After a careful consideration of the ThisDay editorial of June 12, 2015, titled ‘NECO Results and Education in Nigeria’, an article by Claudia Costin that I had read in the June 2015 report of the recent G7-Meeting in Schloss Emau Germany popped up in my head. Costin is senior director for education of the World Bank Group. Therefore, because of the seriousness that I know that the ThisDay newspaper ascribes to issues related to education, and because I share some of those educational concerns as well, I would crave the indulgence of our readers to allow me dwell just a little bit on the source of that report. The G7 Research Group derives its intellectual support from the University of Toronto Munk School Of Global Affairs. The edition from which I read was the one focusing on the 40 years of G7-Meetings with a special supplement focusing on debate and decision-making. That report had articles and excerpts from auspicious G7ers like Angela Markel (Commitment for Growth and Prosperity, Peace and Freedom), Barack Obama (Working Towards Shared Goals), David Cameron (Seizing Opportunities to increase growth), Francois Hollande (Time to Act on Climate Change), Stephen Harper (Creating a More Prosperous World), Matteo Renzi (The Future is Today), Shinzo Abe (An Alliance of Shared Values) and Ban Ki-Moon (2015: a year of opportunity). After a reading some of these articles, you wouldn’t need to be invited to, and be present at the G7 Meeting to get something of the mindset of the personalities whose vision shape the direction of global economy, security and development.
Both the ThisDay editorial and Costin’s Education for 21st Century Skills agree that the crisis in the educational sector has local, national and international ramifications. But they part ways at the point of proffering a solution to the educational depression. According to ThisDay, and relying on recently released exam results, candidates seeking admission into Nigerian university cannot pass basic subjects like Mathematics and English mostly because government, school administrators, teachers and parents have not done their jobs. The editorial suggests that government should declare a state of emergency across all sectors of education in Nigeria. But for Costin, access to and quality of education together with the irrelevance of the courses that most students study in school make it impossible for young people in Africa to fill the manpower needs of Africa. ‘The workplace is evolving swiftly because of technological advances and globalization, and the world’s young people must be able to respond to these changes. Consequently, schools must be able to teach foundational skills that allow people to think critically, adapt quickly, and continue learning in what is a rapidly changing global marketplace. Students need to acquire not only basic literacy and numeracy, but also what economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman calls ‘character’ skills, such as persistence, self-confidence, teamwork and problem-solving’, Costin said in her article.
A big part of what Costin through the World Bank is doing to address critical areas of educational need in Africa is a substantial funding programme, African Centres of Excellence, ACE. To be spread across West and Central Africa, the World Bank approved $150million to finance 19 university-based ACEs in seven countries in West and Central Africa. The aim is to equip young Africans in specific universities with new scientific and technical skills. Operating though an International Development Association credit scheme, governments of Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Togo will receive $70 million, $24 million, $16, million, $8 million each respectively. According to the World Bank, the critical areas are Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – STEM, and 8 Nigerian universities - Ahmadu Bello University, the University of Benin, the University of Jos, Redeemers University, Federal University of Agriculture, Benue State University, University of Port Harcourt and the Obafemi Awolowo University – will benefit.
But I am absolutely certain that the ACE is DOA - dead on arrival - if the World Bank does not embark on a review of the project. First of all, if a senior World Bank director is saying that there are three key challenges facing education – access, quality and relevance of courses - shouldn’t the World Bank be looking to first of all find out why there is low access, low quality and why candidates are opting for the wrong courses before throwing money at the problem? Here’s an example: yesterday, I went looking for a tutorial centre for my nephew and I decided on one of the very many which dot the city of Benin – where one of the ACE beneficiary university is located. I was interested in two of the core subjects that the ThisDay editorial said there was massive failure – English and Mathematics – only to find out that the chap teaching English holds a BSc in Agric Economics. At the other centre, two chaps, a lawyer and a medical student teach Mathematics.
Centres like this dot Benin City and virtually every big city in Nigeria. What we then have presently is a dysfunctional system at the various points of entry – over 90 percent of the candidates that the ThisDay editorial said have not been able to pass the exams are actually the ones who eventually find their way into some of the elite universities that the World Bank is funding – and through the back door. So I believe that giving these universities all of that money for the development of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is a waste of time and money. What the World Bank should be doing in Africa to improve education is to start at the starting point – investment in the development of the primary and secondary schools so as to build the kind of ‘character skills’ – persistence, self-confidence, teamwork and problem-solving skills that today’s knowledge-based economy demands. In partnership with relevant state and non-state actors, the World Bank can arrange to do a census of and regulate all extra-mural classes in Nigeria. They can appoint a representative in each state of Nigeria who works with the ministry of education to monitor these people. If there is such a census and if there is regulation of the people who dispense knowledge and information that our children need to benefit from such schemes as the World Bank ACE, one big problem with the downward spiral of education in Nigeria in particular would have been stemmed.
Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is Communications manager with the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, Benin City. www.aneej.org