President Muhammadu Buhari has assured Nigerians that he would name his ministers this month. This is good news, especially for those who think the President’s pace is slow because he doesn’t have a cabinet in place. But in appointing a minister of education, the President should be painstaking. He should adopt a business approach because education is real business; and we can’t go forward as a nation until we treat it as such.
If the President is able to fix education, Nigeria is likely to move forward at a faster pace than what obtains now. Education is central to our overall growth.
No doubt, the President has enormous powers to appoint whoever he likes (including his friends) as a minister, but choosing a minister of education should not be based on sentiments at all. What Nigeria needs today is a minister of education that understands the dynamics of globalisation of education, someone with a good grasp of the problem areas and enough capacity both in terms of intellect and political will to ensure quick fixes and positive changes.
So, for this particular position, President Buhari may have to look beyond his loyal friends, old acquaintances, party members or the people he thinks gave him 97 per cent of the votes. He should bear in mind that whatever he does now can either make or break the education sector.
Thankfully, a prominent member of the President’s All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has also warned of the peril of ignoring education. Emphasising the importance of education to national growth at the maiden convocation of Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, last Saturday, Tinubu said that Nigeria would remain a poor country without quality education.
Everyone seems to know the role of education in ameliorating poverty, building strong democracy, encouraging economic growth and achieving a world-class standard of living. But, what most people seem not to know is that there is a difference between talking and doing. Quality education is a product of serious planning and commitment.
If talking about our declining educational standard is the key to finding a solution to the problem, Nigeria would have gone far beyond where it is today. Unfortunately, despite our many years of hand-wringing, we are yet to formulate pragmatic policies that could move us forward. We are still producing graduates with little problem-solving skills and slow analytical minds.
So, moving forward, we need a minister of education that will focus attention on two major problem areas that have remained with us for ages. One is the need to make learning at primary and secondary schools more exciting via adequate provision of learning aids. And, two, is to address the problem of poor quality of teachers by making teaching both attractive and lucrative.
Is it not strange that, as a people, we easily understand the importance of building a house on a solid foundation and feign ignorance when it comes to building solid tertiary education on a strong primary and secondary school system? The truth is quality education will be a mirage in Nigeria if we continue to ignore the importance of well-trained and highly-paid teachers.
Many times we blame students for not doing well, forgetting that learning is a function of many variables. It is not by accident that countries that are doing well today are those that place great emphasis on recruiting the best of brains to train their children.
It is instructive that students in the highest-performing school systems in the world are found in Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, Taiwan and South Korea. These are countries where teaching is very financially lucrative and attractive.
Three of the top-performing school systems in the world — those in Finland, Singapore and South Korea — recruit 100 per cent of their teachers from the top three best students of each graduating set. They tap their best for the job. No wonder companies like Nokia covet teachers who leave the classroom in Finland.
But what do we have here? Most of our teachers are accidental teachers. Admission requirement is lowered for applicants aspiring to go for teaching courses. The teaching profession is for those who can’t do anything better. Unfortunately, this poor image has affected genuine bright people who would have loved to choose teaching as a profession. How can we expect people that are below average to nurture our children to excellence?
If we want to be sincere, how many primary and secondary school teachers in Nigeria today can we vouch for as being really good at mathematics, science or technology? Yet, we claim to aim at technological advancement. We should be thinking of putting the teacher at the centre of our policy if we want to improve the quality of our education.
We need a minister that will draw people back into the teaching profession. We need teachers and classrooms that are technology savvy. The teaching profession should be competitive, rewarding and purposeful.
Teaching is still one of the most attractive professions in the United Kingdom. A recent research on the most attractive professions in the country found teaching to be number three on a list of top 10 professions.
To make teaching a good career option in the UK, the government at a time introduced, among others, training bursaries and tax-free scholarships worth £25,000 in mathematics, chemistry, physics and computing.
Not only that, its Department for Education developed a policy paper aimed at raising the status of the teaching profession and making it more attractive to top graduates. These are pragmatic steps taken by serious nations that desire true growth and development.
In Singapore, for instance, teaching talent is identified and nurtured. Teaching is also a competitive career. About eight candidates apply for every opening. Little wonder, Singapore is the highest performing country in Mathematics and Science, according to the PISA 2012 international tests.
The story of neglect of teachers is the same in almost all African countries today. They are not getting their priorities right. That is probably why the continent is lagging behind the developed countries in the area of development and technological advancement.
Since Nigeria is the giant of Africa, I think it should take the lead in providing practical education that can drive technological development for its citizens. It should start this process focusing on its teachers and by making the teaching profession more attractive.