Malam Zakariya Zakari is the Deputy Chief of Party
for The Mitchell Group Incorporate, a monitoring and
evaluation services contractor for United States Agency
for International development (USAID). In this exclusive
interview with NASIR DAMBATTA, he bares his fangs on the
stakeholders of the educational sector for failed policies
in the last 30 years, among other challenges plaguing
the sector and what ought to be done to stem the tide of
educational collapse in today’s Nigeria.
Q: What would you consider the biggest challenge to the nation’s educational sector?
Well, policy implementation is the first biggest challenge. When you flash back, you will begin to remember things like 6334 system. There is inconsistency in terms of implementing
educational policies in Nigeria. We really don’t know which policy we are following, really. Second, is the issue of teacher qualification. In most states in the country you realize that teachers are not qualified; either they just
attended Secondary School or they are university teachers without teaching background. So, you find that most of the secondary school teachers in Nigeria today are not qualified in the professional sense of the word, even in so-called
You will also relate quality to government priorities. In the last ten, twenty years, education has not been a government’s
priority. You will find that government gives out contracts for the construction of many schools without being ready for what it takes to keep the system going. For instance, in Kano we have two State universities in addition to the Federal
universities. Now the big question is, are they qualitative? You need to see education as an emblem for Nigeria’s development. We need to begin to view our education from the early stages of learning to the university level as being
preparatory to transforming Nigeria in terms of governance, in terms of technology, in terms of health and in terms of standards of living.
By standards of living, I don’t mean getting a job after graduation, finishing school with the requisite knowledge to transform the system. So, you now have qualified people that would not have a job because getting a job depends on who you know. This is why you end up having the wrong people manning positions in Nigeria today as teachers. It is for the same reason you end up with products of primary and secondary
school as well as universities ending up as educated illiterate; they are supposed to have passed through the school system but instead, it is the system that has passed through them. So the learning process is just mechanical, you just pass out. You might have read Computer Science or telecoms engineering but without a concept of how to apply it in practice. Our educational system should be such that it transforms the society.
What do you think accounts to the problem of policy inconsistency?
Two or three things. One, the policy makers do not know, themselves. Two, priorities that are misplaced. By the time you have a policy devoid of priority, then it becomes something
else. Three, personal interest. Once a policy does
not favour you as a person, you don’t bother about others.
Consequently, we don’t care how the policy works, we don’t care about the plight of teachers, and we ignore the public schools and their deteriorating infrastructure. Probably,
if the elites children were in public schools we would care about the welfare of teachers and worry about keeping established standards. I give you a simple example. If you have children, you work hard to ensure the feed three times
daily, you also ensure that you pay their school fees. When that happens, it becomes not only your duty as a father but also your principle and this is what government should do.
Responsibility for policy-making rests with the government, as the father of all. Government therefore has a duty to ensure that all policies it created on education are followed to the letter.
We should not have a universal basic education programme or State education board as conduit pipe for those in positions of authority. Resource management is part of the process of making policies successful. So, the choice is yours as a
leader; you either make policy implementation difficult to implement or you have policy because it does not serve your personal interest; or you have the policy but the education sector is not your priority. So, we need to have a conscious
and concerted effort that ensures policy makers keep to some principles of consistency in terms of implementation of the wonderful ideas they call policies.
What do you mean by policy makers who don’t know?
What I mean is that policies are not about bringing together veteran civil servants or politicians or forming a committee. No. Policy development comes about in stages and those who form such policies may be difficult people.
In the process of developing policies, the policy makers visit other countries to see how certain policies are working. They take prototypes from wherever around the world and see how they can incorporate it into our own system. The issue is
we are masters of searching for prototypes but lack the ability to localize it. If you can’t make it Nigerian, then you do not know. What you are doing is like the famous computer language of cut-and-paste. That is plagiarism. When you go back a little, when the state education board
started in a place like Kano, it was not really a policy, it was just an idea. Even at that, when you get to the root of it, you will still find that it has been bastardised. You see, we are talking about quality of primary education; we are talking about school feeding; we are talking about paying teachers’ salaries at the appropriate time; we are talking about tracking literacy and numeracy; we are talking about quality control in the schools. We have not had any of these
achieved. Go and look at these five areas with all honesty and you will find that we have not succeeded in twenty years. Add these to the ratio of teacher per student; ratio of people to
classroom; or the ratio of people to toilets; or
proximity of people to water supply. We are also talking about how many students per a dimension of a classroom. These are some of the critical indicators of quality in the learning. To
be frank with you, we have not achieved these in more than 20 years. If I say 30 years I may not be mistaken.
Where do you place graduate of nowadays inabilities in
communication or handling of simple tasks when employed? Is it about the quality or policies of education?
There is a relationship between quality and policy. When policies are well-implemented you will ensure quality. Now, what is happening at all the three different stages of the educational system is that teachers copy from textbooks and
give out. This is called I give you and expect you to give me back. Secondly, when you have 500 students in a lecture room, you don’t expect them to communicate very well because they
don’t know what the teacher is saying; they really do not have the right concentration.
When you have 40 pupils per classroom in a typical primary school, you do not expect the pupils to know what the teacher is saying. And we now have policy where pupils do not repeat
class, they just move on. You see the quality has been compromised because we have an ‘X’ number of pupils per classroom, which we could not implement. So, how do you produce pupils that are able to communicate well? How do
you produce pupils that have passed through a system, are exposed and are able to communicate effectively? It’s not possible. I will show you the picture of children in Bauchi state who sit on stones to learn; when there is inequality even in terms of policy implementation? Schools in the so-called state capitals or urban areas are better than the schools in the so-called rural areas.
That, in itself is inequality or for educational systems in terms of structure. So, there has to be concerted efforts on the part of whoever has the duty to make the policies work, provided they are in tandem with our local peculiarities as
a people or as a nation. Private schools are oftentimes said to be designed to bridge a gap in learning in the public schools. Do you see the private schools impacting on educational standards in today’s Nigeria?
But private schools are not supposed to bridge the gap; they are supposed to complement the public schools; where you have
large population without enough public schools.
In such a circumstance you truly need the private schools. However, it is unfortunate that the private school system in Nigeria has become more of money-making venture than a citadel
of learning; or a system that would impact positively on the nation. Even if your children go to private schools, you still need a home teacher to put them through. Most private schools
now close very late and the children come to their private teachers. So, you are spending more money for your children’s education because you feel it is your responsibility, but
the system is making it impossible. In India, at a point, children were taught by their parents.
In India children were being prepared to sit for London GCE by their parents. Infact, Indian children were not going to regular schools at some point, the fathers or mothers who were
trained mathematicians or grounded in English taught them successfully preparatory to London GEC and they got admitted into United States universities.
Q: Was that a reflection of the disenchantment with the existing
educational system in that country?
Sure. That has contributed to the development of India today. Individuals took the bull by the horns and started to do it, thereby getting the government to take its duty of improving educational standards more seriously. Now , just go round the streets of Abuja and you will be shocked by what you would see in this jet age. You will see children hawking early in the morning as you leave home for office. Children hawking food, some of them hawking recharge cards, or wiping your
windscreen in the middle of traffic. You are left to wonder whether the schools are in session or they are on holiday. This is a daily sight in Abuja. These are school age children and this is happening in this century. I am not unaware of the ravaging poverty in the land. Would you say the private sector has been living up to its billings in terms of supporting the development of education? The private sector has done little or nothing in the promotion of education in Nigeria. I can
think of Oando, which does a lot of scholarship programmes; I can think of Chevron. But in all honesty, the private sector has done little or nothing to help the public schools in this
country for the attainment of qualitative education. Though they are profit-oriented, they should at the future of this country and the future of their investments. They should invest in education even if it’s for the sake of quality workforce. I know of individuals that contribute to the development of education, but one, two, three people are not enough. Some of us should give back to the society. Again it is
also unfortunate that in trying to give back, the alumni of most schools would eat up the money being saved to help the schools. It turns into a form of corruption as some members of the alumni steal the money. What I mean is that the
alumni associations are also conduit pipes for corruption.