COMRADE EMMANUEL NNADOZIE ONWUBIKO
DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA), ABUJA
Education generally, as has been acclaimed globally, is very basic to national development; therefore no nation can afford to toil with it. Hence, the foundation of every great nation is said to be the education of its citizens. The federal government in recognition of this important role of education as a tool for the development of the individual, the society and the nation, adopted education in the National Policy on Education as an instrument par excellence for effecting national development (FRN, 2012). Nigeria as a nation requires adequate human and material resources to improve its social organization preserves its cultures, enhance economic development and reform the political structure. Therefore, education is seen as a prerequisite for quality man power development and creation of wealth, a sure path to success in life and service to humanity. There is no gainsaying the fact that education is very vital to the pace of social, political and economic development of any nation. Education is a key investment in any nation with enormous social and economic benefits accruing from it. This explains why one of the national education goals is the acquisition of appropriate skills and the development of mental, physical and social abilities and competences as equipment for the individual to live and contribute to the development of the society (FRN, 2012). Qualitatively, the type of education being imparted to majority of schools and college children is ill-suited to the development need of Nigerians, were the appropriate education approach is yet to be given attention. To affirm this, Oloruntoyin (2011) posited that at present, the quality of education offered to children in primary schools in Nigeria is below the required standard. This has gross adverse effect on quantitative and qualitative human capital development. With the dependency of individual, family, community and the nation on education for national development, the fundamental place of primary education cannot be overemphasized. FRN (2012) recognizing this role, wrote that since the rest of the education system is built upon it, the primary level of education is the key to the success or failure of the whole system. Primary education is therefore a reservoir of knowledge and a citadel of learning basic skills for national development. Despite the contribution of education, Nigerian leaders have not given education and primary education in particular, the attention it deserves. This is one of the reasons for the nation’s underdevelopment, though the country is replete with brilliant, impeccable and well written policies, vision and reform agenda that have failed. Hence, for Nigeria to attain the goals of national development agenda, functional primary education has to be the paramount focus because it is the foundation of the entire system. Therefore, the realization of transformation agenda is hinged on making the primary education system viable and the education acquired functional in the real sense of the word.
WHAT IS PRIMARY EDUCATION?
Primary education as referred to in the National Policy on Education (NPE) is the education given in institutions for children aged 6-11 plus (FRN, 2012). It is the first stage and compulsory education. Primary education is preceded by pre-school or nursery education and followed by secondary education. The primary education is the first six years of the nine years of basic education using the Universal Basic Education (UBE) standard. This stage of education is often addressed as elementary education. In most countries of the world, primary education is compulsory for children to receive although it is permissible for parents to provide it. Children are usually placed in classes with a teacher who will be primarily responsible for their education and welfare for that year. This teacher may be assisted to varying degrees by specialist teachers in certain subject area. Today, there are about 48,242 primary schools with 16,796,078 pupils but with limited and incompetent teachers in Nigeria (Okam, 2012). The vision statement of Universal Basic Education that encompasses primary education states that, at the end of nine years of continuous education, every child should acquire appropriate and relevant skills and values and be employable in order to contribute his or her quota to National Development.
PRIMARY EDUCATION AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA
According to Edinyang et al. (2012), one of the important aims of education is to foster the full development of an individual to enable full contribution to the well-being of the society. In an ideal sense, education is an ultimate value and hence, through the provision of social service, it is an agent of change (Ogunwuyi, 2010). It is the responsibility of the educational system of any nation to bring to the light the transformation of the economic, political, scientific and technological recognition. The place of primary education is very paramount because it is the foundation of adults‟ contribution to developmental processes. In other words, basic education makes a child a better adult. Primary education is to the educational system; and the nation at large, what the mind is to the body. A faulty primary education which is the foundation of the entire education system can thwart the attainment of the intended outcome of the system. The objectives of primary education as deduced from Nigerian national education aims and objectives read thus;
i) inculcate permanent literacy and numeracy, and ability to communicate effectively;
ii) lay a sound basis for scientific and reflective thinking;
iii) give citizenship education as a basis for effective participation in and contribution to the life of the society;
iv) mould the character and develop sound attitude and morals in the child;
v) develop in the child the ability to adapt to the child’s changing environment;
vi) giving the child opportunities for developing manipulative skills that will enable the child function effectively in the society within the limits of the child’s capacity;
vii) provide the child with basic tools for further educational advancement, including preparation for trades and the craft of the locality (FRN, 2012).
EMERGING CHALLENGES OF NIGERIAN PRIMARY EDUCATION AND IMPLICATION ON NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Lack of Political Commitment
The poor socio-economic condition in Nigeria and the inability of the leaders to create conditions necessary for higher national development after 14 years of consistent civil rule or democracy, should be a concern to any person who cares about Nigeria. Owing to the nature of primary education and the school system in general, governments give less concern to issues of remuneration, funding, provision of infrastructure and supply of qualified and experienced teachers. Given the obvious importance of teachers, problems in supporting newly qualified teachers and a lack of career development opportunities in school settings often combine to make teachers’ effectiveness difficult. The working conditions of primary school teachers in Nigeria is in pitiable condition that if not addressed can impede teachers‟ effectiveness. UNESCO (2009) submits that if we are to put human development at the heart of socio-economic strategies, the advancement and the working conditions of teachers must be addressed. Salaries are not regularly paid and industrial actions have become continuous and reoccurring rituals in Nigerian public service. Similarly, Esu and Inyang-Abia (2009) revealed that inadequate motivation arising from haphazard reward system and delay in payment of salaries has led to lack of commitment and therefore a slow but steady decay of any innovative programme.
Challenges of poor infrastructural facilities
Most primary schools both in the rural and urban cities are crumbling because of lack of maintenance. The degree of infrastructural decay in Nigerian primary schools is an eyesore that should give government sleepless night. Oloruntoyin (2011) stressed that many of the buildings were erected in the late 1950s and early 1960s with mud blocks. Today they are not only a health hazard but also potential death traps. In fact, classes are being held in the open during the dry season and when the raining season sets in children are crowded into the few available ramshackle buildings. For any curriculum to be maximally implemented to meet the vision 2020 or the national transformation agenda, infrastructural facilities such as classroom, laboratories, seats and libraries among others must be put in place. The absence of these infrastructures in most cases has seriously constrained the teaching and learning objectives of the curriculum (Enu et al., 2009).
Challenges of competent teachers
At the lower and middle levels of primary education, there are reported cases of increase in the rate of absentee and ineffective teachers in schools (Oloruntoyin, 2011). The conditions in primary schools are particularly peculiar especially when there are lesser teachers to the number of classes that the teacher has to teach. The problem of monitoring teachers also presents additional difficulties to educational managers. Teachers‟ monitoring is crucial in order to address teacher absenteeism. It has been found that getting teachers to come to work is a major barrier to improving education outcomes. Recruiting, training, and supporting competent teachers to provide quality learning can be particularly challenging. The ideal primary school teacher, according to Brown (2003) is certified to teach more than one subject or grade level, can teach students with a wide range of abilities in the same classroom, is prepared to supervise extracurricular activities and can adjust to the community. As a result, teachers must constantly upgrade their skills through pre-service and in-service training programmes. However, many teachers in Nigerian primary schools today are those without the knowledge of the subject matter and pedagogical skills neither are there ready for in-service training. Unlike secondary schools were teachers teach base on their area of specialization, primary school teachers teach all round. These are not the 21st Century teachers as well as instructional organization needed to drive home the national education goals for national development and transformation.
A major challenge facing the primary education and implementation of the curriculum at this level is funding in the midst of rising demands and cost of education. To address this worsening problem, governments at the local, state and national levels must shoulder higher responsibility for boosting primary education by allocating more funds to the sector. Adedeji et al. (2008) affirm that finance is one of the problems confronting education sector owing to a drastic reduction in both the actual and proportion of government fund allocated to the education sector, despite the UNESCO’s recommendations of allocation of 26% of a nation’s national income to the sector. Contrary to this recommendation, Nigeria in the past four years allotted just paltry 6.4, 7.5, 8.4 and 8.7% of her annual budgets to education in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 in that order (Ladan, 2012). The source reiterated that the low level of fiscal allocation to the sector which is below the UNESCO‟s threshold of 26% of the total budget certainly affects the implementation of government policy on education in the country and in particular the Universal Basic Education since its inception. The proportion of funding in the primary educational investment should rise and governments should strive to provide children of poor rural families with access to free textbooks and exemption from miscellaneous expenses.
The Universal Primary Education (UPE) introduced in 1955 by the government of Western Region and in 1957 by the government of Eastern Region collapsed because of poor funding. In 1976, the federal government of Nigeria launched the Universal Primary Education which also failed due to lack of proper planning and funding. Accordingly, Onwueme (2001), notes that funding of education in Nigeria has been problematic over the years. He maintains that funding of primary education in particular should be handled by the three tiers of government. Accordingly, Onwueme (2001), report that:
a. Federal Government should be responsible for the provision of building and furniture, teachers salaries and allowances and payment for the teacher-training programme.
b. State government should be responsible for the provision of equipment and libraries.
c. Local government should assume responsibility for non-teaching staff salaries, textbooks and maintenance of buildings
d. Parents should provide writing material and clothing for their children. Furthermore, Decree 31 of 1988 which established the Primary Education Commission offered the formula for funding of primary education as follows: Local Government 80%, State Government 30%, Federal government 20% while decree (3) of January 1999 made 100% funding of primary school the responsibility of local government councils. According to him, the recent revision of allocation formula whereby 41%, 36% and 23% allocated to the Federal, State and Local Governments have not been received by all concerned.
Laying the Foundation in the Quality of Teachers
The teacher is the facilitator of learning. Without the teacher, most of the goals and aims of education cannot be achieved. The teacher holds the key to learners educational attainment; if he can use the key effectively, the needed foundation will be laid in the primary level hence the need for him to be properly trained. The FRN (2004), recognizes this fact and emphasizes that teacher education shall continue to be given major emphasis, since no education system may rise above the quality of its teachers. Presently, the training of teachers for this level of education is done at the colleges of education, National Teachers Institute, Institute of Education and Faculties of Education in Universities and School of Education in Universities of Technology. This is because the government has phased out teachers with Grade Two Certificate (TCII), and pegged minimum qualification for teaching in the primary school at Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE). These institutions that are mandated to train teachers for the primary schools should endeavour to enrich their programmes so as to equip these teachers for better foundation laying in our children. Competent teachers should be employed to train these teachers, and students without the required entry qualification should not be admitted in the teacher training programmes. The programmes should be reviewed from time to time to suit the changes in the educational system due to technological and scientific changes in the society. At the end of the programme, only the competent teachers should be sent into the system, because it is only this set of teachers that can lay a solid foundation in the primary school. Chike Okoli (2006) enumerates teacher improvement purposes to include:
a. Ensuring that teachers do their assigned work effectively.
b. Ensuring new teachers receive training to enable them function effectively on the job.
c. Providing professional information to teachers
d. Guiding teachers to sources of instructional materials
e. Providing technical assistance to teachers, e.g. preparation and use of teaching aid.
f. Ensuring that discipline is maintained in the classroom.
g. Maintaining high morale among the teachers.
h. Suggesting ways of improving teachers performance.
i. Providing an opportunity to discover teachers with special abilities or qualities.
Any teacher that is so guided should be able to lay an enduring foundation for Nigerias Educational System. In the foundation laying, the teacher plays various roles. Chike-Okoli (2006) states that the teacher that must improve instruction and lay a solid foundation has to do so by:
a. Planning his lesson, developing sound teaching principles and techniques.
b. Employing all possible teaching resources, providing appropriate and suitable learning conditions.
c. Helping the children to develop the desired skills, attitudes and competence
d. Supervising childrens performance
e. Helping pupils to identify and providing a conducive atmosphere in which they will love to work.
f. Creating challenging activities for learners to think and providing various learning experiences to cater for individual difference among the learners.
g. Acquiring a good understanding about his learners maturational and intellectual levels so that he can choose appropriate content and methodology for instruction.
h. Keeping accurate records of work and performance of the students, giving exercises, making assignments, evaluating learners, checking their notebooks and exercise books and encouraging them to do private reading and making good use of the library (if available).
Achieving the Goals of Primary Education
The stated goals are attainable hence the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004) on education states that these goals must be pursued through making primary education tuition free, universal and compulsory, implementing the curriculum; providing educational services, using practical, exploratory and experimental methods of teaching, using the language of the environment for the first three years as a medium of instruction; making the teacher-pupil ratio 1:35; promoting pupils from one class to another based on continuous assessment; discouraging the incidence of drop out at this level; integrating information and communication technology (ICT) into education in Nigeria; proving basic infrastructure and training of teachers for the realization of these goals at the primary school level, etc. These proposals on the one hand, simply present the functions expected of government or relevant government functionaries charged with the responsibility of management of schools, provision of infrastructure, equipment and instructional facilities. On the other hand, present the functions expected of teachers in laying the foundation for quality output in primary schools.
Making Primary Education Tuition Free, Universal and Compulsory
For over five decades, the Nigerian government has been advocating universal, free and compulsory education for the citizenry. The Universal Primary Education was launched in the Western region on January 17th 1955. In 1957, the scheme was launched in the East. The scheme was reintroduced by Obasanjos Administration in 1976 with an enrolment of 475,760 pupils in primary schools. The Universal Primary Education scheme once again failed because of lack of adequate appraisal of the resources required for its implementation. In the wake of realization of the importance of education as the basic tool of the Nigerian child for all round development, Nigeria launched the Universal Basic Education scheme on 30th September, 1999. Every Nigerian child, it was envisaged would be entitled to basic education up to the junior secondary level. The education would be free, universal and compulsory for all children between the primary and junior secondary schools (Alabi, 2001).
Implementing the Curriculum
The prescribed curriculum for the primary schools, according to FRN (2004) include languages, mathematics, sciences, physical education, religious knowledge, agricultural science, economics, social studies, citizenship education, culture and creative arts, and computer education. For laying the solid foundation at the primary schools, government offered to provide the following educational services (i) Library services (ii) Basic health scheme (iii) Counseling services; educational resource centre and specialist teachers of particular subjects such as mathematics, science, physical education, language arts, music, fine arts and home economics.
The output of our primary schools are the ones that are fed into our secondary schools, hence, the quality of foundation laid for learning of comprehension and understanding determine how they will perform in secondary and tertiary levels of education. This discussion on primary school as a foundation of education in Nigeria calls for urgent attention on the issues raised in this paper which portrays the state of the art in our primary schools.
The quality of student admitted into higher education in Nigeria is generally observed as very poor. It is therefore expected that the concerns raised shall be passionately looked into by the stakeholders in the education sector with a view to ensuring that a solid foundation is truly laid at the primary school level as a way of ensuring technologically and scientifically oriented outputs for other levels of education in the country.
Primary education is the foundation on which all other levels of education are laid. Such foundation should therefore be strong, reliable and capable of withstanding all forms of pressure atmospheric, socio-cultural, ethnic and economic pressures. In other words, the relevant providing agencies governmental and private, should provide all it takes to lay the solid foundation expected at the primary school level of education in Nigeria. On this premise, it is therefore recommended that:
Government should ensure that the implementation of national policy on primary education by state owned and private institutions are closely monitored to ensure uniformity in quality of output from our nations primary schools.
Funding for primary education should be shared among the Federal, States and Local Government on a reasonable ratio in their annual budgets for education.
All primary schools in Nigeria, irrespective of where they are located should be given a face-lift with modern infrastructure Administrative building, classrooms, introductory technology workshops, library equipment and all relevant materials to ensure effective teaching and learning.
Teaching in primary schools should not be open to whoever wants to teach for a living. Only professionally trained, talented and well screened teachers should be employed to teach in primary schools.
A new salary structure for teachers should be implemented to enhance their job satisfaction and retention.
Only experienced primary school teachers should be assigned to teach and lay solid foundation in junior classes.
To check incidence of examination malpractices in primary schools, teachers should be made to teach effectively and cover their scheme of work sufficiently. Moreover, only teachers of proven integrity and good conduct should be assigned to supervise/invigilate internal and external examinations. Those caught in examination malpractices such as students, teachers, invigilators and supervisors should be made to face the existing law which should be activated.
Strategic planning and implementation of primary education programmes.
Training and retraining of primary school teachers.
Employment of qualified teachers.
Regular payment of teachers salaries.
Regular payment of pensions and gratuities to retired primary school teachers.
Stakeholders sincerity in handling the challenges facing primary education in Nigeria.
Expanding access to primary education for poor children and school dropouts.
Curbing corruption in the management of primary schools by the Universal Basic Education Boards (UBEBs).
Removing the hearts of stone from the politicians in order to appreciate the contributions of primary school teachers to national development.
Effective regulatory framework to curb proliferation of sub-standard private primary schools.
Holistic enhancement of the status of primary school teachers.
Above all, I would therefore advocate, and very strongly too, that the minimum take-home pay of every primary school teacher should not be less than one hundred thousand naira (100,000)
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