Last week, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai, the Minister of Education identified four areas- access and equity, standards and quality assurance, technical and vocational education and teacher training, and funding and resource utilization as part of her plan to revamp the education sector, working within the context of the Education Roadmap to meet the Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015.

Can Minister Rufai’s four areas of reform be the catalyst to help revamp and redirect education in Nigeria? Can Minister Rufai overcome the problem of policy implementation? Should Minister Rufai seek assistance and support from the Nigerian educational organizations and/or individuals in the Diaspora? What is Minister Rufai vision for education in Nigeria? Should Minister Rufai collaborate with Minister of Sports, Isa Bio to bring sports back in our schools?  

Let’s begin the discussion by examining first the role of the Federal Ministry of Education (FME). It should be made clear that state and local governments have plenary power over public education. In Nigeria, education is on the concurrent list of powers between the federal, state, and local governments unlike in the U.S., where the federal government has no constitutional responsibility. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution was silent as to the role of the Federal Government. Therefore, public education is a state and local endeavor. This arrangement is true in most of the industrialized nations. There are a few cases where the national government has full control of public education. One of such places is France, where the curriculum is nationalized and standardized. In America, for example, public educational matters are discussed at all levels of government, although not necessarily in unison. The federal government is involved at the primary and secondary levels through funding of Title 1, a program designed to support failing schools where the majority of the students are in poverty.

Ultimately, the final decision on education rests with the state government which provides most of the funding, although the federal government of Nigeria through the “federal account” provides the initial funding for education.

Minister Rufai’s vision for education can be seen and interpreted through the four areas of access and equity, standards and quality assurance, technical and vocational education and teacher training, and funding and resource utilization. Although, Professor Rufai has a vast and deep background in education, and having been the Commissioner for Education in Jigawa State for three years, and having written several books especially on female education and gender issues in the northern part of the country, she appears qualified to put the education sector back on track. The question is, can she do it in 12 months. What are the trade-offs?

Following the path of Dr. Oby Ezekwesili’s footsteps and Dr. Igwe Aja-Nwachukwu’s reform agenda, Professor Rufai has acknowledged that she understands the scope of the problems she has inherited. She has appealed to stakeholders in the country and abroad to work with her to meet the challenges caused by MDG and EFA. She said, “We really know that we do have problem but I know that if we work hard, with the nation in mind, with the fact that we have to ensure that we perform in the education sector, being the key to success of all sectors of the nation’s economy, we will succeed.” 

What is the education roadmap? In 2007, the FME released a 10-Years Strategic Education Plan under the auspices of former Minister of Education, Dr. Aja-Nwachuckwu. The FME’s vision is to “become an emerging economy model, delivering sound education policy and management for public good.”  To accomplish this vision, FME has made policy changes that include: strong leadership, competent policymakers, qualified personnel, existence of institutional capacity, renewed team spirit and commitment to sector reform, and new organizational structure, among others.  The FME formed task teams which addressed access, equity, and quality issues.  The task teams then identified 11 focus areas: education, economy and competitiveness, curriculum, instruction and teacher quality, reform of the Federal Ministry of Education and parastatals, information and communications technology (ICT), physical infrastructure, standards, accountability and academic assessment, examination ethics and campus safety, communications strategy, equity, governance and politics, and education finance. Another aspect of the roadmap is the proposal to create a new Department of Science and Technology from the current Basic and Secondary Department at the FME, with a view to strengthening the government’s efforts at encouraging the study of science and vocational education.

Minister Rufai’s has formed a task force to oversee the implementation of the action plan and to monitor and provide guidance. She stressed the need to “focus on those interventions that have maximum impact on the education sector and which are attainable within a twelve month frame.” Consider that there are over 55 million students attending more than 94,000 public schools and over 27,000 private schools in over 15,000 local school districts in Nigeria. The biggest challenge for Minister Rufai would be providing the incentives for those individuals dealing with students at the state and local levels, in order to change the mindset of mediocrity and apathy.

I have argued elsewhere that the problem facing the nation, particularly in education, is not the lack of technical know-how, workable and well-intentioned national policy on education nor the lack of capital to adequately fund education, but the main problems are the failure to implement a clearly defined and clearly articulated vision and goals of
education, and the reluctance by the leadership to hold individuals accountable for their actions. Therefore, the problem of monitoring the implementation of goals and objectives becomes critical. This is where Minister Rufai should focus her attention as she develops working relationships with state and local governments, Nigerian educational organizations in the Diaspora, international donor organizations, and local educational agencies in Nigeria. How she deals with corruption, lack of continuity, and inadequate human and material resources will define her legacy. If these problems are not properly dealt with, they can undermine capacity building, relationship and productivity.

Other challenges include increasing the literacy rate. It is believed that 50 percent of Nigerians are illiterate. To achieve this, she needs to work with the state and local governments as well as the private sector to improve the reading culture of Nigerians by equipping the libraries in the country with books and encouraging e-learning. The poor performance of students in the last Senior School Certificate Examinations, conducted by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO) should be of concern to her. The recent results from NECO that only two percent of candidates that sat for the November/December 2009 SSCE passed are a gloomy one. As a consequence, many people have asked for a reexamination of all educational agencies. Another area of concern is the persistent industrial actions occasioned by government insensitivity to workers’ demand and keeping to agreements, which lead to people calling for the declaration of a state of emergency in education. Another area of concern is funding. Many people have called for additional funding for education.

Still, other challenges include managing strikes or ensuring that government keeps to the terms of agreement between it and various unions in the sector. These are the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and their counterpart in Colleges of Education, ASUP and COEASU, the Senior Staff Association of Universities (SSANU) and those of polytechnics and colleges namely SSANIP and COESS as well as NASU in all the institutions. These issues cannot be fully resolved in 12 months, but Minister Rufai could plant seeds for a new beginning in the implementation and monitoring process. This is where her reform effort would have the most impact.   

Minister Rufai has shown that she is aware of the internal politics as well as the myriad of problems facing Nigerian schools. She should be steadfast on her vision as she shifts emphasis to implementation, monitoring, visionary leadership and good governance. If she succeeds, this will certainly be her legacy.
Another area of passion is sports. Should Minister Rufai collaborate with Minister of Sports, Isa Bio to bring sports back in our schools?  

Consider that in 2009, former Minister of Sports, Engr. Sani M. Ndanusa called on state and local governments to expedite an action plan to construct community sports centers across the country, and to support his “sports roadmap” plan, which include: grassroots sports development, establishment of academies, increase private sector involvement, and sports in schools. Minister Bio has indicated that he will not deviate for Ndanusa’s sports roadmap, and is planning to stage a “sports summit” to examine the challenges of sports and the way forward.  

What should the role of Nigerian sports and educational organizations in the Diaspora be?

One of the leading organizations in the United States is the Coalition of Concerned Nigerian Educators – USA (CCNE-USA). This organization is comprised of Nigerian-born educators domiciled in the United States and other like-minded professionals committed to the transformation of Nigeria’s education system in facilitation of the nation’s economic development. An outgrowth of the desire for meaningful engagement in the educational reform efforts in the homeland by U.S.–based academics with teaching, research, and leadership experience at all levels and sectors of the American educational system, its members are committed to a structured process, through public-private partnerships, that bring Diaspora academics together with Nigerian education policy makers and other Nigeria-based stakeholders in conversations and strategic action aimed at finding solutions to the crisis that handicaps the nation’s ability to meet its Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015. CCNE is committed to a change agenda and Diaspora engagement at all levels of government (federal, state, and local) and all sub-sectors of Nigeria’s education sector – Basic, Secondary, and Tertiary. The goal is to identify and implement relevant best practices in   policy, practice, and educational delivery that will close the achievement gaps in all sub-sectors. To this end, CCNE has established a mechanism for engagement with the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) in the implementation of the FME’s strategic plan – “The Roadmap”. The mechanism calls for Diaspora academics and educators to serve on Roadmap Implementation teams on the federal as well as the state levels in selected states. There is an urgent need for all sports organizations in the Diaspora to organize first and then call for a “Diaspora Summit on Sports Development.”  

Finally, as Minister Rufai looks forward to 2015 and the nation looks forward to 2020, it is critical to break away from the traditional structure and mindset, and the archaic delivery of education.  The Nigerian educational leadership, at all levels, will need to refocus and redirect the creative energies of the sector as it grapples with how to adapt to changes brought on by the forces of globalization, global economy, and new knowledge and technologies.  The vision for education in Nigeria has been expressed and articulated through various documents, including the National Policy on Education (1981), which was revised in 2004.  The mission statement of the FME is to promote quality education and life-long learning relevant to the dynamics of global change, through effective policy formulation and the setting and monitoring of standards at all levels, and the delivery of tertiary education through federal institutions. Time will tell.