When Nelson Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, he certainly didn’t have the Nigerian education system or its awful functional illiterate products in mind. Mandela was referring to more serious countries like Israel, Singapore, etc, not just because they have succeeded in educating more than 50% of their population, but because their citizens equally exhibit qualities expected from an educated person; rationality and reasonableness, ability to reason analytically and critically, ability to think clearly and independently, good judgment, the capacity to acquire knowledge, skills and to make productive use of it. It’s the absence of these qualities in the average Nigerian graduate that has popularised the term educated illiterate.
Israel’s economy is advanced, with cut diamonds, high-tech equipment, information technology and pharmaceuticals its major exports, just like Singapore. When in 1965 Singapore gained independence, its prospects for survival were near zero, with virtually no natural resources, but with its huge investment in education, it has turned out a successful story, making great impact in the world, especially in science and technology, beyond its size.
Compared to Singapore, Nigeria’s educational system is an absolute scandal, with dire consequences for the country and the graduates, who most times are compelled to repeat some undergraduate courses before proceeding for their masters’ programme. The objective of education, in spite of the beautiful policy statements, has remained the production of manpower for the public service, as designed by the British colonial masters. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any concrete effort at changing the curriculum to the knowledge based reality of the 21st century.
Considering the purpose for acquiring education, it’s not surprising that the average Nigerian graduate lacks initiative, can’t question assumptions, nor has he/her the ability to make connections and quantitative literacy. Lacking in self confidence, they hardly can communicate their thoughts, clearly and concisely. And this because they see their education, as nothing more than a meal ticket, in “well paying” government agencies like the FIRS, PTDF, etc, the motivation to contribute to a better world is lacking.
Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna state, from his reforms, is a faithful apostle of Lee Kuan Yew, the late charismatic leader of Singapore, who single-handedly set the country on the road to development. Jon S. T Quah attributed Singapore’s success which lifted her from the third to the first world to the “pragmatic leadership ofYew and his successors; an effective public bureaucracy; effective control of corruption; reliance on the “best and brightest” citizens through investment in education and competitive compensation; and learning from other countries”, templates that El-Rufai has unapologetically implemented in the last six years, in his effort to fast track the development of Kaduna state, which before his coming in 2015 was embarrassingly stagnant.
Those who accuse El-Rufai of being “anti-education”, because of the slight increase in the school fees of the state university, are clearly mischievous, because all he has done in the last six years is to vigorously expand access to education, improve learning environment, quality of teaching, access to merit based scholarship scheme and loans for indigent students. This is because of his convictions that “education is a lever for social mobility, enabling people to rise above the circumstances of their birth and providing a basis for building a meritocratic society”. These are the reasons for El- Rufai, the development of human capital has always been the number one priority, in the five priority areas of the Restoration Programme of his administration, which explains the huge investment in education, health and social welfare.
As expected, some so called “progressives” have cashed in on the recent increase in school fees by the Kaduna State University (KASU) to tragically misinform and mislead the people. The worry is that the worn out laborious arguments, championed along with their fellow travelers, the bankrupt labour leadership that the government can afford to maintain an over-bloated public service, run free education at all levels and provide critical infrastructure, is ill informed. Unfortunately, they don’t really care about the true financial position of government, nor have the dwindling resources changed their one track thinking.
The other lazy argument, vigorously pushed by these illiterates masquerading as “gurus”, is that if only the constitutionally approved allowances of the elected representatives are pruned down, government can afford to provide free education, and even fund a space programme. But they continue to hold every government hostage, by the threat of mob action and egged on by a largely uninformed media, to the detriment of the country.
Nigeria, for donkey years, has been attempting to fix realistic prices for petroleum products, but the labour leadership has always thwarted the efforts with rather silly arguments, that the product should be near free, because it’s an oil producing country. Their position hasn’t changed, in spite of the country bleeding profusely from a subsidy regime that is corruption incorporated.
So, just as they argue that fuel prices should be fixed as low as possible by government so they argue that education fees should be as low as possible. Where El-Rufai spineless, they would have scuttled the competency test administered on the teachers, which many of them scandalously flunked. It remains a big dent on the image of labour that rather than hide its head in shame, it protested their disengagement.
Thankfully, El-Rufai has rightly refused to be intimidated by labour, the reason they keep coming back to picket Kaduna state. Like he did in 2017, when he had ignored the politically orchestrated protest by labour over the competency test, so is he expected to ignore labour and its associates on the issue of the increase in fees, especially as provision of a N2 billion loan has been provided for indigent students.
Unfortunately, these “progressives”, driving the free education slogan, have no qualms paying exorbitant fees for their children in private primary and secondary schools, which in some cases are actually more than the new fees for the university students, are shamelessly in the vanguard of the opposition to a more realistic fee, that’s below N200,000 from the paltry N26,000. In Nigeria, any charlatan is celebrated as a progressive once he/she opposes government policy, no matter how well intentioned.
The instigation of the students of KASU by these so-called progressives, to violently resist the recent increase in the school fees is wickedness, especially as the true representatives of the students had agreed that the increase was long over-due, the only point of disagreement being the percentage.
Like El-Rufai has continuously argued, “the development prospects of any country are connected to how well educated its citizens are”. Nigeria’s lack of development is evidence that our education system is sick, and the holistic reforms by the Kaduna state is not only a wake-up call, but a justification for fundamental reforms that as usual El-Rufai is urging the country to make, if it doesn’t want to be left behind.
The main goal of the El-Rufai education reforms is the education of every Nigerian, not just Kaduna state citizens, to globally-competitive standards, which hopefully is the dream of every parent, the question is what kind of education and for what purpose? It’s not by accident that the chief executives of over 15 high tech companies, including Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Nokia and Twitter are of Indian origin.
What El-Rufai has done with the holistic reform of the Kaduna state education sector, including the recent increase in school fees of the state owned university, is to force a conversation on the direction of our education sector.
Education is not cheap and the earlier we come to terms with the fact, the better. Nigeria is broke. In March 2021, total revenue from crude oil fell to N723 million from N35.72 billion, a pointer to more serious economic challenges ahead. And like we say in Nigeria, good soup na money cook am.
Ado writes from Kaduna