BEHOLD THE STATE OF EDUCATION
BEHOLD THE STATE OF EDUCATION
Student and Workers Must Organise and Struggle to Defeat Neo-liberal Attacks on Education
By Kola Ibrahim
The rot in the Nigeria education sector is phenomenal! Fifty percent (50%) of the 140 million population are aged below 18 years; however, less than ten percent of this population have access to any form of education; a gloomy future for a country that hopes to “half poverty by 2015”. A brief survey of the specific condition of our public primary, secondary and tertiary schools will further reveal the extent of this calamity.
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS: – TALE OF TEARS AND SORROW
These core foundations of our education sector are in shambles. Facilities like laboratories, libraries (with books), sport and IT facilities, even facilities as basic as class rooms, chairs and desks are non existent, making learning and teaching extremely difficult for students and teachers. In a typical secondary school, a single teacher has to teach several arms of the same class in a single day! According UNDP, no primary/secondary school in Nigeria meets the UNESCO pupils per teacher/class ratio of 35:1. Classes are overcrowded to an alarming rate of over 100 students to one teacher.
All this has put a lot of pressure on teachers in terms of teaching, examination, class monitoring, etc. Yet, teachers are not regularly paid, their salaries are too meagre to cater for their welfare and that of their family. In order to survive, most teachers resort to petty trading (even while at work) and Okada (commercial motorcycle) riding. This has caused intense demoralization among the teaching and non-teaching staff and makes it practically impossible for them to impart needed knowledge in students.
Despite government desperate propaganda, the profit driven private schools have posed no solution. Aside the fact that many of them are mushrooms lacking adequate facilities like class rooms, libraries, laboratories, trained teachers, recreational facilities etc, the few that have some facilities charge exorbitant fees that make them inaccessible to vast majority of the citizens. For instance, Bells, the President Obasanjo owned secondary school, charges over N300,000/year in a country where the monthly minimum wage has just been grudgingly increased from N7,500 in 1999 to N11,500 yet to be implemented while the price of petroleum products have been increased six times from N20 in 1999 to N65 in 2007 and inflation is put at a conservative 6% per year.
In the public schools where the fees are comparatively low, parents/guardians cannot still afford the cost of books, chairs and tables, school uniforms, examination fees, PTA levies etc. thus leading to massive withdrawals of students from schools on a yearly basis. All this explains why over 8 million Nigerian children have no access to education and are roaming the streets mostly hawking ‘pure’ water. The quality of output from the primary/secondary schools has deteriorated so much that the average school leaver cannot possibly pass university/polytechnic-qualifying exams without extra effort from individual students/parents (for instance through special coaching classes or a temptation to corrupt the exam process). No wonder cases of examination malpractices are on the rise.
THE TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS: – SHADOW OF THEIR FORMER SELVES
As expected, the rot in the pre-tertiary institutions definitely has its tolls on tertiary education. There is an estimated 54% shortfall in academic staff in our tertiary institutions, while about 294 lecturers leave the country per annum. Hostels are decrepit where they still exist at all, while laboratories have become obsolete and libraries lack up to date materials and students sometimes have to engage in fisticuffs over inadequate lecture venues.
As a result, many tertiary institutions cannot admit most of the students seeking admission to their institutions because of low carrying capacity of the available facilities. Therefore arbitrary means like high cut-off marks, pre-degree programme and Post-UME exams are introduced, all in a bid to weed out many aspiring students. Despite all these rot, students are being asked to pay more as school fees. In fact, in virtually all-tertiary institutions, students are charged an average of N10, 000 and above as fees. In some, students pay as high as between N30, 000 and N80, 000 for degree, Pre-degree, post-graduate programs. This has stretched the lean purse of most working class parents/guardians to a breaking limit.
Unfortunately, corrupt University officials who run schools in bureaucratic version mismanage such fees. The condition of lecturers and non-teaching staff is also unpleasant. Salaries are not paid on time and many times, government reneges on agreements reached with staff unions leading to rounds of strikes and dislocated academic calendars. The academic field is rendered largely unattractive. Consequently, many competent staff are compelled to seek greener pastures in foreign (including neighbouring African) countries.
WHAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS CALAMITY?
It should be stressed, the problems facing the education system are a product of the age-long neglect in terms of adequate funding by successive governments especially the Obasanjo/IMF government. According to UNESCO, countries like Nigeria must spend at least 26% of its budget on education. Since 1999, the average budget for education has been less than one third of this UNESCO standard. Education as a social service is a function of the government upon which it is given mandate; therefore it must be funded from the collective wealth of the country. The more educated a nation becomes, the more its potentials for development. Therefore, the nation benefits as it educates its citizens.
Unfortunately, the Obasanjo capitalist government and its clones in the states have made education a profit-making venture and a means of looting the nation’s wealth. This explains why despite over 150 billion dollars that has accrued to the nation’s purse from crude oil sales alone since 1999, education is still being under funded. Rather than provide adequate fund, the government has been converting the nation’s wealth to private use through white elephant projects (COJA/CHOGM, $12.4 billion dubious debt repayment, etc) and fraudulent contracts e.g. N300 billion non-existing road projects under Chief Anenih. This is aside other brazen frauds like the N80 billion NPA stolen fund. Even, where funds are allocated to education, the bulk of it is corrupted by handpicked, contract-seeking governing councils and their subsidiaries, for instance, the N50 billion ETF fund.
If just 20% of the $150 billion has been judiciously and democratically used to fund education sector, it can provide free, qualitative education for the nation for the next 10 years. A government that prioritises profits for the rich businessmen and political associates over the welfare interests of the over 70% Nigerian poor cannot provide these resources despite the availability. The money that should be used for education funding and other social services are being cornered into the hands of the few cabal in power and business who come around to buy up the existing facilities in our schools under the fraudulent privatisation programme. This explains why Obasanjo and his Vice, Atiku, who under fund education, have set up Bells University and ABTI University where hundreds of thousands are being charged. This also explains why the Unity Schools which have been neglected are now to be privatised to businessmen at give away prices.
The main reason the government will not want to fund education is because the government is a capitalist government whose aim is not to provide basic amenities like education, health, food, housing, electricity, water etc to the common man but to create conditions under which the rich can make huge profit at the expense of the poor. That is why virtually all other sectors of the economy are being privatised to money-bags. Consequent upon the refusal of the government to spend state funds on social programme and infrastructure, these enormous public wealth are being brazenly stolen by corrupt government officials while the masses suffer.
WE MUST FIGHT!!!
The only way out of this crisis is for Nigerian students and workers to fight their right to qualitative education. We must return to the tradition of struggle like that of the 1978 “Ali must go” protest. For this to be achieved, we need to rebuild a pan-Nigeria national students’ platform because NANS has been taken over by state-agents, and sellouts. However, while doing this, Nigerian students and workers will have to commence series of nation-wide protests and actions that can force the government to stop its ruinous education privatisation and commercialisation policies.
As an initiative towards this, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Education Rights Campaign (ERC) have launched a “Save Education Campaign”. Primary, secondary and tertiary school students and staffs; and communities are invited to join this campaign in their different localities. We also call on various staff unions, students’ Unions, youth organisations, human right community, community associations and trade unions to lend support and solidarity. We must organise actions to defend our inalienable right to education in our localities, schools and at local government, state and national level. However, we must realise that while we fight to save education from collapse, the victories we get will not endure and even the ultimate demand of free education will not be achieved if this anti-poor capitalist government that does not consider education a social responsibility is not changed.
On this basis, while fighting for our rights to qualitative education, we must link up with Trade Unions, civil societies and pro-masses organizations to form a working people’s political party that can struggle for power electorally and at the barricades from the hands of corrupt self-serving capitalist politicians in order to establish a socialist society where free education and provision of other social services will be guaranteed and funded from the collective wealth for the people’s benefit.