Education should NOT be free — UNILAG DON

Professor of science and technology education, University of Lagos, Duro Ajeyalemi, gives reasons why the country needs to reform its education sector, in this interview with ARUKAINO UMUKORO

Many are of the opinion that Nigerian graduates are half baked. Do you agree with this?

I think they are really ‘quarter baked,’ not half-baked. The reason are quite clear. The academic environment is not conducive, the infrastructure in most of the campuses is dilapidated, the consumables are not provided as and when due, the lecturers and even the non-academic staff are not happy. So, there is general discontent on campus. Even most of the students are not serious-minded enough. The resultant effect is that we have teachers who are not happy doing what they are doing because they are not well remunerated. The conditions generally are not acceptable.

Who or what then is to blame for the country’s education system producing these ‘quarter-baked’ graduates?

You can’t say particularly that it is this or that group. It is the system that should be blamed. The government has made a lot of effort, at least in terms of improving the take-home pay of teachers. But the facilities have decayed over time and they are also not sufficient to meet the growing population of students. Classrooms that were meant for 30 or 40 students in those days are being used for 250 to 1,000 students today. The system has not expanded. Most of the facilities have broken down. Neglect over the years caused this problem.

Many have also criticised some professors for being archaic with their teaching methods and syllabuses. Do you agree with this?

Certainly, we need to do a reform of the curriculum. Most of them are out-dated. The problem is that, even if the teachers want to think out of the box, they do not have the facilities to make them achieve their objectives. So, you find that most of them are also out-dated in terms of their excursions. We have to expose academic staff to the progress of knowledge in their areas of discipline.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities is stuck in negotiations with the Federal Government. What really does ASUU want from the FG?

It is the implementation of the agreement that was entered into by the past government in 2009. It was the government that promised N400bn over a couple of years, starting with the release of N100bn as at that time. But they have not done that. Also, the allowances were part of the agreement signed. So, what ASUU is simply asking for is the implementation of that agreement. The government may come and say we have conflicting demands. But if there is evidence of genuineness in terms of what they are offering, I think ASUU members are not unreasonable. It is a matter of give and take. Ev>en the chairman of the House Committee on Education commended the body for making some sacrifices. So, the government should do more.

It is a lot. All those students that were supposed to have graduated have not. Also, those who are just idling about at home could cause security problems. Parents of these children are also not happy and their own commitment to what they do may be waning. It is a great loss to the economy and the quality of graduates the country is producing.

Despite the poor state of education in the country, Nigerian students have been known to perform excellently in other climes. What do you think is responsible for this?

This is because the conditions in these other countries are much better and allow for more competition. Here in Nigeria, the learning environment is very poor. Look at our hostels. With about 12 students living in a room, how will they be able to study effectively? The classrooms are also overcrowded and don’t have enough furniture. But when these students go abroad, all these things are provided. So, they settle down more easily and realise that they have to do well to return home and become somebody. But here, there are no incentives.

People take free education, just like anything that is free, for granted. When you pay for something you will value it. We should stop politicising education by saying it should be free. If students are contributing something, it will cover some of the gaps that the government cannot adequately fund.

Are you against a free education system?

I am totally against it. I have been saying this for years, it is counter-productive. Our economic situation will continue to be like this. If education is not free, it will ensure that we have quality education and adequate funds to provide what is necessary and reward the teachers adequately. But when government says it wants to shoulder everything, it is unrealistic and can never work. Let people pay for what they are consuming. People are able to pay for nursery, primary and secondary education. Yet, they do not want to pay at the tertiary level, which is more capital intensive. For those who cannot afford it, let the local and state government make provisions for them from the money they are stealing. The Federal Government had a system where students could take loans which will be later repaid. We tried it in this country some time ago, but it stopped because they said some of the students were not paying back. But if we put discipline into the system, those who take money will pay. You can’t have your cake and eat it.

We should find a way to cater for those who are not able to pay for education. Nigerians send their children abroad and pay for their education. We should be realistic about this; education cannot be free if you want to have quality. A state of emergency should be declared in the education sector.

As a professor in science and technology education, what do you think is responsible for the decline in this field in Nigeria and how can it be revived?

First and foremost, when you say science and technology education, it means we are producing teachers to teach science and technology subjects. Most Nigerians do not want to study such programmes because of the way the government and society view this field of education. Most of the people admitted into this (education) programme are those students who were not taken for some other programmes. Also, our society needs to change the way it sees technical education. There needs to be better funding in the system and provision of facilities to train students in this area. We need laboratories and workshops, which are not available in many of the institutions. Also, you find that there are no quality candidates gaining admission into the colleges of education to be trained. And if you have poor quality teachers in the secondary school system, their products cannot be different when they come to the tertiary institutions.

VNTI UNILAG

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