In recent news, one Northern state after another has made public intentions to build local universities. Borno State Government restated its commitment to implementing the policy of the immediate past government; Bauchi State Government also announced plans to build a state university; while Kano State Government is planning to build a second state university, after its State University of Science and Technology, even when it was yet to have all its courses accredited. This is in addition to new universities in the region such as those of Taraba and Yobe States. This news gives me more than a little discomfort.

My bone of contention with these plans is not that we do not need more universities, but these governments are misplacing priorities when it comes to matters of education. To start with, the literacy rate in the North is very dismal, not to mention those who have been educated at the basic primary and secondary levels of education. This was made clear in a special report of the Daily Trust Newspapers of 15th October this year. It did a survey of the effectiveness of the Universal Basic Education Scheme started by the Obasanjo administration in 1999. The scheme was designed to provide compulsory, free education up to Junior Secondary levels, to be funded by both the Federal and State Governments. The FG keeps 2% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund into the scheme and allocates money to the states when the states contribute its matching amounts.

However, the newspaper’s investigation found out that most of the states never made their matching grants, denying themselves access to the funds; and in states where they had been given the grants, the education sector is still pathetic. For example, in my state, Borno, only 13% of 15 and 16-year olds can read and write, while 72% of school-age children have never been within the four walls of a classroom; statistics so grim that even the governor admitted he was too embarrassed to state them publicly. Bauchi State has an attendance rate of only 42% among school-age kids. In the midst of this situation, one would expect that common sense would prevail over our governments and develop the basic educational facilities rather than embarking on building universities.

Basic education is the most important level of education because it gives the foundation upon which tertiary education can grow. As much as our tertiary education is in tatters, we still see quite a number of graduates who exhibit brilliance and add value to society and economy. The difference between these value-adding graduates and the others is the educational foundation they received. That is because that is when their intelligence quotient was developed, not to mention invaluable reading and writing skills. But when we abandon primary and secondary schools and focus exclusively on tertiary education, we end up worsening the situation rather than making it better.

I know some readers would object to my views and insist the governments are on the right path, because we need more degree-holders. This much is not in doubt. But let us consider that even developed societies like the United States have only 33% of its population with first degrees. As much as they keep expanding opportunities for their citizens to access tertiary education, they do not misplace the priority of basic education, something we lack in the North in both quantity and quality. Dilapidated schools with kids having classes under trees are still commonplace, and that is even where that is available.

It is a pity that in our politics, being credited with founding a university carries way more points than building/renovating primary and secondary schools, improving curricula or recruiting qualified teachers. Let us not just aspire to have graduates where their degree certificates are not worth the paper they are printed on. Building a quality educational system should be a bottom-up approach. Our focus should for now, be on building more primary and secondary schools and making sure that the minimum every kid should have is a secondary education, and not just one in name, but one that will also have weight in quality. Our policy direction for tertiary education should be in strengthening existing tertiary education and only building new ones when doing so would not choke the basic education system of funds and attention.

Until we do that, the sight of able-bodied young men without quality education, or even any at all; unable to do the most basic of rudimentary things required for modern life; idle and ready fodder for use in crises by mischievous elements of our society would continue to assault us.

9 Comments on this post

  1. In my opinion, establishing state universities in the North is just an opportunity for the guys in government to reap hefty kickbacks from awarding lots of contracts for building the structures. The focus as always is on the structures, not the policy behind establishing the schools. While not undermining the importance of university degrees in the growth and development of the region, priority should be placed on reforming and strengthening basic and secondary education. I had the opportunity to work with a reputable government organization in the UK and was surprised to discover that almost all of my co-workers where mere school leavers, some as young as 16 and 17. I regret to admit that a high percentage of even our graduates in Nigeria would have been unable to carry out that sort of work. We need a very strong basic and secondary education that can properly educate and empower our youths, not new institutions issuing degree certificates that cannot even compete in other countries and in the southern states.

    Ishaya Amaza / Reply
    • structures, structures, structures… I agree. It is discouraging when people discuss legacies of governors and not a mention of policies; but the roads and buildings they erected. The roads are mostly repaired (so they exist anyway). Talking of bottom up approach, people must move the discourse to encompass policies as well before the leaders may think that it actually matters

    • unbiased comment. we want people like you. north as an entity should formulate structure, vision, mission and core values of education so that we can achieve better and competent graduate.

      Usman Ringim / (in reply to Ishaya Amaza) Reply
  2. True. It is a similar matter with primary healthcare which, it turns out, can address most of the causes of death in the country which are hygiene and malnutrition.

    On the other hand, I don’t think we need more degree holders, at least in the technical fields. We need more diploma holders as is the need of a developing country. The misplaced need for degrees has made it meaningless; most degree holders do the works of diploma holders… I know that first hand in the case of engineers.

    bilnigma / Reply
  3. […] come topmost, followed by the quantity of people receiving it. However, many state governments, especially those with some of lowest literacy and enrolment rates into primary and secondary schools are hell-bent on establishing their own universities rather than improving the access to and […]

  4. […] too. Then and only then should the romance with establishing state universities start. Sadly, many a state government in the North still consider establishment of state universities to be more i… than making sure every child has a minimum of quality secondary school […]

    markamaza / Reply
  5. […] with establishing state universities start. Sadly, many a state government in the North still consider establishment of state universities to be more important than making sure every child has a minimum of quality secondary school […]

  6. […] Borno has the ignominy of having some of the most dismal education indicators in the country – only 13% of 15 to 16-year olds in the state can read and write, and only 5% of women are said to have gone to […]

  7. […] that need roads prefer to build airports despite not having enough traffic to sustain them, or those that need more primary and secondary schools building universities. Even if these projects are done at the actual cost without corruption, they still remain a […]

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