The root cause in the fall of Nigeria’s educational system is largely traceable to its history. Dating back from the sophisticated 6-3-3-4 educational system crafted by legendary Prof. Babatunde Fafunwa, the first Nigerian professor of education. The above system embeds technical education for those children who are not academically strong enough to go to university or polytechnic. Such students proceed to the technical college to learn trade after completing the junior secondary education. The system was to promote the dignity of labour and economic efficiency as the dexterity and innovational capacity widens. But painfully enough, this laudable policy couldn’t be sustained due to the corrupted values of most Nigerians. An average Nigerian parent feels that it is shameful to send his or her child to a technical school despite his low academic performance at the junior secondary school level. The poor enrollment coupled with rampant corruption led to the ruination of our technical schools across the country.
There is no doubt that more and more weak students with assistance of their parents engage in all kinds of fraud in order to enter the university. In the past, most students in tertiary institutions were academically strong enough, while those that were not strong went to such institutions as School of Nursing, School of public Hygiene, School of Agriculture and Nigerian Defence Academy. The recent admission to these weak students has been the major fallout of the university culture, as students became predators for loosed lecturers, and this has resulted in an increasing damage of the university reputation. As time progressed, the fall in the standard of our tertiary institutions became crystal clear, no more rhetorical. And if we go by the report of the Ashby commission on higher education in Nigeria at the time of Independence, and the remark of British educator who shared that commission that recommended the founding of the University of Lagos, after the Eastern region had led off with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and other two regions followed suit with University of Ife and Ahmadu Bello University. In addition to the University College Ibadan (now University of Ibadan), Sir Ashby had said that higher education in Nigeria was as good as the best in the world, noting it was harder, at that time, to get into University of Ibadan than to get into Harvard.
Then during the regime of General Babangida, in August 1985, he sealed the fate of the middle class by devaluing the naira leading to a collapse of their living standards and the implemented policies to whittle down the autonomy of universities and economically disempower both staff and students, compromised the quality of the civil service and shackled civil society group. The effect on the academia was particularly severe, and it marked the collapse of the Nigerian university system. Professors and solid academics were knocked off their perch, struggling to survive like every poor Nigerian and unable to afford any of the luxuries they were used to. Most of the strong academics left for foreign universities leaving behind mostly the dregs of the system who could not hope to function outside of dysfunctional Nigerian system, as this led to mass exodus of lecturers. The recent call for a critical look into the admission procedure (acceptance fees and post-UTME) would not go a long way in helping our higher institutions, since the academics would always look for a new means to extort from students due to lack of satisfactory salaries.
The factors that led to the plummeting standards in the universities today include: incessant strikes, sex-for-grades allegations, corruption, money for marks accusations (parents are involved), irregular admission, low cut-off marks, poor equipment, overcrowded classrooms, absenteeism of lecturers, cult clash, lack of students accommodation/hostels, poor hostel conditions and falling standard in the school environment culture that negates rigorous study orientation. However, the recent statement by the Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Abubakar Rasheed, that there are 100 fake professors in our universities has been a mighty blow that further exposed the rot of our universities. When we have fake lecturers, we produce fake students, and the society becomes a sea of fake/half-baked graduates. We have numerous issues in our institutions especially the sex-for-grades allegation, but the problem is not only about the lecturers and government, but also the students. Not many of our students read these days, and even though they read, it is only because of exam. They don’t read to know more or read outside their courses to help bridge the gap between learning and skills; Nigeria reading culture is very poor.
I must say this as a student that the system which hinders young and brave minds from studying due to bad school policy, that makes students pay heavily (especially faculty and department dues) for what would not benefit them later will not improve development in the country. It is not because students are not willing to study or eager for knowledge, but because our system is outdated and we still rejoice that we are best. I remember the Vice-chancellor of a university, which I would not like to mention, who was calling names of people who graduated from the institution and are regarded in our present society. But as I began to look into those names, I found out that none were graduates from 1990 to the present day, so it is an institution relying on its past glory.
Okechukwu is a student of the Department of Mass communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka [email protected]