ASUU v FGN: Education Costs And Price Of Ignorance

Education is very costly and quality education is even more expensive.
Our people certainly know better when they say: “If you think education is too expensive, then try ignorance.” Anyone with a modicum of intellectual capacity would not need further explanation as to the direct connection between national well being and the quality of education in place.

It is no accident that all the successful countries of the world today are those that have invested heavily in the education of their children while the most underdeveloped ones are those with the lowest per capital investment in education and, sadly, Nigeria is one of them.

I must confess my embarrassment by the present Academic Staff Union of Universities strike which has seen our campuses shutdown for weeks with no hope in sight for immediate resolution. The case of ASUU is an old one; but for a willful disregard of scholarship, the last thing anyone who has the interest of the nation at heart would like to see is the closure of schools, the real source of energy for the eventual development of the country from a backward import-consuming society to one that can sustain herself with her own resources.

If ASUU has proved in any way unwilling to bend on its demands, the rational expectation should be that the government will voluntarily meet them at the middle and then seek some beneficial way forward. Unfortunately, any hope of a mature and altruistic approach to the problem diminished last week when the Minister of Finance, the de facto but unelected Prime Minster of this administration, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, announced that the government cannot afford to meet the N92 billion being demanded by ASUU as the minimum requirement for the termination of the ongoing strike.

To uneducated Nigerians, the figures she quoted would sound too much, thereby painting the academic union in a bad light. But for those who are educated enough, they certainly know that no amount is too much to be invested in the education of the nation’s youths who are indeed the future of the country. The opportunity cost of massive investment in education is the promotion of massive ignorance, poverty and societal underdevelopment.

My little surprise is occasioned by the fact Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a beneficiary of some of the best education money can buy. As a Harvard educated lady, I need not remind her that the figure she has quoted fiendishly to scare Nigerians will clearly pale into nothing when compared to what is poured into Harvard alone every year by way of endowment and research grants. As a beneficiary of Harvard’s esteemed education, I cannot but personally feel ashamed that anyone who has seen the way other nations have invested and are still investing in education could stand up and say that too much is being invested in our youths.

If indeed it is that meagre N92 billion that is needed to bring back our campuses to some degree of functionality, then we should all be ashamed that we have opted for ignorance as a nation because education is “too expensive”. My understanding of the situation on ground is that we actually need to spend multiples of that sums annually if we are to minimally get near what universities should be. It is Economics 101 that in no time we shall be reaping bountiful results in such investments in the form a better society peopled by knowledgeable citizens.

I am stunned that we are not bothered that we are lagging behind in all fields of modern endeavours except in the crude politics of stealing the little that is available and venting our hopelessness through disgraceful actions like the internal deportation of fellow citizens.

It is no longer a secret that the nation’s education system is in deep crisis: There are no supporting environments for serious learning. From primary to secondary up to the tertiary levels, what we are operating are ill-equipped and badly staffed institutions churning out poorly educated graduates who are wholly incapable of performing at their expected levels of skills and competencies. There may be pockets of excellence here and there but the reality is that no nation can develop under such an extremely variegated level of competency disparities. We must develop a mass of educated people who would assume the inevitable responsibility of nation-building.

The other day, Comrade Oshiomhole paraded on TV a primary school teacher in Edo State with over 20 years of teaching experience who couldn’t read a text in English! She has been “teaching” children over the years and one can only imagine the idiocy and misinformation that she must have propagated all along. Authorities must have noticed her incompetence but because this is Nigeria where anything goes, they kept her and she probably enjoyed undeserved promotions. It must however be stressed that she is just the tip of a huge iceberg.

All across the nation’s life, be it in the academic or other professions, there are quacks everywhere. There are people who claim they have higher university degrees but cannot read a document in English or write anything worth reading. Even on campuses, there are people who have managed to ‘ride the system’ to become “professors” even if, for all intents and purposes, they are barely literate. You will never read them anywhere they cannot go anywhere outside their campuses but they thrive all the same and society erroneously applauds them. Greet them without the prefix “Dr” or “Prof”, you are in trouble. Their students are subjected to all sorts of anti-intellectual abuses.

The greater disaster however is the emerging reality that a whole generation of Nigerian graduates may not be able to compete with their peers who were educated elsewhere because the government could not make available the money needed to revamp the universities while it has so much to waste on hedonistic projects that only soothe their egos or facilitate their perpetuation in office. I think both ASUU and the government must confront the reality of a doomed nation occasioned by inadequate education funding, incessant school closures and disdain for scholarship.

My wish is that the union should rise above the obvious short-sightedness and greed of those in power and take the patriotic road by tactically calling off the strike because it is obvious that government does not have the capacity to see the ultimate outcome of their policy that sees education as “too expensive.” They don’t understand or simply cannot. But we all know that, compared to the oil subsidy loot, N92 billion is just mere peanuts.


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