The collapse of public schools
By Nnagoziem Udensi
School buses, wide playgrounds, sports fields, class rooms, marching songs and dismissal bells; these are supposed to be the exciting moments of public schools now being replaced rapidly with private schools which is usually a block of few rooms. Unarguably, public schools parade the most qualified teachers. But many parents still prefer to enroll their children in private schools, even when such schools are of low standards.
Education is one activity that is always appreciated generally. Education is a systematic method of passing information from one source to another, and for education to be functional; the information being passed must be effective. The potency of the information, however, depends on a number of variables which include the instructional materials, the environment and the personnel. These three variables are like a tripod on which good education stands but this is not saying that these three is where it ends. In the good old days of education in Nigeria, when even a standard two pupil could manage to express himself in English language, there was no one who was not proud of the quality of education that was being given to pupils in schools that he, as an educated fellow, had to tackle with. There was hardly anyone who passed through the primary school of those times, not to talk of the secondary school, who was not able to show his/her educational value. But sadly, these days even in tertiary institutions, students can easily be spotted who can’t confidently express themselves as an educated fellow who have been through classrooms.
It is a common saying that education is the best legacy parents can hand down to their children. It is widely believed that education is a right of every child that should not be infringed upon. Indeed, education is seen as the surest path to a country’s development. Notable personalities around the world have lent their support in one way or the other to the struggle of making governments around the world to realize the importance of education. In 2010 the West African Examination Council (WAEC) officially released the May/June 2010 SSCE results for more than 95% of registered candidates which shamefully indicated that the Nigerian education is falling rapidly off the quality precipice. As most citizen usually agree, most publications about Nigeria’s depreciating educational standards blame the government (which is somewhat right), but at the end of the day the blame should be evenly spread judging that it’s not all the government’s fault. However, Governments at all levels are saddled with the responsibility of regulating the sector. This entails good policy formulation, establishment and enforcement of standards, as well as day-to-day operations of government-owned institutions. Overall, governments at all levels are inconsistent hence one cannot categorically state that the government is good, or bad.
Over the years, the Nigerian education sector has witnessed an immense infiltration in the form of privatization by private citizens. About 20 years ago, Nigeria as a whole could not even boast of over 20 private institutions. But recently there are many private schools littered all over the country, from Nursery schools to universities. Unlike the educational institutions of the ‘80s and early ‘90s where standards were significant, substantial and competitive, Nigeria now parade public institutions whose standards are lower than the lowest elsewhere. It first started with primary schools with the introduction of several so called ‘international’ private nursery and primary schools. The proprietors and proprietresses transformed education into marketing, maximizing profits without being checked by the regulatory bodies. Like the primary schools, the number of secondary schools in Nigeria is alarming; government can’t even say categorically how many secondary schools we currently have. The enrollment criteria are mostly bogus and the quality of education, in a lot of them, is quite absurd. The demarcation between the rich and poor is well pronounced in the schools because public schools are basically for the poor now while private schools are for the rich. There is no minimum acceptable standard for our secondary schools and colleges. Flats, duplexes, bungalows, partitioned warehouses, even factories and uncompleted buildings have metamorphosed into colleges where anyone can teach producing cold students for SSCE, JAMB and POST-UME. University education is also slowly but surely bringing up the rear its quality owing to government’s incapability of implementing basic standards. There is currently a gradual evolution of private universities to admit more students who couldn’t make it to the standard of government universities. Apart from the non-existence of incessant ASUU and NASU strikes, private universities are nothing more than improved secondary schools steadily rushing semesters, admitting students’ in-between semesters, collecting huge sums as school fees.
Besides the government, the teachers and lecturers are also part of the problem. At all levels, negligence is gaining prominence, unqualified personnel are becoming “qualified” enough to teach, and the teaching service commissions are nothing more than waning government establishments. In addition, on the part of students, punctuality is gradually trading places with truancy. Incisive studying is no longer a requisite and unserious attitude is acceptable and examinations are no longer dreaded as they were in times past when education in Nigeria was up to the regular international standard. Students eagerly bribe their way through the basic standards and requirements due to the weak teachers and lecturers who are either owed by the government or under-paid. Governments owe teachers several months of salaries because no revenue is being generated from the schools (due to the free or cheap education policies; Students are no longer serious because government pays all the fees; parents are becoming uninterested in the education of their wards because it is costing them next to nothing. Free education is no education. Quality education comes with a price.); and teachers on the other hand are less serious with their classes because they are disenfranchised from the mainstream of the civil service.
public schools can no longer handle the number of students due to adverse constraints on learning facilities such as desks and chairs, library books, mathematics boards, laboratory equipment and so on especially in the rural areas. At this time also, budgetary allocation to education had dwindled significantly.
Many parents do not like the idea of their wards being given less individual attention by teachers compared to the private schools which had fewer students. Also due to poor salaries of teachers who in most cases were not paid regularly, teachers started skipping classes to chase their personal businesses while others would do petty trading in class.
Today, public schools are a shadow of what they used to be. Students in public schools used to beat their chests and come out tops at national competitions. Parents and other family members used to wait anxiously for the results of national common entrance exams of their wards into federal government. These days many parents don’t seem to be interested in public schools. It has become so bad that the rule is that public officers, including even commissioners of education across the country, public school teachers and principals have their children in private schools. The gulf between the rich and the poor in the society will continue to widen if drastic measures are not taken to improve the overall educational infrastructure of the public schools in terms of learning facilities, building and renovation of classroom blocks, employing capable teachers, improved libraries and relevance of teaching curriculum etc.
Sadly, the attention of the Nigerian youths is being deviated from education and being focused other issues like money, if nothing is done to improve our educational standard, education in the country would be a commodity that would be totally imported to meet the international standard.