(By Philip Ogaga Okorodudu)

The crux of the matter is to realise that the best roadmap to educating the Nigeria of our dream is the realisation of the fact that education is a fundamental human right all children of school age are entitled to irrespective of sex, belief, cultural orientation, state of origin and otherwise. Hence, equal opportunities must be given to all and sundry and nobody should be denied an opportunity to benefit from education or education related issues by virtue of federal character or state of origin.

EDUCATION is the bedrock upon which any society wishing to achieve its cardinal objective of encompassing development in all spheres of life is built but this saying does not aptly apply to third world countries like Nigeria as the level of literacy suggests.

  Irrespective of the type of white collar job being sought, one level of education or the other is needed to at least ensure that communication takes place between persons in an organisation or establishment hence education becomes a yard stick to which employability of labour is measured.

   In realisation of this fact, first generation universities such as the University College Ibadan, now University of Ibadan, and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Ife, University of Lagos amongst others were established to provide the needed educational expertise and to set basic standard for Education in Nigeria.

  However, with the increase in the population of qualified students for university education and the corresponding growing need for scientific and technological advancement to meet increasing demands for sophisticated tools to ease the work of man, it became imperative for more universities to be established.

   With no fewer than 128 universities in the country at present and at least 50 of them being privately owned, it is expected that the problem of the demand for university education would have been reduced considerably as the establishment of these universities in recognition of the need to encourage private participation in the provision of quality university education is seen as a panacea towards reducing the burden faced by admission seekers.

   Sadly, however, the proliferation of private university education has not brought about the needed change in the educational sector as most of them have become money bags and a dumping ground for those academically deficient individuals who find it difficult to meet the minimum academic criteria for entry into the nation’s top universities.

  Recently, the Registrar of the (Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB), Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, stated that the board would be giving special concession to candidates with minimum aggregate score of 170 to be admitted into privates universities in the 2014/2015 academic year, this is consequent upon the fact that private universities admitted a paltry 19,254 candidates as against the 67,000 allotted to them in 2013.

   A cursory look at the above statistics indicates that if there were 50 private universities licensed in the 2013/2014 academic session and 19, 254 candidates were offered placements into these universities as against the allotted 67,000, then an average of 385.04 students were admitted by each of the universities into the many faculties and departments that each may have.

This, by extension means that some departments may not have had any applicants at all while some will barely have 10 students that would have applied to a faculty with between five and 10 departments. It thus becomes a problem to manage these universities as the monies paid by the few admitted students is not commensurate with the resources that would have been invested in setting up the institutions. The consequence of this is the ineptitude of lecturers who have little or no students to teach and this results in brain drain as the needed resources to send staff for retraining, workshop and symposia becomes unavailable. The society reaps it own share of these ‘legacies’ in the form of graduates who lack self-definition and have nothing to contribute towards the development of the country.

  The dream of our founding fathers to make Nigeria a haven for potential investors and a hub for technological advancement saw the emergence of first generation universities that were then able to compete favourably with their counterparts anywhere in the world.

   However, the allure for power and the desire by successive governments to stick tenaciously to power coupled with intermittent military intervention has left Nigeria to be struggling to catch up with the advanced world in almost all facets of human endeavour most notably, education.

   It is a painful fact that most of the visible innovations today are a by-product of the strong foundations that our heroes past put in place to ensure a progressive Nigeria and rather than build on it, they are being replaced with mediocre plans that lack the capacity to stand the test of time.

   These days, the best brains are denied admission into the nation’s tertiary institutions. Factors such as leakage of examination papers, bribing of invigilators and appointment of preferred invigilators, use of mobile phones in examination halls, catchment areas etc are factors which have, over the years, denied many brilliant students from being admitted into higher institutions as there are the select few who would not indulge in any form of examination malpractices while there are others whose only crime for being denied admission is their state of origin or being from a state that is not regarded as educationally less disadvantaged (ELD).

   The problem of geometrical increase in tuition fees has, over the years, also affected the enrolment of students into schools of their choice. These days, prospective students prefer to stay at home for a year or two longer until they get admitted into schools with low tuition fees while those with higher tuition fees find it difficult to meet half of their prescribed carrying capacity and end up admitting those who have the money rather than those who have the brains.

   Furthermore, examination malpractice is one of the biggest problems besetting the Nigerian educational sector and it must be nipped in the bud once and for all. Nowadays, parents now champion the course of examination malpractice and even act as watch dogs in examination centres to notify the supervisors who have been brain washed with money and have sold their conscience for cheap financial gains on sighting external supervisors. These are the same parents who sit in corridors of power and complain about the rot in the educational sector.

   In the light of the above discuss, one may be forced to ask the question, is there hope in sight for a country like Nigeria which, according to the (United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), has the highest number of out of school children in Africa?

   The crux of the matter is to realise that the best roadmap to educating the Nigeria of our dream is the realisation of the fact that education is a fundamental human right all children of school age are entitled to irrespective of sex, belief, cultural orientation, state of origin and otherwise. Hence, equal opportunities must be given to all and sundry and nobody should be denied an opportunity to benefit from education or education related issues by virtue of federal character or state of origin.

    Education in most states of the federation is said to be free but the buying of books, school uniform, pencils, and biros, amongst others makes a mockery of the free education policy of both the federal and state governments. Any form of payment in states claiming to be practising free education is a negation of the right of the child as enshrined by UNICEF act to which Nigeria is a signatory. Hence, both the federal and state governments must direct agencies under their payroll to remove forthwith, any form of payment from schools whose education is designated to be free most especially in basic and post primary education which is the foundation for higher studies. This will reduce the number of out of school children to a significant level.

   Also, it is believed that Computer Based Test (CBT) could restore some sanity into our educational sector. If the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) could make good its promise of conducting all its examinations online and if universities could follow suit by conducting their Post Universities Matriculation Examinations (UTME) online, then the days of he who pays the piper dictates the tune could be gone. The challenge of conducting examinations online is herculean but surmountable.

    Furthermore, our universities can yet again be ranked among top universities as it was a little after independence. This can be made possible with the equipment of our universities with adequate manpower, well equipped laboratories, training and retraining of staff, giving incentives for hard work to exceptional staffs and students alike, specialisation of our universities in areas where they have comparative advantage, removal of all forms of disparities in the employment of staff and admissions of students etc.

   In addition, fees charged in our schools, particularly public schools should be commensurate with the prevalent standard of living to ensure its affordability by all and sundry without leaving out any category of persons. This way, tuition fees will not be an obstacle to students attending universities of their dream.

•Okorodudu is a graduate student of the Department of Electrical/Electronic and Computer Engineering, Delta State University, Abraka.

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