Two weeks ago, education was very much on the agenda of national discourse with the National Economic Summit Group (NESG), a private sector-driven organisation, devoting its 20th annual conference to the theme. Understanding the role of education as the bedrock of a society, and the engine of national transformation and growth, the group decided that it was apt to raise awareness about the growing decline in the sector so as to engender some strategic engagement. To a large extent, it was a successful outing for which we must commend the NESG Director General, Mr Frank Nweke, its chairman, Mr. Foluso Phillips and several participants from both the private and the public sectors.
At the end of the one-week summit, it was concluded that what Nigeria needs today is education that is not only vision-driven but also fit-for-purpose and one led by competent professionals while the nation must migrate from education spending to education investment. Nigeria, it was also agreed, must remodel the learning environment, focus on trending global skills, establish research and development capabilities for the schools and move from the current traditional examination to a system that measures learning outcome. With the full participation of critical stakeholders from both the private and public sectors and Vice-President Namadi Sambo sitting through most of the sessions, there was cause for optimism about a new resolve by this administration to address the fundamental problems of education in Nigeria. However, given that the country is not lacking in road maps that result from such sessions in the past, the challenge of the moment is how the country will move from talk to action in the restructuring of education.
The point not missed is that if the current administration is indeed serious about implementing reforms in the sector, it already has a clear road map based on the recommendations of the Presidential Task Team on Education (PTTE) inaugurated in January 2011 by President Goodluck Jonathan. Chaired by Professor P.A.I. Obanya, a retired UNESCO Director for Education, with membership drawn from all the relevant institutions and departments, the panel made far-reaching recommendations. It is indeed instructive that in coming up with its framework for the education summit, the NESG relied heavily on the report of the presidential panel. Yet there is no sign that there is any commitment to implementing the recommendations despite setting up a task force in that regard. The presidential panel, for instance, notes that both at the federal and state levels, there have, over the years, been a steady increase in the number of bureaucracies with a growing demand for more, even when they have only succeeded in bringing about huge transactional costs without a commensurate improvement in service delivery. Perhaps for that reason, according to the panel, available data reveals that “the bulk of education sector budget is devoted to merely oiling the system (recurrent expenditure) to the relative neglect of developing the system (capital expenditure)”. From the federal government to the states, all indices point to the fact that the authorities have not taken education as a priority either in the budgeting process or in the manner of appointments into the sector.
The sum total of the findings by the presidential panel, “is that existing coordination and management models are not the type that can efficiently promote education policy and programme development and education service delivery” in the country. The panel therefore recommended among others a complete devolution of power, authority and resources for the development and management of basic education to local government education authorities; a reversal of the current top-down approach by getting the states to work with federal authorities right from the conception phase of initiatives, along with expanded stakeholder involvement at all levels of education in the country. While we commend the leadership of the NESG for the summit, we urge the federal government to commence the process of implementing its own report on how to revamp the educational sector in Nigeria. This critical sector holds the key to the real transformation of our country.