By @Anabagail

If you are one of those who watched ‘Colombiana’, you may recall the scene where Cataleya’s uncle went to register her in school right after she arrived Chicago. She threw a tantrum outside the school, insisting that the school would have nothing to teach her about becoming a killer. Her uncle in response told her that he could teach her to kill but she would not survive the streets more than five years. She could only become a better killer if she went to learn logic and reasoning from school.  Directly the next scene, Cataleya showed the practicality of a merger between street skills and her learning when she combined acting, physics, chemistry and mathematics in assassinating someone in a high security prison.

This is not a review of the 2011 hit movie but a pointer to the fact that for education in Nigeria to move forward there is a need not only for a new course to be charted but for there to be a deliberate effort at ensuring that the new course will meet the educational needs of all without it being skewed to favour one region or the other.

There are many problems with education in Nigeria. Adeyinka A.A. (1992) went as far as listing 12 of these problems ranging from infrastructural, man power and curricular problems.  One of the points Professor Adeyinka made was that “another major problem of educational development in Nigeria today is the prevalence of multiple systems of education. As of today [1992] there are thirty-one systems of education in the country: the national system, or Federal (Abuja) system and the thirty one state systems. Each education system is unique, backed up by the Federal or State Education Laws”. Labo-Popoola, Bello and Atanda (2009) traced the existence of the multiple education systems back to the British administration and the creation of regions in 1954. “The colonial administration, before independence, administered education through the use of education ordinances and education laws. These ordinances include the …Educational ordinances and Regional Laws of 1954”.

Multiple system of education has continued down to this day. With this multiplicity comes the fact that educational development has from the onset been skewed. South West Nigeria had a head start  with Chief Obafemi Awolowo  introducing Universal Primary Education (UPE) in the then  Western Region in 1955. The Eastern region tried to copy this in 1957 but this died a premature death due to a number of factors including a lack of proper financial commitment to the scheme. On his own part, Northern Nigeria did not get involved in introducing Western education to their region. (Labo-Popoola, Bello and Atanda (2009).

Another historical aspect of the fall in standards of education can be traced to political restructuring.  Political restructuring in form of state creation in Nigeria and the gradual shift of power and resource control from the regions to the central government meant that there was less money available to the states and more to the central government. Political restructuring also meant that funding of what has come to be referred to as Basic Education (the first 9 years of a child’s education) was put in the concurrent list (items that will be shared among Federal, state and Local government).  According to Labo-Popoola, Bello and Atanda (2009), one of the reasons Chief Awolowo’s reforms worked was that it was well funded: “The government of the Western Region had to increase the budget from £2.2 million in 1954 to £5.4 million in 1955 (Fafunwa, 1974; Oni, 2006). Actually, 90% of the budget on education was spent on primary education alone. By 1957/58 the recurrent expenditure on education from the funds of the region was £7,884, 110, which covered personal emoluments, other charges, special expenditure and grants-in-aids (Taiwo, 1980)”.

As noted above, 90% of the education budget was spent on primary education, leaving just 10% for secondary and tertiary education. The reason for this is not farfetched. Once you get the foundation right, the building will stand.  With the political restructuring the regions to which the catering of basic education has been ascribed have also been deprived of the funds to run basic education. Are we therefore surprised that basic education is in a deplorable state in most states today? Two factors that will therefore lead to a turnaround in basic education is funding and manpower development. With needs growing and funds depleting it would remain a pipe dream to expect things to go back to 1955 South Western Nigeria.

However, it is possible to legislate standards that will replace the multiple system of education in Nigeria. It may seem logical to have states decide what works and what does not work for them, thus writer is however of the opinion that given the fact that some parts of Nigeria got a head start in education there is a need to ‘help’ other regions catch up. But, these regions may not be able to catch up working on their own. One of the ways these regions are being helped to catch up is with the introduction of common entrance cut off marks for Federal Unity Schools. It is no news that the cut off mark in some Northern states has been between 0 and 10 year in year out.  One of the things wrong with using cut off marks to help the students in the North catch up with their southern counterparts is that they mostly continue to play catch up. At the state level, there is mass promotion of students and at the tertiary level, they also enjoy a lower cut off mark. We only need to look at the level of graduates coming out of these schools to determine whether this intervention is working out for the benefit of the students. Yet, there is a need to get all states on the same page as far as standards is concerned.

Abigail Anaba has worked in education consultancy circles for over 15 years. She has taught in Nursery, Primary and Secondary schools in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port-Harcourt. She is presently Head of Training, Institute of Certified Communicators and Educators, Institute of Professional Educators. She contributes her writings and social commentaries to various magazines. She is a mother of three.