Dissecting The Education Crisis In The North – Part 1

The recent mass sacking of teachers in Kaduna by governor El-Rufai has brought the question of education in the North to the front burner. The teachers were sacked for failing to pass a P rimary Four teachers’ competency exam. A third of the teachers passed the exam so it’s not a case of everyone just being fired. Personally, I do not think there is anything wrong with the sacking. Being a teacher is a job and if they are unable to do the job, which is obvious by not being able to pass the competency test, then they should be fired. The kids being trained by teachers who are not worth their salt, carry the consequences for the rest of their lives. So why should they suffer for the teachers?

Still, the mass sacking has me thinking about the general state of human capital in the north. By human capital here, I mean the knowledge and skills that people possess, of which proper education is one means of increasing it. Human capital is perhaps the most important factor behind long term economic development. People who know more tend to do more, and tend to be richer. Societies with people who know more tend to do better and have higher standards of living than societies where people don’t know so much. Of course, knowledge is relative. The least knowledgeable societies in the world probably know a bit more than their ancestors, but that doesn’t matter. It’s really about what societies know relative to other societies.

If we are to judge knowledge by the level of education, then the north is in crisis. Adult literacy rates in any language in the north are as low as 30 percent in some states. In fact, on this statistic, the worst ten states in Nigeria are all in the north. For context, the global literacy rate is somewhere around 86 percent, with some states in Nigeria having literacy rates of 95 percent. This unfortunate statistic cannot be pinned on the older generation either. Youth literacy rates are just as bad. Bauchi state for instance has a youth literacy of about 49 percent and again the worst ten states are in the North. The statistics repeat themselves almost any way you measure it.

The obvious question is, why? Followed by “what can we do about it”? It is easy to think that this is all about improving the education systems, but the reality is the problems start way before that. They start in the womb.

Nutrition has been identified as one of the most important factors for brain development of babies in the womb, and children from birth until about five. Mothers who eat food rich in proteins, certain fats, iodine, and others, tend to pass these on to their babies, either in the womb or via breast milk. These nutrients aid the brain development of babies and set the stage for their cognitive ability, or their capacity to learn. The nutritional requirements for brain development persist until children are about five years. At this point, the stage is set for life. Children who get to the age of five in “peak” condition are set to learn more and do more for the rest of their lives, compared to children who do not get there in “peak” condition. To put this another way, children who get proper nutrition from the womb until their early childhood are going to be smarter and learn better than children who don’t get proper nutrition. This stage is set even before the child walks into a primary school.

So, what do the early childhood nutrition statistics look like? You can probably guess. Data from 2014 shows that some states in the north had only about 50 percent of infants receiving adequate nutrition in their first year in life. Again, the worst ten states are in the north. For context, the average in the South is about 95 percent. The statistics repeat themselves in most cases regardless of how you measure it. On average, children in the north receive a lot less nutrition than their peers in the south, and if all we know about the importance of nutrition for brain development is true, then they would also have less cognitive ability as a result.

What this means is, even before they get to primary school, even before they get to the hands of the poor-quality teachers, even before they get to the dilapidated structures, they are already at a disadvantage. A disadvantage that stays with them for life. The problems unfortunately do not end there. They continue into primary school too. But more on that in the next episode.

Osun Commissioner Advocates Yoruba Language, Local Examples For Teaching

The Osun State Commissioner for Education, Mr. Kola Omotunde-Young has charged teachers to make use of their Mother’s Tongue, Yoruba language, and locally available examples and concepts for illustration to achieve effective teaching and understanding.

He stated this recently while inspecting some schools in some parts of the state, maintaining that Yoruba should be used as the first language and English as second language in teaching.

The commissioner called on teachers and parents in the state to support the functional education drive of Governor Rauf Aregbesola by showing commitment to teaching and give the children adequate parental care.

According to Omotunde-Young, for the efforts of Aregbesola’s administration at improving education in the state to yield positive results, parents and teachers need to see themselves as major stakeholders in the drive.

He urged the parents, guardians and society to pay more attention to the educational development of their children.

The commissioner maintained that parents must specifically ensure that every child enjoys good parenting as a right and not a privilege and give the children moral education to complement what they are being taught in school.

He urged the teachers to ensure effective teaching and mentoring, appealing to them to make classrooms friendly and learner centered so that the standard of education in the state can improve.

The commissioner urged teachers and school authorities to always maintain clean environment, noting that it will reflect in the overall behaviour of the students.

He said, “We should support our neighbours to be better parents so our children can be productive and have safe environment to live now and in future.”

Omotunde-Young appealed to parents and guardians to provide for the academic needs of their children, lamenting that many parents sent their children to schools to resume the new term in tattered dresses.

“It is the right of the child to be properly clothed and educated and parents must be made to realise that having children come with responsibilities that cannot be ignored.

“Parents who failed to cater for their children must be reported rather than allowed to deny the child education. The Ministry of Education in collaboration with other child centred agencies of government shall soon publish telephone numbers, e-mail and contact details to report mothers and fathers who refuse to live up to their responsibilities on their children.

“It is in all our best interests to support, mentor and assist the uninformed and uncaring mothers, fathers or guardians to improve in their responsibilities to the child and report such to authorities if they refuse to be good parents”, the commissioner said.

ASUU And The Seasonal Union Shakedown By Nonso Obikili

Every couple of years, we seem to go through the same episodes. ASUU goes on strike due to the government failing to implement an agreement. Talks are held, and after deliberations, the strikes are called off, typically with some new agreement signed. In most cases, the strikes last a few weeks, although there have been instances where the strikes have lasted for months. The strikes are not unique to ASUU though. For some reason, the strikes are typically followed by strikes from SSANU, JOHESU, and a lot of other unions. Almost as if they operate on some type of schedule. But why do these strikes occur so frequently?

 

To get a grasp of this it is important to understand the political cycle and the constraints that the federal government faces. We have had four-year terms since we returned to democracy in 1999. The four-year term means the federal government faces a similar cycle in terms of its interaction with the populace, which presumably has the power to retain or remove the government. To this end, the government is at its freest immediately it is elected. Right after elections, it typically has the goodwill of the people, and more importantly, it has time to rebuild that goodwill in the event it loses it doing something unpopular.

 

However, as time goes on, and as it gets closer and closer to the next set of elections, the government loses that opportunity to rebuild goodwill if lost. What this means in practice is that the closer you get to elections, the more difficult it is to implement policy that is unpopular, even if it is a good policy. As is common knowledge in policy circles, if you have a difficult policy to implement, do it early and quickly, so you can demonstrate the benefits before the next elections come around.

 

The goodwill cycle also means that there are times when the government is at its most vulnerable. As you may have guessed, it is not when the government is just freshly elected as at that point, it can still rebuild goodwill. It is also not right before elections, as at that point it can just blame whatever hostility on politics. The point when the government is at its most vulnerable is somewhere in between the two, where it does not have enough time to rebuild good will but also does not have the opportunity to blame it on politics.

 

It is this vulnerability that ASUU, and other unions, have exploited since the return of democracy in 1999. Since 1999, ASUU has embarked on no less than 14 strikes, although some of those have been just week-long warning strikes. More recently, the strikes appear to have come at the time when the government was most vulnerable. The latest strike is coming just over a year before the next set of elections, at a time when the government has little room to rebuild any lost goodwill. In 2009, it went on strike for three months starting from June, shortly before the death of then President Umaru Yar’Adua. In July 2013, it embarked on another 5-month strike, which ended roughly a year before the elections. Here we are again in 2017, again just over a year to the election season.

 

Given the vulnerability, what is the best response by the government to the strikes? It is always to make a deal. A deal that reduces the potential for destruction of whatever goodwill the government has left. Goodwill that it will not have the time to rebuild. The deal is typically unimplementable and includes a pay bump and a gentleman’s agreement to not go on strike at least until after elections. The deal works for both parties. For the government it ends the strike, and even though the deal is unimplementable, it can worry about that later. For ASUU, the deal comes with a pay bump, but crucially a deal which will serve as the basis for a future strike. And so, the cycle continues.

 

To be fair to ASUU, its mandate is to fight for the wellbeing of its members, which unsurprisingly does not include all Nigerians but only those who are academic staff at universities. To that objective, it has done extremely well. It is also not the only union that uses this tactic so it would be unfair to only call them out. Still, it is yet another example of how many of our institutions have turned into rent-seeking agencies focused strictly on getting their share of the national cake.

 

How do we break out of this cycle of strikes and unimplementable deals? I don’t know, but sooner or later, someone is going to have to figure it out.

Every Student In Agricultural Universities Will Have Farms From Their Second Year- FG

In a bid to enhance agricultural education and upgrade their standard of learning , the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, has directed the governing Councils of all Federal Universities of Agriculture, to ensure that every student in their institution must own viable farmlands on campus from 200-level till graduation.

Ogbeh who gave the directive during a meeting with members of the governing councils in Abuja yesterday August 8th said,

“Every undergraduate must- and I repeat- must own a farm on campus from 200 level. We are training high-level young farmers who, even before graduating, should have started earning a living. We should be training graduates who should be going straight into production, with credit support from their alma-mata, produce chicken, eggs, goats, milk, set up meat laboratories, bake bread and above all produce and sell large quantities of high-quality hybrid seeds”