REMARKS BY VP YEMI OSINBAJO AT A RETREAT ON THE CHALLENGES FACING THE EDUCATION SECTOR IN NIGERIA AT THE BANQUET HALL, STATE HOUSE, ABUJA.
Let me first commend the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, not just for hosting this retreat, but more importantly for subjecting the education plan to critical interrogation so that all of us have had a chance to contribute to developing what everyone agrees is the most important foundation we can lay now and for the future.
I also want to commend and thank both Professors Omolewa and Okebukola for the very excellent direction they have brought to the proceedings here today, and always for their informed insights. These are veterans and I’m sure by just listening to them, you can tell that they have gone through every possible education plan. I’m glad to see that they are not cynical and they are still very hopeful that we will get it right.
I just wanted to make a few comments before I declare the proceedings closed. I think that for everything that we’ve heard, the most important things for now are implementation, implementation, and implementation!
There is nothing that we need to know that we don’t already know. Everything is somehow or the other in the plan, it is time to just sort this business out and get it done.
One of the things I thought we should clarify for the purpose of making it easier to implement are the objectives of our educational policy. We may want to define it, have a short-term, medium-term, long-term, as they do. I think just in a few words, we should know what our educational policy seeks to achieve.
One of the things that occurred to me as I thought through the educational plan is that our educational plan must address the challenges we face in the next few years. I believe that this particular plan must be designed to serve the 4th largest population on earth, which is Nigeria. The moment we overtake Malaysia, we would be the 4th largest on the earth.
So what sort of educational policy or system would address the concerns and needs of that kind of population, which will provide high paying jobs, food, shelter and healthcare. I think if we focus our minds on the main challenges that we would be addressing in the next two decades, it is easier for us to see how every other thing would fall into place. There is no way that we are going to have the kind of population we are going to have and we are already seeing 2.6% increase every year in population. We are galloping away in terms of actual numbers and yet human resources are barely catching up.
What sort of education should we be looking at? I think that the plan adequately addresses that. I would just like to see some sort of streamlining of that. One of the priorities I think we should emphasize, and it’s in the plan, but it just requires more emphasis, is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I believe it will be very difficult for us in the coming years to achieve the objectives of providing food, shelter, and good jobs without emphasizing STEM.
The way forward for our country is the emphasis on those critical things. Of course, the humanities and every other thing are also important, but just in terms of looking at how development has taken place in other places, they emphasized on STEM.
The next issue is; how do we educate the large number of people? I see that we are still talking of more classrooms, which, of course, will be important, but I believe that it is time for us to begin to emphasize now how technology will be leveraged upon to provide mass education. I don’t think just building more classrooms will be able to cope and cope quickly with the numbers that we have today.
When we were working through the N-Power project with the inter-ministerial team, what we have done within the past 18 months is to employ about 200,000 and we are also training them. We have a portal which has a lot of information on a variety of issues like computing, code writing, but we also have devices. They have devices where information can be loaded unto and we are trying to migrate the information to mobile devices. If you have a phone, you can access a lot of this information.
When we are implementing, we must have Google, Cisco and others in the room with us. A lot of them are developing platforms and strategies for mass education, and they can be extremely helpful, especially as we devise the means of educating such a large number of people very quickly.
We mustn’t be stuck in the way we think about education, we must move on, because all over the world, most people are learning good and evil on the Internet. We must adapt whatever we want to learn to all of this. We must recognize that most young people are looking at these devices almost 24 hours of the day. We must take advantage of that because in the years to come, emphasis on classroom and formal sitting down learning is going to diminish.
What we are seeing today already points in that direction. A lot of learning is going to take place online and electronically. We should plan for it in our policies.
The other point I wanted to make is that relevant education is so important. What is it that we should be teaching our young people? What type of education? Sometimes you look at what is being taught, I think one of the most important things is that everything is changing and the way that we teach is changing very quickly.
Some of us, who have spent all of our lives teaching, have also recognized that perhaps the way we taught certain things is not even right. For example, the whole idea of giving notes in class, especially in a university, is probably not the best. I reviewed my approach to teaching about 10 years ago, and I thought that it might be better to actually pose the questions to the students. This is not an invention of mine; it is the so-called Socratic Method, tried and tested in the US and several other places and what we now call clinical education in Law. So you are actually posing the questions to the students and they are collaborating to answer the questions.
This is the sort of strategy and method being used today; you tell them the problem and get them to think the answers through. You generate critical thinking in the students as opposed to giving notes and telling them what to do. Many times, the students just cramp the material and just regurgitate them; they are not able to work effectively in the industry, business and commerce.
It is important to understand what it is we want to teach students; what sort of learning is important and will be important in the next few years. There are certain things that may not be very useful anymore. It might be important to look at those things and teach things that will be important in the next few years.
The other question I wanted to raise is that we have talked about girl-child education and out-of-school children; what I am yet to see is the implementation strategy. Where are the girls? How many are they? I have seen some of the statistics, the NBS has some depressing statistics, but what is the method we want to use to first encourage families of the girls to ensure they go to school, and also what are the methods we want to use?
For example, there are statistics that show, especially in certain states in the North, several women under the age of 25 are illiterate. How do we deal with educating that segment who obviously have missed the opportunity of going to primary and secondary schools?
I think we should spend some time looking at those issues and developing a plan for that; so we have a plan for girl-child education that is detailed and costed. These are huge areas that we must move on to very quickly. The female population, according to NBS statistics, is almost equivalent to the male population. So we are talking about almost half of our population that may be uneducated unless we have a clear plan.
Same goes for out-of-school children, the figures range from 10 – 12 million, but what is the plan? I read in the plan about building more schools and training more teachers. I think we must look at some of the flexible learning skills to see how we can use them. I have a short note which will be passed on to the Minister of Education and those compiling the communique.
Another last point I would like to make is on educating on citizenship. There must be some kind of education for citizenship and it should play a prominent role in the plan. One of the critical things that many countries do is that they teach their young people how to be citizens of their country and be proud of their country.
I think it is so important we do that, because sometimes we find out that unless you actually tell people things, they don’t know anything about the past. Very few people know anything about the past.
While I was a commissioner in Lagos State, the Governor and I stood on the ramp at the round house. Some young boys were playing football down the ramp. I told the Governor nobody knows the Abraham Adesanyas, and his counterparts. These were people prominent in the AD at the time; we were talking about legacy and the conversation turned to whether people know them. People don’t know any history; the Governor disagreed and said Abraham Adesanya was very prominent.
I told him we should call one of the boys playing football, we called three of them and asked if they knew Abraham Adesanya. He asked, “Is he the one that plays for Julius Berger?” The governor held his head! You don’t know how little people know.
That is really the problem we have, we have a population of young people who may have studied and gone to school, but have very little knowledge of history and their nation, and so they just base everything on stereotypes and what they are told. They have no real way of testing their ideas and becoming true citizens. So we need to write it into the plan, something that helps to educate our citizens.
Having said all these, I want to thank everyone for giving so much of your time and paying attention to all that have been said today. A final point I want to ask NUC is this business of insisting a university must have certain hectares of land before establishing a university. I don’t know whether that takes into account, that today so many universities are occupying relatively smaller places. In any event, does that take into account all the technology available now, online universities and all that?
I hope there is flexibility enough to take into account universities that want to use technology to train, because after a while there won’t be hectares of land for those that want to teach.
Thank you all very much.
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