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Interrogating Jonathan’s Commitment to Education

By Abimbola Jones

Reading through President Goodluck Jonathan’s New Year message to Nigerians line after line, what came out remarkably for me was his strong commitment to improving education in our country.  And, as the president rightly observed, education holds the key to any meaningful development in society.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan

The era in which countries are classified as rich or poor on the basis of the natural resources buried in its lands is long over.  The rich countries of the world today are those who have honed and harnessed the talents, skills and creative abilities of their citizens for technological advancement and prosperity of the people.

In this knowledge-driven global economy, what counts is what a man or woman has in his/her brains and how it can be put to use in creating wealth and improving the quality of life for the overall good of the society.  This is why education holds the key to any transformation in society.

Being an educationist himself, it is not surprising that Jonathan has rightfully made education the cornerstone of his transformation agenda. This he has done through the conscious policy of improving access and the quality of education.  The problem of access remains a huge problem especially at the tertiary level.

To be sure, this problem predates the current regime. In fact, it was the former minister of education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, who described the problem of access to tertiary education as “funnelling syndrome”, whereby millions of prospective candidates compete for just a few openings for admission in our universities.

The sad fact was that out of the many qualified applicants, only a few would succeed in getting placements to study their courses of choice in the university.  The greater number of those that did not succeed would, in turn, fall back and add to the army of applicants for university admission the next year and the vicious cycle continues. It is indeed a funnelling syndrome!

But the good news as President Jonathan said in the New Year message is that access to both primary and tertiary education has improved from 2007 to this day.  At the primary level, the building of 125 Almajiri schools across the northern part of the country has further made education accessible and affordable to innocent children whose only crime is that they were born in certain areas where their governors have chosen to play politics over and above governance, or are decidedly irresponsible with public funds.

By constructing those Almajiri schools, the government of Jonathan has drastically cut off the sources of human supply and recruitment to the Boko Haram enclave and any other religious insurgent groups that might break out in the future.  Such is the architectonic role of education that it does not only engender knowledge and development but also guarantees security, equity and justice.

At the tertiary level, it is quite reassuring to note that the government of Jonathan has established twelve universities in the short time it has been in office.  It is equally refreshing to know that three of these federal universities are located in the northern part of the country.  The import of establishing these twelve new federal universities cannot be lost on the teeming youths of this country for whom access to tertiary education has remained a very testy mathematic.

With these newly established universities, more applicants are guaranteed placements in our universities to study their different courses of choice after passing the requisite qualifying examinations.  The government decision will also go a very long way in addressing the issue of Nigerian students’ quest for foreign universities some of which are not even accredited and which are yearly ripping-off Nigerian youths thirsty of tertiary education simply because of unavailability of placements in Nigerian universities.

With these twelve new universities, Nigeria will increasingly become less attractive to foreign institutions hawking their courses freely to our young people at the detriment of our national economy and culture.  Moreover, Jonathan is not concerned only about improving access; he is also taking seriously the issue of quality and affordability. As he hinted in the New Year message, in 2013 alone, the Federal Government rehabilitated 352 laboratories and constructed 72 new libraries in Unity Schools across the country.  What is more, the federal government rehabilitated all the 51 laboratories of federal and state polytechnics in the country without any discrimination.

By the way, we all know the decrepit condition of the Unity Schools in the past so much so that the former minister of education in the Obasanjo administration, Ezekwesili, pursued the infamous policy of privatisation of the schools as the only solution.  Today, Jonathan has proved that selling off the schools that help in uniting us, as a people, is never the right solution to improve quality.  What is, indeed, needed is commitment to the general good, which education represents. And it remains to the credit of the Jonathan Government that with all the improvement in access and quality in education, the Federal Government-owned schools remain the cheapest in the land!

It is also noteworthy that the Federal Government is pursuing a policy of result-oriented education, which places emphasis on productivity and skills for development.  The plan to focus more on vocational and technical education, which will once again create a pool of technical skills, will in no small measure create employment for our youths and reduce the unnecessary emphasis on paper qualification, which has short-changed our economy badly.

Jonathan must be commended for his government’s commitment to improving the quality and access to education in the short period he has been in power.  He has clearly shown this commitment through the massive investments he has made in education.  It is on record that between 2007 when he was the Vice President and 2013, budgetary allocation to education has almost tripled from N224 billion to N634 billion. The humble and patriotic manner in which he handled the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike by making renewed funding commitment to Nigerian universities is not only exemplary but also statesmanlike.  What more can we ask of a president who is first and foremost a teacher?

Abimbola Jones sent this piece via abimbolajones2013@yahoo.com



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