Historically, western education entered the country through the South-west of Nigeria. The colonial authorities initially concentrated their activities in the Lagos area before moving down south along the coastal cities.
They were not at the time involved in the operation and funding of education. Scholars have suggested that formal western education began in Nigeria in 1842 at the primary level through the efforts of Christian missions. Secondary education was subsequently introduced. The first secondary school was CMS Grammar School, established in 1859 in Lagos.
It has been well documented that the colonial government only began its involvement in education after it promulgated its first Education Ordinance in 1882 when it began the funding of public schools and gave assistance to private ones. The difficulty in its implementation led to the enactment of the second Ordinance in 1887. This ordinance was said to have covered only schools in Lagos at the time.
Also, 73 years after the establishment of the first secondary school in Lagos, the first higher institution in Nigeria, Yaba Higher College, was established in 1932. The University College, Ibadan followed shortly in 1934.
Undoubtedly, the region had a head start in educational development compared to other regions of the country. This was further buoyed by the Universal Primary Education Policy of the then Premier of Western Region, Obafemi Awolowo, which offered free education for children in primary schools starting from 1955. Besides providing children of poor background access to quality education, it underscored the intrinsic value of education, which subsequently stimulated and facilitated the mass education of the population.
From Lagos to Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and down to Ekiti, the preponderance of professors and well-read academicians benchmarks the solid foundation laid for the education in the region. It is often said (though debatable) that in every home in Ekiti, there is a professor.
However, in a recent analysis, it is apparent that other regions are not only catching up, but might have overtaken the South-west in education.
If there is any doubt in the minds of anyone, the performances of the region in the Senior School Certificate Examinations, SSCE in the last five years showed that South-west states only trail other regions in their well-publicised ratings. In all these years, none of the states, besides Lagos, has made it to the list of top 10 states on the West African Examinations Council, WAEC performance table.
Available statistics of the 2017 SSCE results enumerating states’ performance, showed the South-east states posting brilliant performances. Besides topping the chart, four of the five states made the top 10 list of states.
The dominance of the South-east and South-south states in the WAEC rating in the last five years, raise concerns about the much-touted claims of the South-west as the bastion of education in Nigeria.
However, the South-west states had Lagos as a representative among the top 10 states. It shows Abia, Rivers, and Edo coming tops, with Imo, Bayelsa, Anambra, Lagos, Taraba, Enugu and Delta following in that order.
Besides Lagos that manages to retain its presence in the top 10, the other South-west states remain comfortable either at the rear or at the middle.
In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 WAEC results, only Lagos featured in the top 10 list of states which continued to be dominated by states from the South-east and South-south.
For instance, in 2015, all the South-east states made it to the top 10 on the chart. While Lagos still retained its place on the list, Ekiti managed to clinch the 11th position on the chart. Ondo came 14th, Ogun, 20th position, Oyo, 27th, while Osun came 30th. The situation was not so different in 2014 chart which saw Ekiti occupying the 12th position. Ondo followed closely on the 13th position, while Ogun moved up to 18, Osun, 22 and Oyo, 24.
The Ekiti State government last year celebrated the improvement of the state on the WAEC performance chart when it moved from the 28th position in 2013 to 11th position in 2016. For the state, its placement on the chart had perhaps bestowed credence on the investment of the governor in education.
Idowu Adelusi, the Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Ayo Fayose, had described the feat as “an indication that efforts of the present administration to reposition education in the state were already yielding results.”
He said the governor was particularly happy that no fewer than 37 per cent of the state candidates that sat for WAEC in 2016 had a minimum of five credits including in English and Mathematics while a similar feat was recorded in 2015.
“The mere fact that the state jumped from 35th position to the 11th, barely two years of the coming into office of this administration, is remarkable,” Mr. Adelusi said.
Ekiti State also retained its 11th position in 2017.
However, some have rejected the use of the WAEC chart as an indicator of the true state of education in any state. A top official of the Ogun State government, who did not want his name on print, while defending the situation with education in Ogun, said the conclusion that the south-west states, particularly Ogun, performed dismally compared to other states “was an error.”
According to him, the analyses did not consider the number of candidates for each state before arriving at the conclusion.
He said the rating was based on percentage pass in five subjects at credit level and above. Looking at the performance chart of the 2014 result, Ogun which registered 70,474 candidates was placed 18th.
It was his reasoning that Ogun in that light should not be compared with states like Bayelsa, ‘which featured 19,930 candidates and placed fourth.’
But such an argument is whittled when the 2014 table is further examined. Even states which registered fewer candidates had higher number of candidates which had five credit passes and above including in Mathematic and English.
For instance, Imo, which placed 8th on the table, registered a total of 46,359 candidates, and had a total of 18,830 candidates with five credits and above including in Mathematics and English. Ogun with 70,474 candidates had a total of 15,974 candidates making the five credit passes and above mark.
It is noteworthy that Ogun State had attracted flaks from many critics in respect of its performance of candidates in the 2016 SSCE.
However, the Special Assistant on Media to the Ogun State Governor, Opeyemi Soyombo, believes such criticisms were unfair and “did not reflect the true state of education and the commitment of Ibikunle Amosun towards restoring the virtue of education in the state.”
He argued that the administration in Ogun was following the steps of Obafemi Awolowo by earmarking over 20 per cent of the state’s budget to education.
He said the government is also operating the free education policy at the primary and secondary levels which had in turn raised the level of enrolment in schools.
“In the 2010/ 2011 session, enrolment figure for JSS was 158,972. Today, through the free education policy of the Amosun government, enrolment figure has shot up to 226,836,” Mr. Soyombo said.
“The figure has increased from 133,997 in 2010/2011 to 172,444 at the SSS level. Due to improvement in our technical education, some children now move from JSS to such schools while the majority proceed to SSS, which is a big plus for our drive in vocational/technical education. Expectedly, performance of our children in WASSCE did improve significantly.”
It was also the view of the Commissioner for Education in Osun State, Kola Young, that the WAEC results do not necessarily represent the true state of education in the states.
He argued that considering the prevalent rate of examination malpractices across the country, it was necessary to analyse the capacity of school leavers to utilise their secondary school certificates.
Mr. Young said that analysts should look at the number of students matriculating in Nigerians universities in reaching conclusions “whether the South-west is lagging behind or not.”
“If I find out that in our universities that the south-west states are lagging behind in terms of the number of students gaining admissions, then I will be alarmed,” he said.
“But if the South-west is still leading, then I will have doubts about the capacity of the other states to check exam malpractices.”
He, however, added that he would need to have all the data to be able to reach a final conclusion on it.
Seinde Arogbofa, an educationist and author told PREMIUM TIMES that the dwindling fortunes of education in the region is a function of the lack of prioritisation of the sector by the state governments.
“UNICEF recommended that 26 per cent of the budget be allocated to education. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in his pursuit of ensuring quality education for the people, earmarked over 30 per cent of his budget to education. That was the reason why he succeeded so much,” he said.
“Today, the state governments hardly give up to 10 per cent to education in their states; they place little value on education.”
He also blamed the poor reading culture for the dismal performance of students in the examinations, saying, “How can students pass when they don’t read?”
Mr. Arogbofa also criticised parents for not doing enough to raise their children well, and condemned their support for exam malpractices. He also had some kind words for state governments.
“To say that the South-west governments are not doing anything at all to improve education will amount to an overkill and over generalisation. Some states such as Ondo, Osun and Ogun had taken novel steps to re-establish the foundations of education in their respective domains. However, the fruits of these recent ventures would only be noticeable in the far future.”
Much of what is seen as the legacies of a visionary leadership bequeathed by Mr. Awolowo and which is still being harnessed today as the capacities of the South-west region was sown decades ago.
For South-west states, they may have to learn from Mr. Awolowo’s saying that, “As far as possible, expenditure on services which tend to the welfare and health and education of the people should be increased at the expense of any expenditure that does not answer to the same test.”
The sage’s pivotal economic and education polices transformed the entire South-west of Nigeria, making it a leading light not only in education, but in other areas of development. Governors in the region will need to re-enact past glories in bringing education to a place of priority, not only in access, but in quality.