Public Private Partnership: A Panacea for crises in education sector

by Funso Adegbola
It will be stating the obvious to say that the education sector in Nigeria is fraught with difficulties. UNESCO recommends that governments should invest about 26% of their budgets on education, but in Nigeria we spend a paltry 6%!

Let us examine some quotes about Education in Nigeria, and I feel there is no better quote than one by the only Nigerian Nobel Laureate, an Old Boy of the Government College Ibadan (GCI) and, I dare say, my father’s soulmate, Professor Wole Soyinka, who in the Punch newspaper of October 14, described in the headline as “ Nigerian education horrifying, country in serious trouble.”

Incidentally the occasion was the 90th anniversary of GCI. He continued by saying “We are really very low, education wise.” He praised the GCI Old Boys Association (GCIOBA) for all the great work they had done in restoring the past glory and quality of the College. He urged the government to leave them alone without interfering with their affairs. “Let them bring back to everyone’s mind the possibility of what education can be”, the renowned writer said.

Those words are from a world-class writer, who had his beginning in GCI.

Another Old Boy of GCI, Professor Femi Osofisan , said “government needs to invest more in education”, adding that infrastructure and teachers’ welfare and salaries should be improved.

The President of the GCIOBA, Dr. Wale Babalakin, said the college had fallen into disrepair. He explained that in the last one year, the group had spent over N500m to renovate the school’s structures. He narrated how GCIOBA had ” built 2 houses to a state that they are better than most university hostels. We have 3 remaining. An old boy fixed the road. Another old boy did the entry fence, while another one is doing the field. We will rebuild it and cooperate with the Oyo State Government”.

The nexus between education and economics

Nigeria doesn’t feature in Africa’s top 10 in terms of rapid positive change. World Bank data confirms that the African countries who have been most successful (Top 10) at reducing poverty over the course of a 15-year period spanning Year 2000 to 2015 are Tanzania, Chad, Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Congo DRC, Ethiopia, Namibia, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda.

Indeed , Nigeria now leads the world in two appalling statistics. First, we have the largest number of out-of-school children (10.5m), and that is more than twice the population of Finland!

Second, Nigeria has the highest total number of persons living in extreme poverty-90million approximately! This was not the case in 1993, when Nigeria was at par economically and in social development with Malaysia, Indonesia and various Asian tigers.

Atedo Peterside , Economist and Chairman of StanbicIBTC, in his article ‘Building and Sustaining a Strong Economic Future for Nigeria’ published in ’This Day’ newspaper of Tuesday October 8, 2019, said “There is a frightening and ominous link between these 2 sets of statistics because children who are ill-equipped in terms of basic primary education are likely to be the most difficult to integrate into a 21st Century economy. Many of them were born in poverty and will remain in poverty, unless we do something urgently to rescue them. Personally, I believe that giving them qualitative education, rather than poor education, for children of the poor, is the best way to rescue them. Even more worrying are the regional disparities that show up when socioeconomic data is disaggregated. For instance the WASSCEMay/ June 2019 results show that 9 out of the top 10 states with the best results are from the South-East and South-South zones. Lagos State is the only top 10 entrant from outside of these 2 zones. Conversely, of the bottom 8 States on this same Exams results chart, 5 are from the North-West, whilst 3 are from the North-East zone.”

Challenges of the Nigerian educational sector

Among problems plaguing the educational sector are the poor quality of teaching. This is not unconnected with the very poor outcomes in external exams as well as the unemployability of nearly 70% of graduates of Nigerian universities. The infrastructure in the public schools is often dilapidated, and students study in classrooms with no roofs and often sit on floors with deep pot-holes. There are no textbooks, exercise books, science equipment, computers, consumables like white or even old black boards, markers, even chalk , reagents for science experiments etc. Yet, these students are expected to compete with their peers in private schools. This is a most unfair playing field.

It is obvious that government alone cannot provide education for all Nigerian children. We thank the Oyo State government for providing free education to all primary and secondary school students.

However, even though it is ‘free’, government is paying, taxpayers are paying. As they say, there is no free lunch even in Freetown! I will share my own experiences of government and private partnership in Education. The private sector can help government deliver on its promise for qualitative education for all Nigerian children, if government would create a fair and equitable partnership with the private sector. If it could create an enabling environment and infrastructure such as potable water and uninterrupted electricity supply, giving them autonomy as well as incentives such as tax breaks, concessions on duty payable on educational materials etc.

The Finland example
Finland has 100% literacy and provides free education up to doctorate level for all Finnish citizens. It started Free Education decades after Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo’s free education scheme in the Western Region. But, currently Finland has one of the best educational systems in the world and people come from all over the world to understudy their educational sector.

I was there in October last year with some members of the Association of Private Educators in Nigeria (APEN). One thing the Finnish always say is that no country can totally copy their system, it works for them but it may not work for us in its entirety, as a country. We can only take some aspects and adapt it to fit into our own environment.

For example, Finland has population of 5.513million! This is less than the population of Ibadan let alone Oyo State. But we can learn some things from them. Finland has technical universities as well as traditional universities. The plumber, carpenter, lawyer, doctor, mechanic and teacher all go to university and earn the same range of salaries. Everyone is a professional and educated in their own field of endeavour. The most highly respected professionals in Finland, are the Teachers. The Early Education Teachers must have a minimum of two Masters’ degrees- one of the degrees must be in Early Childhood Education. Here SSCE and NCE holders teach and handle our most precious resource, our pre-school children!

Industries, private and public companies in different areas partner with the education ministry to deliver qualitative education and ensure that the curricula meet the needs of the region or State. For example, if there are gemstones, as natural resources in Iseyin, there will be a university in Iseyin which offers degree in Mining and the companies who mine and refine the gemstones will be located in iseyin.

Companies will share with the university authorities, the skills and knowledge they require and the university curriculum will be tailored based on the industry and workplace needs. Every year throughout the undergraduate’s course of study in Mining, the undergraduate will intern with the mining companies and ultimately be employed in that industry.

There will be other departments that can piggyback on the courses- mining, refining, packaging, marketing, Human Resources, research and development. It is a win-win for the citizens, the government and the private sector. More importantly, the economy of the people in Iseyin would be much improved. They will have better roads, schools, hospitals etc. I think it is about time we started thinking out-of-the-box and smartly too! It is time for a paradigm shift.

What is the goal of education if it doesn’t meet the needs of the industry or workplace? By the way what happened to our Technical Colleges and Government Trade Centres? I remember one being in Oyo where my Mum worked as Magistrate in the 1970s.

Can two walk together unless they agree?

We need a major paradigm shift for private-public partnership to work well together in Oyo State or Nigeria. The Bible says ‘Can two walk together unless they agree?’ We cannot have an agreement unless we are equal partners, if not, we would be UNEQUALLY YOKED!

To say the truth, there is no agreement nor trust between the public and private sectors. At least, I know what obtains in the educational sector. Instead, there is a major disconnect. That is why the centre cannot hold and things have fallen apart. The government officials, instead of treating those of us in the private sector as partners in progress, they see us as threats and rivals to be totally eliminated. I have facts to back this up- several government agencies make unnecessary demands for levies, multiple taxation from private schools as if we are a goldmine or oil bloc.

Recently, OYSAA officials numbering about 12 came to my school with an armed Civil Defence guard, armed with a rifle, another official carried a chain and padlock, they came to my school during school hours! My alleged offence was that the name of my school was on the gate and on the wall!

Who attempts to bully and intimidate a school and indirectly the students like that in a democratic and civilised society? Schools are supposed to be serene and safe and not to be a war zone. Needless to say, the lawyer in me rose up and I took photos, reported them to the appropriate authorities and took them to the court of public opinion- the social media! I am sure everyone involved knows better now.

Successful case-study of a partnership: The Vale College- Bayelsa State Scholarship Scheme

I have the Bayelsa government scholarship scheme which was a tripartite agreement between Shell , the Bayelsa Government and The Vale College as a successful case study. The Shell Producing Development Company (SPDC) had a retreat and reappraised their strategy of building schools and hospitals in the oil-producing states. This was because during crises in those communities, the schools and hospitals often ended up being burnt down, and students’ education were being disrupted. So they decided to start sending the brightest and most talented students to premium schools outside Bayelsa State, so they could learn and mix with the best and brightest children from all over Nigeria, instead of the narrow exposure in their home State.

Thus, The Vale College became the first school in which they introduced this experiment with 25 Bayelsa students. Later the 6-year scheme was expanded to cover 100 students and 4 other schools were included, together with ours. The scheme was introduced during the gubernatorial tenure of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and the expansion of the scheme was his idea.

When Shell officials approached him that they were introducing the scheme for 25 students at The Vale College, he suggested that it be expanded to 100 students and that every year another batch of 100 students would benefit with a projection of 600 students in 6 years and 1000 students in 10 years.

However, the following year, Goodluck Jonathan became the Vice-President and later President. His successor obviously didn’t value the scheme. So, like all good ideas in government, there was no continuity in sending successive students on scholarship. Therefore, only those first 100 students enjoyed the 6-year scholarship for their secondary school education.

Fortunately, when Dr Jonathan became President he invited the 100 scholars to Also Rock in Abuja and promised that the government would also sponsor their university education either in Nigeria or abroad . He kept his promise and I am proud to say those 100 students have finished their Law School and NYSC and are working for their state government or allied agencies.

You can imagine the multiple effects these 100 successful professionals will have on their families, communities, state and Nigeria as a whole.Those students will never forget Dr. Jonathan in the same way beneficiaries of the Free Education policy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and my father, Chief Bola Ige, have never forgotten their benefactors.

Lesson learnt
The lesson learnt from this scholarship scheme is the importance of continuity and sustainability. Education is too important to be toyed with by politicians. The education of children should not be truncated because of change of government. Governments will come and go, but the children’s education and social progress should not suffer. Government should not engage in policy somersaults which will adversely affect the education and future of the Nigerian Child.

My Personal lessons- BOLA AND ATINUKE Scholarship Schemes at The Vale College

On a personal note and learning from the Bayelsa State Scholarship experience, I decided to follow the good example but on a mini-scale by introducing an all expenses-paid scholarship in my parents’ memory for 2 students each year, spanning 6 years of secondary school education at The Vale College. The Atinuke Ige scholarship is for 1 year at The Vale Tutorial College. Only students from public secondary schools can apply.

We started the Atinuke Ige Scholarship in 2013 with the best male and best female students benefiting. So far, 14 students have enjoyed the scholarship and 12 of them are currently in universities, also excelling there. It is important to note that most of the scholars have begun to pay it forward, by giving free Maths and English lessons to bright but indigent students in their communities. These are the kind of legacies and investments that endure.

When you invest in people’s education, you not only change their lives, but also those of their families and society at large. It is this scholarship that an Old Boy of GCI, Oluwatobi Ogundare, won in 2015. This year’s scholars at The Vale College are from Queen’s School and Airforce Secondary School.

In the same vein, in 2014, I started the Bola Ige Scholarship scheme for bright but indigent students in public primary schools to attend The Vale College for the 6 years of their secondary school education. The first beneficiaries are currently in SSS3 and are preparing for their SSCE. I am pleased to report that they are doing very well both in their character as well as in their academic work.

Other sponsors like Femi Oshinbolu and Kayode Adegbola have also embraced this lofty ideal, by giving 6-year scholarship to other students from public primary schools to attend The Vale College. I use this opportunity to solicit for more scholarships from members of GCIOBA for other indigent but brilliant students. God will reward your labour of love and sacrifice, in Jesus’ Name. Amen

* Mrs. Funso Adegbola is the Proprietress of The Vale College, Ibadan.

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