It's just a signboard. And then you look for your kinsman who is professor somewhere that is not doing well, he becomes your vice chancellor.

How can someone that is not doing well somewhere become pioneer vice chancellor here? Secondly, you look for anyone who is Senior Lecturer in a good university, you make him professor; the one who is Lecturer you make him Senior Lecturer. You're simply giving titles; you've not changed anything. So, the way to go first, at every level, is to have what is called school mappings; that is concentration of population; how many children are 16 years now who will be 17 years next year? What are their needs? What do we create for them? And with what means?

You don't just wake up one morning and say this should be established somewhere for political reasons. And when you establish, every senatorial zone must have. You'll end up merely siting, you're not establishing. To establish one, the type of people who will run it must be people who have run it before.

When Ahmadu Bello (University) started, the first vice chancellor came from here (University of Ibadan); when (University of) Ife started, the first vice chancellor came from Ibadan here. Lagos (University of Lagos) vice chancellor came from here. The College of Medicine, LUTH, became popular because you took people who knew how to run UCH (University College Hospital, Ibadan) to run LUTH. But if you brought somebody from nowhere and give just a title, the person will be interested in title and privileges and not in contributions.

And when you put them there and you don't allow for academic freedom; you put them and remove them at will, the person gets what he can get and disappears hoping that another person would come; and when the person comes, you don't believe in building on the past; the person spends his tenure condemning who was there before.

And before he has time to start anything, he too is removed and the new person comes condemning. So, instability is built into the political system, and we transfer it into the way we manage education.

It does appear that Nigerians have not fully bought into the idea of ODL as an option. I don't think it's for lack of information.

Lack of information is part of it, but I'll come to that. When (University of Nigeria) Nsukka was starting, we didn't know any other alternative, and so we condemned Nsukka. Years later around 1962, our government introduced civil service entrance examination for graduates; and it turned out Nzukka graduates were passing. Why were they passing? Nsukka had something called General Studies which others did not have.

Nsukka had something called elective courses where you were studying Chemistry but you also did History somewhere -which the rest of us didn't have. Since then, we've all copied Nsukka's unit course system, and so on. So, if the institutions managing ODL could concentrate on specific areas, in few years, their products would be in different sectors of the economy. In fact, it's always the alumni that give the institution the name. If you were to go to Oxford and Cambridge, you're going to find old buildings; people still sit on benches; the buildings are centuries old, and yet people prize them. Why? (It's) because the products are doing something in society.

And that used to be in those days up till 1976 I can remember I was in Stockholm, people did not know where Nigeria was but they knew where University of Ibadan was. Today, I appear in South Africa and say University of Ibadan and they say where is that? In those days, Ibadan made a name.

In my time, you learnt British Empire History. Ibadan History Department then decided to dig out African History. Every graduate student must study a part of African History - Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, the Sokoto Caliphate, and so on. These became textbooks; and before you knew it, everybody was using Ibadan History Series.

So, why won't they know where is Ibadan is? Take our dear UCH, 50 years ago our medical people were dominant everywhere. So who wouldn't know where UCH was located? But instead of solidifying what we had, we started discussing efforts. I think one lesson from all this is: let's form the habit of really building institutions and not merely just siting them; and when we build new ones, let them be apprenticed. (University of) Jos was apprenticed to Ibadan for years.

Calabar and Port Harcourt were apprenticed to Nsukka; Bayero and Maiduguri apprenticed to Ahmadu Bello; Ilorin to Ibadan. We could have allowed the apprenticeship to go for a while so that people would learn how to do things; but you broke all that and you gave autonomy but you didn't give responsibility.

You don't believe the advocacy (for ODL) is strong enough?

No. There are people on this campus who don't know that this place (UI Distance Learning Centre) exists, not to talk of NOUN (National Open University of Nigeria) and the rest of them. Advocacy is not a question of radio and television only; it's not a question of newspaper adverts.

It is going to the real people. How many ODL people have gone to a school to campaign? In the days of Ahmadu Bello, how did you have so many northern officers in the army? Ahmadu Bello visited schools; and many did not even know that the university or other thing was possible, so they went into what they knew. You notice many of them went back to study, including (Yakubu) Gowon. So, advocacy should go beyond the way it is.

The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria has insisted that everyone involved in the business of teaching must have to receive some kind of certification. Many people think that when we apply this to tertiary education, it's like a joke taken too far. Do you share this sentiment?

I don't. Everywhere in the world, tertiary education pedagogy has become the in-thing; and it's taken into consideration in promotion. I have a new definition of academic excellence - three letter 'C'. First you have to be a consummate researcher; and by research I don't mean living in the laboratory and closing the door. It means if you're teaching marketing, you're there with our dear market women marketing; because if you don't improve what is happening at that level you cannot improve the rest of Nigeria. If you're a professor of Banking, and we have alajo Shomolu and the rest of them, and you're not working with them, you're not researching.

So I mean research that addresses an issue down there. You have to wear it like a garment. Then you become a creative teacher; that is, it's true they read what Jacobson and Jacobson had done, but in your creative teaching of marketing you engage students in research and reasoning and experiential learning. What do I mean? You're teaching advertising. What do our meat sellers use to attract customers?

And when you study them you find so much of psychology and sociology and economics embedded in it. So your students are not only memorizing, they are confronting life, and they are re-thinking: if only the alagbado can do this, they too will be doing it in future. And then you have to be a committed change agent.

Now because you've been researching how our mamas attract customers, you plough this into your teaching and you and your students now go round and work with these people to show how your findings can transform things. There is something called participatory research.

Participatory research does not mean Dr A and Dr B; it means that Dr A is a practitioner. If my children are failing WASCE and approach him in the university and we sit together to study these children, their needs and what we can do to improve and we start doing together, you'd be surprised that teacher is gradually buying my ideas, but I too would be learning from that teacher because that teacher is in a real life laboratory.

But when you have universities that are so isolated, they are not really teaching, they are parroting. That's why you need higher education pedagogy. It used to be the standard that once you had a good degree and you can start, you lecture. Now lecturing is not considered teaching because it is not participatory.
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Publication:Nigerian Tribune (Oyo State, Nigeria)
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Nov 11, 2018
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