The Education sector bristled with a wide range of issues that generated unending debates in 2019. However, 2020 promises a taste of more action as Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila has proposed a constitutional amendment which aims to make free,compulsory and basic education the fundamental human right of every citizen.Stakeholders in the sector have started baring their minds on the issue.
The new year 2020 will be very crucial for the country’s Education sector as regards providing panacea for the myriad of woes afflicting it. The sector has always been a hotbed of sensitive issues because education is a key component of national development.
Free Education Bill
The bill sponsored by Speaker Gbajabiamila advocates free education for all across the country.
This will engender acquisition of literacy, skills and values that aid lifelong education.It is a constitutional amendment which seeks to make free, basic education a fundamental human right of every citizen under chapter four of the Constitution.
The Speaker noted that illiteracy remains a stumbling block to national development, hence, something urgent must be done to educate Nigerians. The Speaker’s statement, thus, underscores the need to get the 16 million out-of-school children back to school if any meaningful progress is to be made towards national development.
As the country aspires to achieve the Vision 2020, the SDG 4,which supports inclusive and equitable qualitative education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all must be realised.Sadly,without quality and sound education, the vision will be a pipe-dream, hence government must channel all efforts to reposition the education sector.
Dr Tola Olujuwon of the Department of Educational Foundations and Administration, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Lagos, noted that poor monitoring of budgetary allocation could hamper the access to free education ,hence, he urged authorities to use funds allocated judiciously.
“Budgetary allocation should be monitored to ensure that budget is released and utilised for what it is allocated for. Quality assurance units should be strengthened so as to enforce recomendations.
He also called for more commitment to the education sector so as to achieve the goals of education, adding that “prompt payment of salary, conducive teaching and learning environment, training and re-training of teachers,regular promotion and good incentives that will boost the morale of teachers should be of priority”.
Besides reiterating commitment to free education in the country, infrastructural development of public schools should also be prioritised.
A resource person with Human Development Initiatives (HDI), Johnson Ibidapo, noted that schools with poor infrastructure were not fulfilling the SDG 4 and that could hamper the free education drive.
He said: “We went to a school around Lagos, and we saw the pupils sitting on the floor to receive lessons.Schools that lack basic facilities are not realising the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4), which supports qualitative education for all.It is essential to look into that.
Lending his voice to the debate on the free education bill, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo,Deputy National President, National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria(NAPTAN), noted that it is quite crucial to implement the policy because it had been tried by some state governments in the past,but no headway was made.
He stated that for free education to be realistic,government must take the school feeding programme seriously and urged the legislators to include it in the free education bill and sign it into law.According to him,enrolment in schools will be massive if the school feeding programme is entrenched in the Constitution just like the free education bill.
“Some governments have tried it before but implementation is quite crucial.Some hold that not sending your wards to school is criminal.Some parents are finding it difficult to send their children to school and they resort to sending their children to sell on the street for them to survive.
That is where the school feeding programme comes in.Unfortunately, the programme has been haphazard,the government has not been paying serious attention to it.Government has been paying lip service to it.Sadly,many people live below the poverty line and for free education to be realistic,feeding the pupils will motivate parents to enroll their wards.”
However,the school feeding programme should also be included in the bill and made compulsory.It is impracticable without the school feeding programme.Provide free meals for pupils,then free and compulsory education will be realised”,he said.
On his part, Dr Kayode Jegede,State Coordinator,National Teachers’ Institute,(NTI), Lagos State, hailed the initiative of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, noting that education is quite crucial to nation development.Thus,qualitative education should be provided by the government.He noted if government is truly committed to the free education cause,then it has to be qualitative and tailored towards job creation.
He said : “It is a very good move by the Speaker.When the law is fully implemented,it will lead to a reduction in illiteracy and the issue of insurgency in the country.
It will also help in reducing social problems like kidnapping, armed robbery and the likes because education shapes the mind and thinking of man.
It will help in the all round development of the nation. However, the government should not only give education for the sake of it,it should provide qualitative education,the free education for all should be of top quality.To achieve that,teachers should be regularly trained and empowered towards efficient service delivery.”
The Vice-President, Nigerian Union of Teachers,(NUT), Mr Kayode Akosile,supports the move but also calls for qualitative free education.
According to him,it is going to be of benefit if there are proper infrastructural and personnel structures in place.He decried the situation where by schools will be lacking basic facilities of learning.He frowned at the fact that those behind the bill have their children in expensive schools.
“I hope the bill will not be like those which were not taken seriously because in Nigeria we believe more in rhetorics than action.If we are talking of free universal basic education, it is a welcome development,but then it has to be qualitative and not quantitative.
Our schools should have impact on the wards, not schools where there are no good facilities,instructional materials and all.It should not be free education for the sake of it. Unfortunately,those who are strong advocates of this bill have their children in schools where they pay millions of naira.
For it to work, proper structures should be put in place,in terms of infrastructure and personnel.It is when we have free and qualitative education in country that we can say we are progressing,”he noted.
According to a parent, Mrs Sanusi,it is a bold step to move the education sector forward.She noted that it reduces the worrisome issue of illiteracy in the country while adding that it will lead to the employment of more teachers in the country.She also said that the children roaming the streets will have considerable access to basic education.
She said: “It is a good step and a bold one. The majority of the citizens will be able to read and write.It will drastically reduce illiteracy levels in the country.Then it will ensure that more teachers are employed,which means unemployment will be reduced also.It is also heartwarming that children roaming our streets will be back to school and have considerable access to free basic education.”
In his own submission, Dr Afolabi Aroyewun, a lecturer in the University of Lagos(UNILAG), noted that education should not only be a fundamental human right just like other rights, but ‘ it should be accessible,affordable and available’.
He urged the government to make sure the much touted free education should be of high standards.He canvassed for a legislation that would compel public officials to be of child-bearing age and enroll their wards in public schools from primary to the university level to engender equality.
He said : “We have so many people in this country who have never attended any form of school before,it is quite sad.
One of the ways to ensure that our education system in Nigeria is on the right track is to promulgate a law that henceforth our public officials or political office holders should be within child-bearing age and all their children must be enrolled in public schools in the country to bring about quality education.
Children of the peasants alone should not be attending the public schools if truly we are offering education of high quality.”
A school owner,Mr Rotimi Shodipo, believes that the if finally signed into law, it will go a long way in addressing the issue of millions of out-of-school children which has become worrisome and embarrassing.
He said: “It is a good one from the Speaker.The issue of out-of-school children has been giving the country a bad image.It is quite worrisome because it portends danger to the future of the country.Hence, once the bill is signed into law,the millions of children not in school will benefit from it.”