Drilling Accountability Into Education

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Auwal Sani Anwar is the second young voice in our series that will focus today on his passion – education – and how our public policy makers can make the sector work better for a majority of our citizens. I first came across his writing on Facebook, where in addition to maintaining an active personal page, he administers a public policy debating platform – Synopsis. Young Voices like Yemi Adamolekun and Anwar give us hope that the future of Nigeria will be brighter if the current leadership does not destroy the little social cohesion we still have left. Anwar writes a weekly column in the Abuja-based daily, The Blueprint newspaper.

The relationship between a nation and its citizens is like that between a father and his children. Both parties are bound by natural laws to protect, provide for and support each other at all times; in the good, the bad and even the ugly days of their lives. In the case of Nigeria and its citizens, this relationship has grown into a contract as captured by Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Unfortunately, it is becoming clear that each party is doing its utmost to beat the other in the race to observe the provisions of that Chapter in the breach.

Therefore, when Mallam Nasir el-Rufai magnanimously offered to host me on this page, I saw it as not only a great honour but also a wonderful opportunity to draw attention to one major breach of this contract (Chapter II.18) as it affects the educational sector. I intend to show how the impotence of the accountability mechanisms in Nigeria is being exploited by public officers against ordinary Nigerian citizens. I shall draw examples from my personal experiences and then attempt to drill that Ogun State-tested solution into our collective psyche.

A few years ago, while lecturing in a polytechnic in Northern Nigeria, I was given a fresh class of 60 National Diploma students who had just secured admissions to study Chemical Engineering Technology. All of them had met the entry requirements, with the equivalent of GCE O level credits in English, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry at the very least. They had so incredibly high JAMB scores that we had trouble selecting the best. Yet, when I went to that class to introduce them to Chemical Engineering processes and calculations, I ended up teaching them Arithmetic! That was because, not a single one of them could recall the quadratic formula much less use it to solve basic quadratic equations.

Having spent an hour before these young people, I sadly came to realise that even the English I was speaking was sounding somewhat alien to them! A few queries later, I observed that although some of them were fair in spoken English, only one of the 20 I challenged could define an adjective correctly. Yet the system expected at least 70% of these students to graduate with an engineering diploma within two years, when they could not learn elementary algebra in 12 years of primary and secondary education. At the end of the semester, may God help any Head of Department that failed to present an impressive result for the students.

Well, we are all aware of the miracles that occur during secondary school leaving exams. Nowadays, apart from good old reading and solving past questions, there are many routes to success in those examinations. Your parents can pay for you to see the questions in advance or for the school ‘authorities’ to allow someone else to write for you. They can pay so that the ‘authorities’ will allow you to enter the exam hall with relevant materials and the invigilator will be reading his newspaper while you answer the questions. They can pay so that the authorities will authorise a teacher to come and answer the questions on the board for you to copy or for a teacher to write the exam for you! God knows these are not exaggerations by any means. Surely that explains the miraculous distinctions and credits.

So before we begin to think that this problem is limited to certain sections of the county, let me say that, at least every other year, I was getting attached NYSC corps members who were serving as assistant lecturers under me. Of the last 13 corps members, only two could write an error-free formal application letter. Sadly, only one could earn respect as a graduate chemical engineer. Truly, this is how bad it is.

Now if we consider the lies we tell ourselves during accreditation exercises all over the country, nobody should be surprised at the kind of products we produce. Indeed, they ‘garbage’ out the same way they ‘garbaged’ in. You may find this incredible, but it is true that the government, many administrators and some academic staff lie to high heavens to sustain this ruse of education.

Consider this: The government establishes a school to provide education at a prescribed standard. To do that, it provides adequate and competent teaching and administrative staff, teaching and research facilities, and pegs carrying capacities. It pays all the staff and pays for all the materials. It has the records of all these. It then expects that school to provide education not below the prescribed standard. A few years later, it sends an accreditation team to check if that school has requisite staff, teaching facilities and a conducive atmosphere for learning. This team also takes the performance of students taking the curriculum and the standards into consideration. All things being equal, there should not be any problem because the government will find just what it knows it has provided. But this is all on paper.

In reality, it mostly provides inadequate funding, poor staffing, obsolete teaching materials, and a barely conducive learning atmosphere. It will then send its accreditation team to assess those programmes. Despite knowing what it has provided at the schools, the team will come back to it with glowing reports of adequacy and performance. And the government will accept those reports, even beat its chest that it is providing quality education!

The way these miracles occur are better imagined, with fake boosting of academic staff strength, borrowing of equipment from one school to another, bribing accreditation team members, and greasing the palms of the accrediting body. At the end of the day, the programmes get re-accredited, the staff members maintain their jobs. And the government gets told that it has what it knows it has not provided. And it congratulates itself.

So where do we stand on this? Undoubtedly, there is no hope in this self-deluding system of education. There is no building a future with the kind of products that this system rolls out. We cannot venture into the challenging terrain of nation building with these half-baked products for they will fail when it matters most.

Recently, only 17 out of 18,000 candidates in Gombe State were able to get admissible credentials into the university. Recently, less than 9% in the whole country got similarly agreeable credentials. This year, only three candidates out of 1,503,931 registered got above 300 in 400 points JAMB exams and four-fifths failed the exams. We must ask: what can we do to reverse this debilitating trend? Is there any accountability tool we can use to force our leaders’ hands to save the situation? I think there is. And it is called democracy.

God bless Harrison Adeyemi, Babatunde Egunjobi and Ogun State people for trying to drill in one brilliant idea last month, despite the unfortunate, teething results. It is the idea of compelling all public office holders and servants to enrol their children in public schools. Shamelessly and inexplicably, the other legislators shot the idea down. Every year, we hear of colossal amounts being spent on public schools by them. They hoarsely trumpet it to high heavens that these schools are now the best they can be. Yet you can hardly find the children of these officers in those public schools. Why not? Your guess is as good as mine.

Well, another legislator I know from Katsina, Abdullahi Mahuta, has been on a similar campaign. A few weeks ago, he lamented to me that ‘Throughout the 2011 fiscal year, no single kobo was released to the oldest higher institution in the state, Katsina Polytechnic, for capital expenditure. Only 10% of the funds allocated to the state’s Science and Technical Education Board was released. Amazingly, of the N11,455,852,875.00 allocated to the entire educational sector of the state for capital expenditure, only about N1,819,183,458.00 was released, representing about 15.88%.’

It is impossible for the governor, his commissioners, the legislators and other public officers to allow this to happen if their biological children are studying in those schools. And so I sincerely think, the best way is for the voting citizens to approach solving our educational quagmire this way since everything else, including the ballot box, has failed: let us demand the passage and implementation of a law that compels all public office holders and civil servants to enrol their children only in public schools across the length and breadth of this country.

It is working for the Malaysians; it should work for us.

 

In : Education