Rebranding Education in Nigeria

 

Friday 23 July 2010

Oseloka Obaze

selonnes@aol.com

 

This weekend, a handful of my high schoolmates and I, will do what we have done every summer for the past 13 years. We will gather in Los Angeles from 23-25 July, for a college reunion, popularly called the annual convention of Christ the King College Onitsha Alumni Association in America (CKC-AAA). Yes, every year we have a convention. And we do bring our families along. This year will mark our 14th Annual convention. 

 

Recently, an old schoolmate sent me an article by Ms. Azuoma Anugom, Esq. (see Conventions: Do they really serve any purpose or are they just jamborees? ), in which she asked if conventions by Nigerian Diaspora organizations were indeed worth the efforts. The question, to me, seemed rhetorical for obvious reasons, granted that she did make very spirited, eloquent and noteworthy points.  But she may have, as I had an opportunity to point to her, overlooked the bare but critical essential: the weighty intent of those unsung Igbo and other Diaspora organizations that are giving back in many small ways. I suppose Ms.  Anugom did not intend to discourage those organizations.

 

CKC-Onitsha-AAA, our alumni association to which I am an unrepentant, steadfast member and officer, is basically an Igbo community-based organization by the mere geographical location of the school. Not many of my fellow ex-students – numbering some 2000 in the Americas are engaged. That is hardly surprising.  But what is more surprising, is what a few of us have managed to achieve by sheer dint of hard work, self sacrifice and commitment.  Without bragging, we have turned our old school around through our humble efforts and in spite of the school being under the control of the Anambra State Government until recently.  But the daunting challenges remain. From experience, I suppose this year will be no different.

 

Each year when we gather for our annual convention, we are confronted with the stark realities of the dwindling and dismal standard of education in Nigeria, as evidenced by the result of the common examinations taken by students at our alma mater, C.K.C. Onitsha.   Though much improved over the years since we the old boys reengaged with the school authorities, and as discouraging and unimpressive as these results have been, they represent for the most part, better results than what applies across the country. Put simply, educational values and academic performance in Nigeria, is on a slippery slope. Like everything else, Nigeria’s educational system is in a surreal state having encountered arrested development.

 

This reality and our collective belief that no nation can hope to advance into the new age, if it does not accord academics and its educational sector the attention it deserves, informed the choice of our 2010 convention theme: Rebranding Education in Nigeria. This theme is far more than a cliché.  Whereas we cannot reinvent the wheel, we can orchestrate the realignment of educational policies, the prevailing mindset and malign neglect. We can push for a return to time-honored educational values, goals and commitment of the past. We can push for the rebranding of education in order to accord education the high priority it deserves. We can do so through our concerted advocacy.  These efforts are imperative because we are living witnesses to the rut in our educational system and the society at large.

 

Indeed, recent statistics tell a sorry but deeply troubling story. National candidates who flunked the most recent National Examination Council (NECO) were in the ninetieth percentile.  Indeed, statistics from NECO confirmed that only a dismal 1.8% or 4,223 out of the 234,682 candidates who sat for the examinations passed with the five credits, including English and Mathematics required for admission into tertiary institutions. Why do we bother, one may ask?  We do, because things are getting progressively worse. Between 2000 and 2004 some 76.63 per cent of the students who sat for common WASC examinations flunked. By 2009, that dismal number had fallen further to a 98 per cent failure rate.

 

However, there is a corollary to this reality. Funding for education as a public policy component in Nigeria has been treated with near malign neglect.  Comparatively, Nigeria trails many developing countries in the budgetary amount it allocates to education – a paltry 6% -- as compared to Singapore’s 37%, South Africa’s 35%, and 29% allocated respectively by Botswana and Ghana.  Nigeria’s allocation falls 20% short of the 26% per cent recommended by UNESCO. Certainly, for anyone truly committed to nation building that is nothing to celebrate or ignore.

 

As a nation, Nigeria covets greatness and we aspire to play in the big league. Frequently, we are miffed when not given the opportunity or recognition we feel we deserve.  The truth, however, is that as a nation, we have neglected our educational needs and allowed the infrastructure to rot, which is partly responsible for growing brain drain and a preponderance of Nigeria’s intellectual wealth residing outside the country.

 

Our national lack of commitment to education is broad and varied; from the paltry pay of teachers and professors, to poor maintenance of academic infrastructure and the disappearance of vocational schools, with the attendant disappearance of a skilled middleclass work force. Across board, enrollment from primary school to universities has fallen.  And without functional secondary and tertiary schools, Nigeria is producing a slew of functionally uneducated university graduates. If this trend continues, in the years ahead, we will have very limited homegrown graduates, who can indeed lead, govern and run the nation.

 

In CKC-AAA, we are certainly not in the business of policymaking, nor are we interested in meddling.  But we are cause-focused and proactive in our belief that we can bring about change, even if only incrementally. And there is an added rationale.  As beneficiaries of qualitative education made even better by fierce competition between parochial and government schools on one hand, and between denominational schools on the other, we sense the deep erosion of educational impetus in Nigeria.  The driving imperatives are glaringly absent.  We therefore seek to orchestrate collegial competition as well as collaboration.

 

We are nonetheless conscious of the parlous state of affairs in the education sector.  Indicative figures from the Nigerian University Commission (NUC) suggest that only 20 percent of Nigerian university graduates are employable, which indicates the deplorable level of labor market absorption in Nigeria. We must, however, retrace our steps to the roots of their being unemployable; poor secondary education.  And that is why we focus on giving back to our high school.  Indeed, we remember that the parents of some our Nigerian peers, were either uneducated formally or had only high school education, yet they thrived! Therefore, the nexus between qualitative education at the secondary and tertiary levels cannot be glossed over; for now, there exist an utter disconnect. It is in this context that our theme choice of Rebranding Education should be appreciated.

 

The educational sector is also bedeviled by fraudulent examination prnation practices and fraught by corrupt public officials. In advocating the Rebranding of Education in Nigeria, CKC-AAA merely wish to challenge Nigeria and especially those in the education sectors at the local, state and federal levels to retrace the steps back to the way things were in the pre-civil war era. 

 

For our part, as members of the Nigerian Diaspora, as alumni of a great college and as a collective troubled by our national failings and our seeming inability to cope with the challenges, we have led by example, with our proactive engagement, which has yielded discernible results, notably, funding C.K.C.’s revitalization in the tune of over N20 million and spearheading its return of to the Catholic mission on 1 January 2009.  Secondly, we have a say in the selection of those who run our alma mater and including the principal and his staff.  Third, we motivate the students and the staff to be the best they can be, through the CKC-AAA Motivational Annual Award. Finally, because we have made a different and because we have stayed engaged, we have unfettered access to other stakeholders in the school, and as a corollary wield sufficient influence in shaping the school and its products in ways that would create a pocket of excellence and quality, even if limited in numbers.  

 

Furthermore, we see it as our duty to create an enabling environment, for those privileged like us, to attend C.K.C. Onitsha and to make the school attractive for those who would seek the very best for their children and wards. That is not a mission impossible! Indeed, change is possible!!  So as we go off to our yearly convention, we will naturally have fun and reminisce about the past, but surely, we will continue to stride forward, even if only by inches in our commitment to help rebrand the education in Nigeria in all its facets. A burden shared, after all is a burden halved.

 

Finally, when we started CKC-AAA in November 1997, there was no other Nigerian high school alumni association in the United States. Being the first US-based Nigerian organization to undertake such an endeavor, we not only set the template and standard, but motivated alumni of other Nigerian schools to do the same for their alma mater. More importantly, we drew attention to the areas of unmet need in our school systems back home.  Inevitably, we and others are doing something to bring about the much needed change.  At every CKC-AAA convention, we reignite the flame of giving back and challenge others to get involved and do the same. That many Nigerians and Americans support our humble efforts is a testimony that we are onto something right. That ought to count for something. 

 

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Mr. Oseloka Obaze is the National Secretary of CKC-AAA, USA. This piece is adapted from the Editorial in the recent edition of The Amaka Gazette, the Journal of CKC-AAA.