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EDUCATING THE 21ST CENTURY GENERATION: GOVERNOR UGWUANYI’S PIONEERING AND SPECTROSCOPIC THRUST FOR NIGERIA:
Education

EDUCATING THE 21ST CENTURY GENERATION: GOVERNOR UGWUANYI’S PIONEERING AND SPECTROSCOPIC THRUST FOR NIGERIA: 

EDUCATING THE 21ST CENTURY GENERATION: GOVERNOR UGWUANYI’S PIONEERING AND SPECTROSCOPIC THRUST FOR NIGERIA:

By Steve Oruruo.

Radical and vocal African –American civil rights activist, MALCOLM X once said that “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it”

The developed world has always recognized and understood the close relationship between the standard of education of a nation and ultimately, its level of development. The same unfortunately cannot be said of most developing nations, such as Nigeria.

A cursory glance at contemporary history unequivocally bears this out.

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On October 4, 1957, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) launched Earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, as part of its then incredibly ambitious space program. Sputnik 1 precipitated major global upheavals, not limited to triggering the space race and fomenting heated geopolitical tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union – the infamous Cold War. Less-known fallout of Sputnik 1 was its galvanization of the United States to enact desperate reforms in its science and engineering education in an effort to regain lost grounds. Over 50 years later, the United States has become the world’s undisputed leader in space technology, being joint owners of the international space station and successfully landing both the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers on Mars, a pinch in a slew of exploits.

The above is one in a myriad of narratives depicting how nations have transformed their social, political, and economic milieu, rising to become global giants, on the heels of strategic tangible and non-tangible investments in the education sector. China’s unparalleled advancement in economic modernization was heavily catalyzed by its conception, prioritization and radical implementation of extensive education reforms, especially in the post-Mao era. Within this period, the government made primary education free and compulsory for Chinese citizens, criminalized the employment of youths prior to the completion of their nine years of schooling, and authorized subsidies for students from underprivileged families.

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When the devastating Korean War ended, 78 percent of Koreans were illiterate; the per capita income was low; and the World Bank considered investing in the country a risky undertaking. Years after overhauling its education system through a concert of smart, innovative government policies and the vibrancy of its partnering private sector, South Korea attained a 98 percent literacy rate by 2017, became a high-income country and a model of thriving economic development.

In 2008, while addressing an audience of students and faculty at the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, Colorado, Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States was quoted to have said: “In this kind of economy, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”

The Covid-19 pandemic, which for nearly two years now has continued its barrage of assaults on human lives and institutions, has particularly torpedoed the global education sector, almost sinking the hitherto wobbly ships of developing nations.

The recent Global Education Summit (GES) held in London on the 28th and 29th of July and interestingly co-hosted by the Prime minister of United Kingdom, Mr Boris Johnson and the President of Kenya, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, was awake to this new challenge and grim future outlook, and saw several leaders urging countries to take concrete steps such as increasing domestic budgetary allocations to education and adopting modern teaching tools and methodologies to improve learning outcomes. Over $4 billion of the Global Partnership for Education’s $5 billion target in funding was raised at the summit to transform education for the world’s most vulnerable children. Mrs Julia Guiliana who functioned as the co-chair of the GPE instructively urged the five (5) African presidents in attendance to go beyond mere raising of hands in support of the summit to accentuate fundamentally entrenched but pivotal measures, wired to stimulate a renaissance in Africa’s flailing education sector. Indeed, Nigeria according to the Hon Minister of State for Education, Mr Emeka Ifejuba went to London as a partner-country, not a donor-country and may walk away with up to $120 million .

The nexus between education and national development is apparent, except may be to most of Nigeria’s successive leadership regimes since we gained our independence from the shackles of British imperialism. With what is a mockery of an education system when juxtaposed with global standards, Nigeria is a nation not only sabotaging its economy and tearing at the fragile seams of its cohesion, but also mortgaging its apparently bleak future. Over 10 million children are out of school, many of whom have been constrained by debilitating poverty to win bread for their families while their counterparts in other parts of the world learn the fundamentals of calculus, primary science and digest classic literature.

Schools in Nigeria from the cradle to the universities are mimicries of 15th century war-torn colonies – visually grotesque canvasses of infrastructural jumble. Teaching and learning are mostly conducted without basic amenities such as conducive classroom spaces, desks, chairs, teaching boards, electricity and running water. Even with the lightning speed of digital innovations, most educational institutions in Nigeria still ‘function’ without computers and reliable internet access, missing out on the indispensable treasures inherent in the new virtual knowledge ecosystem. These, in conspiracy with incompetent administrators, semi-literate teachers and unmotivated students, have defined an abhorrently horrendous Nigerian system of education.

Yearly, thousands of graduates are churned out from tertiary institutions across the length and breadth of the nation, who lack knowledge of the rudiments in their fields of study, barest minimum intellectual acuity, sophistication of character, and marketable skills. Some of our institutions are not producing educated young people able to put their training into good use. It can do no more then, than turn them into dependent young individuals, forced to pound the streets in search of white collar jobs frozen in the arctic winter of an economy, with retrogressively narrowed opportunities. We have progressively replaced education with paper qualifications. Our young people understand that this is what matters and they do everything within their means, including offering sexual favours to their unscrupulous teachers to obtain paper qualifications that are entirely at variance with the content of their brains. No man should expect to travel in a devil’s express and arrive at a God’s destination.

 

The buck stops at the table of Nigeria’s political elites, most of whom are unfortunately consumed by their unbridled lust for power and wealth, consciously blind to the progressive rot in almost every sector of the economy and the attendant anguish of their hapless subjects. Nigeria’s billions of petrodollars accrued over the years; a tiny percentage of which would have been more than enough to build a world-renowned brand of Nigerian education, have largely gone to service the selfish greed of a few oligarchs. Budgetary allocation to the education sector, which has been below par for decades, is a syndrome of years of misplaced priorities and utter negligence.

In 2021, only 6.3% of total budget estimates was appropriated to the Federal Ministry of Education. Despite being way below the new global 20% benchmark set by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s political declaration on education financing at the 2021 GES, some of these funds may be diverted into the personal accounts of individuals who don the guise of leaders and high-ranking bureaucrats while holding Africa’s most populous country hostage. President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise at the 2021 Global Education Summit, to immediately increase Nigeria’s education funding by 50% and up to 100% by 2025, is a step in the right direction but hardly inspires optimism as the populace now appear inured to empty rhetoric, and yearn for more positive actions.

*The desired destination of Nigeria’s education system is vivid in the minds of the discerning patriot – a self-sustaining factory incubating and nurturing the innately enormous talents of Nigeria’s kids, young men, and women into global leaders of thought, captains of industry and innovators in science and technology. The journey may be far and demanding, but a compass and a roadmap are already being set and refined by the Governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, one of Africa’s finest visionaries. Elected in 2015 and returned to the Lion Building by a historic majority of votes cast in 2019, education has remained at the core of Governor Ugwuanyi’s transformative leadership thrust. A comprehensive reform of the sector achieved through relentless financing and a plethora of strategic initiatives has led to the total rebirth of Enugu’s education system.*

Declaring an infrastructural emergency in the sector, Governor Ugwuanyi moved swiftly to give state-owned primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions a befitting facelift. His regime saw to the construction and rehabilitation of thousands of classroom blocks, offices, laboratories, and public utilities in primary and secondary schools all over the state. To complement this, thousands of accessories critical to effective teaching and learning such as desks, chairs, ICT tools, boards, laboratory apparatus, fans, etc., have been massively deployed across the 17 local government areas.

 

*The glories of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) and the Enugu State College of Education (Technical) were returned by the Ugwuanyi regime, the reward of steadfast investments, leading to the recovery of lost accreditation for several courses and transition to a degree-awarding institution for the last two. State-of-the art constructions are ongoing at the new site in Ihe, Awgu for the first ever degree-awarding institution in Education in the Southeast. The progress reports at the Esut Teaching Hospital and College of Medicine Igbo-Eno have been flowing with alluring and expeditious consistency; heralding the emergence of the massive health facilities structured in conformity with the dictates of World Health Organisation (WHO. The modernized planning of other edifices within the permanent site of this famous college in readiness for a clamoured take off, remains the cynosure of all eyes.*

The Ugwuanyi philosophy of education extends beyond the infrastructural domain to human capital development. Recognizing teachers and other civil servants as partners in governance and stewards of the state’s assets, Governor Ugwuanyi remodelled the civil service. He pays the state’s diligent labourers on or before the 24th of every month (safe for a few extremely turbulent months), and was among the first governors to implement the N30,000 minimum wage. The Ugwuanyi regime rewards drive, brilliance, hard work and innovation, exemplified by its recent offer of scholarships up to university level to two students of Government Technical College (GTC), Nsukka, who manufactured two aircraft and an MP3 radio with locally-sourced materials. Several other students and teachers have benefited from similar reward mechanisms which have continued to stir healthy competition.

Immediate results are seen across Enugu’s education landscape, as quality teaching and learning have become the uncompromising standard in the Ugwuanyi regime. More importantly, solid foundation and blueprint have been laid for upcoming governments to continue along this path to total reformation. The Ugwuanyi regime is not resting on its oars and realizes that a lot more needs to be done before we can attain Ivy League standards. In no distant future when economic realities permit, education must be made legally compulsory for all children in the state; the reward system for teachers needs to be up-scaled to attract the best and brightest into the profession; the curriculum must be redesigned to prioritize STEM education, reflect emerging global modalities and digital tools, and modern methods must be adopted to offer more hands-on teaching and improve learning outcomes.

In addition, lasting partnerships need to be forged with the private sector to complement the efforts of the government; and incentives must be provided to ignite and sustain the desire for knowledge in kids as they mature from infancy to adulthood. Very importantly also, we must address the daunting language barrier, conceiving breakthrough strategies to make every kid proficient in English language before advancing to the secondary level of education, like their counterparts in other English-speaking countries of the world.

Fixing Nigeria’s decadent Education system won’t be a mere flight of fancy. It would demand a comprehensive multi-pronged long-term plan, aggressive follow-through, and unwavering commitment by all and sundry. This goal will never be attained if we continue to dwell on our differences as a multi-cultural entity, and keep stoking the flames of ethnic divisions. Nigeria needs in our shores, more leaders like Governor Ugwuanyi, who will envision and work tirelessly towards a functional education system that will attract people from the Americas and Europe seeking the best quality teaching and learning. We dream that this envisaged quality of education will be escalated in volumes, sophistry, proximities and effects.

Socrates in one of his famous quotes said that *“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”* Governor Ugwuanyi, has without any shred of a doubt, ignited a veritable and systemic education flame. It is hoped that its ripple will continue to cascade down into the future and pave the way for others to replicate.

 

Steve Oruruo is the Special Adviser to the Governor of Enugu State on Information

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