Sunday, 3 November, was the end of the mid-term break for the public (read private) schools system in the United Kingdom. How do I know? All flights leaving Nigeria on that day for European destinations were fully stuffed with the children of Nigeria’s great, good, and comfortable. They were returning to school.
Education is big business and the net losses we incur from having run down our schools are incalculable.
As Nigeria seeks to resolve the lingering strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a bigger issue looms in the horizon: how can we sustainably fund investment in education and human capital development in Nigeria?
Evolving an adequate and serviceable funding model to sustain education in Nigeria is an issue that cries out for urgent attention by policy makers and all interests groups in the education sector. The time to confront it is now.
Education is both high politics and a high national security interest. The future of the country depends on it.
The Universal Basic Education Act guarantees basic education as a right to every Nigerian child; makes it a duty on all parents to ensure that their children go to school and obliges government at all levels to fund it. The Courts at the highest levels have upheld the rights of private providers to participate in providing education at all levels.
In the distribution of responsibilities between the federal government and the states under the constitution, education is on the concurrent legislative list. So, state governments as well as the federal government all appropriate for education, maintain ministries of education, and also service various extra-ministerial agencies and parastatals in the education sector.
With considerable public money dispersed in the public sector between various ministries of education and their agencies, no one has been able to accurately compute how much Nigeria spends annually on education.
Invariably, the ministries of education at both federal and state levels are home to the largest number of extra-ministerial departments in government. Together, they employ more people than any other departments or ministries in the public sector.
Most of the appropriations to education are spent on overheads and very little on programmes, research, or teacher or skill enhancements. As a result, the value system that underwrites education as a public good has been uprooted.
What value the country gets for what it is supposed to put in debatable. Indeed, what the country puts into education is also uncertain because, as Transparency International pointed out in its Global Corruption in Education Report, 2013, in relation to Nigeria, “much of the money they do allocate disappears.” The same report details a long list of the dysfunctions that afflict our educational system, including “copying from other students and cheating during examinations to more serious behaviours, such as impersonation, falsifying academic records, ‘paying’ for grades/certificates with gifts, money or sexual favours, terrorising examiners and assaulting invigilators…violence.”
All these, the Transparency report concludes “undermine educational opportunities for all Nigerian students and produce graduates less equipped to thrive in future careers.” In one sentence, our schools have ceased to be learning environments and have become a danger to both learners and the society.
Up to two decades ago, the best products from the schools system here came from the public schools. They were affordable and produced competitive outcomes. Today, they are worse than a poor shadow of themselves and many of those charged with making them work have themselves become proprietors of the most expensive private schools.
But the private providers are no substitute for an effective public schools system. For one, private education is prohibitively priced. Only very few in Nigeria can afford it. The overwhelming majority who can’t face a choice between stealing and patronizing the public schools. For another, the regulatory systems for private schools exist in the public sector. Governments that cannot guarantee a serviceable public school system are almost invariably unable to ensure an effective regulatory system for private schools.
So, it is that our public schools don’t work; significant parts of appropriations for public schools are lost to corruption, the regulatory system for education is mortgaged, and, therefore, the private schools system is itself largely an exercise in hollowing out profit from public good.
This is why we need a design conversation on how to make education work in Nigeria. This conversation must involve all possible stakeholders: government, the regulatory system, private and faith providers, providers, parents-teachers associations, alumni networks, national security institutions, and communities.
As its own contribution to this conversation, the Unity Schools Old Students Association proposes on 19 November 2013, in Abuja, to launch a One Billion Naira Endowment to fund investment in the improvement of educational inputs in public schools in Nigeria. The USOSA Endowment for Education in Nigeria will seek to provide a model of impact investment and advocacy to bridge relationships between private sector, alumni, and communities in reforming education.
One area in which the fund proposes to make an impact is in teacher improvement and incentivisation in basic and secondary education. The Fund will also seek to contribute to the overall improvement of the skills, dignity, and confidence of teachers by supporting models of risk investment designed to guarantee growth and commitment to and recognize excellence in teachers.
The USOSA Endowment Fund for Education in Nigeria is intended to catalyse in a practical way the partnerships we need to make our education system serviceable. Investments by the fund will be based on a risk model of stakeholding. All those who desire to make our educational system work must put something into the pot. Government cannot be relied on to do so alone. And donations are not enough to guarantee that the funds donated will be used properly. To put our schools back on track, Alumni must be prepared go back and take them back.
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