The other day I was at one of the public libraries to make inquiries about the use of their space for a gig as part of activities to herald my new book projects, but the bureaucracy left a sour taste in the mouth so we literally had to cross over to the other side of the road to use an alternative facility – a co-working space. In the middle of the drama, I ran into a female acquaintance who was there to read, she told me she was preparing for whenever the university she applied for admission called for post-UTME examinations.
The seeming despair I saw in her eyes is representative of the millions of young Nigerians, especially undergraduates in public tertiary institutions. They have become casualties in a clash of interests – collateral damage in an elephant fight. I may have graduated from the university over seven years ago but I can feel their pain. Save for some compromise, next month, March 2021 would have marked an ignoble one-year ‘anniversary’ of that unfortunate stalemate. How the parties involved in this went to bed every night with both eyes closed needs to be studied.
Thunder, Ronaldo and ASUU: Strikers
How did we get to this point where disrupting the academic calendar has become normalized? Every time it happens, both parties point accusing fingers at each other and justify their actions but do we really stop to assess the damage this leaves in its wake? Beyond education, we’re messing with the life plans of Nigerian students. They now have to endure six years for a four-year course, it takes out the wind from their sails and puts them in a tough situation when they eventually graduate because the corporate world likes to “catch them young.”
I hear about students being evicted from their off-campus hostels because their rents have expired, meaning that they have to pay another unbudgeted rent for an extra year that wasn’t any fault of theirs. The business ecosystem that thrives by providing support services for students has collapsed. Some institutions have raised their fees to either offset the shortfall in revenue or keep up with the inflationary costs of keeping their doors open. Are there better ways to demand things without holding Nigerian students to ransom going forward?
Aside from the carnage on the health and economies of countries, what the coronavirus pandemic has done is really to expose the underbelly of systems – whether functional or otherwise. Just like people with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable when exposed to the virus because it exacerbates their pain points, COVID-19 brings to the fore the unsavoury reality that most universities in Nigeria don’t have proper digital infrastructure. So while their contemporaries around the world switched either partially or wholly to online learning – they were stuck with a brick-and-mortar playbook.
So it begs the question: after so many years of intervention, what exactly are the strides we have made in the infrastructure of tertiary schools? What is the learning experience of the average student, has it improved or not? Are the hostels more habitable than they were? Is the school premises safer for the students or are they bound to the Philistines? Do we just fight for an improved salary structure for the gatekeepers or do we put the interest of the actual students as a priority? These are the hard questions we need to ask ourselves as there is a lot of soul searching to be done.
The Playbook – Futuristic or Frumpish?
Way before the pandemic hit, I have never hidden my grouse with the current academic curriculum – I sincerely believe we’re teaching people about a world that no longer exists for the most part. It’s even worse now because the pandemic has brought forward disruption and accelerated changes, further increasing the redundancy of most learning modules. Isn’t it rather embarrassing when Nigerian students are made to take remedial classes or courses when they get to most foreign schools? This is why most parents opt for either private or foreign institutions for their wards so they can enjoy a double buffer – stability of academic calendar and a global scope of study.
The Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, codenamed AZD1222, is a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and supported by AstraZeneca. The research is being done by the Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group with the collaboration of the Italian manufacturer Advent Srl, located in Pomezia, which produced the first batch of the COVID-19 vaccine for clinical testing. Most international news organizations cite John Hopkins’ data on COVID-19 because of how credible the work they do is. It’s exactly one year since the index case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Nigeria, what ground-breaking research have we made since then? This is not to compare apples and oranges but it’s just to show how far universities in other parts of the world have gone.
Education is Not An Expense, it’s an Investment
Countries that have developed or are moving towards development have put in great resources into education because investment in human capital offers the best returns. Most of these countries don’t have the dump of mineral resources like we do but they have much higher per capita income because of a skilled population. To have an objective assessment of how sincere our approach to education is to follow the money – take a look at our state and national budgets from 1999 till date and you will get all your answers. The 2021 national budget for education is the lowest in ten years!
We have a very youthful population and we aren’t managing them very well. The pent-up anger and frustration are what we see expressed in numerous forms. The sad thing is that most public office holders and politicians only think in election cycles; there is little or no commitment to a long-term strategy. Each person or administration wants to jettison the inherited educational projects and set up new policies. We have so much trade relations with countries like China but we fail to study their education playbook which transcends any administration in power.
We Need to Flip the Script
While we need more funding for the schools, throwing money at the problem alone won’t solve the challenges. Money only amplifies the dynamics of an existing model, it doesn’t necessarily fix the bugs. First, we need an attitudinal change. In the grand scheme of things, do we really place a premium on education aside from the usual hot air? Almost every time I pick up newspapers, I hardly see headlines about this sector. It is either speculation about who’s running or not running for public office in 2023 or about private interests being projected as national interests. We need an urgency overhaul from top to bottom.
This new decade presents an opportunity for the world to get with the programme and embrace innovation. If we are ever thinking of becoming a first-world country, we need to put in the work and show receipts too. Hope is not a strategy! Like an old fisherman once said, “a thousand wishes will never fill a bucket with fishes!”