Academics support ‘state of emergency’ in education

Following the massive failure of students in ‘O’ level pre-university examinations, Nigeria’s influential daily newspaper The Guardian – in a rare front-page editorial – urged the authorities to declare a state of emergency in education. The vast majority of university lecturers supported the newspaper’s call.

They stressed that education reform was urgently needed if Nigeria’s human resources were to meet the imperatives of this century’s knowledge economy.

In the article titled “National emergency on education now!”, The Guardian called on the political elite to find short- and long-term solutions to an ongoing decline in education.

Dr Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, an academic and member of the newspaper’s editorial board, said the results this year of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, or WASSCE, were woeful. The pan-national certificate is the gateway for anybody wanting to access higher education in Nigeria, other English countries in West Africa and overseas.

In the editorial Charles Eguridu, head of the Lagos office of the West African Examinations Council or WAEC, revealed that out of 1.7 million candidates who sat the examination this year, only 31.3% obtained credits in five subjects including English and maths – the minimum criteria to proceed to higher education.

In recent years, Eguridu said, there had been a steady decline in the performance of students sitting the crucial examination: 38.3% of candidates obtained five credits in 2012 and 36.6% in 2013 against this year’s 31.3%.

National development threat

The Guardian editorial board, comprising reputable personalities from the public and private sectors including academia, reviewed the statistics and declared a need to address the rot in the education sector.

“Indeed, a calamity that threatens national development aspirations is what Nigeria faces with her future at risk. Given this ugly state of affairs, a state of emergency in education is imperative to arrest this recurrent disaster,” the board declared.

“What is needed is concrete action – a redemptive action – to save the country. Nigeria now risks having a situation where there would be no skilled manpower to man the various sectors of the economy.”

The editorial jolted members of the university community, because the best chance of producing good and efficient graduates is for students to enter universities with credible school-leaving results.

The problems facing education in Nigeria are complex. But they are man-made and therefore they are surmountable, as long as there is political will.


One fundamental problem facing all levels of education is the ‘death’ of a reading culture, and this needs to be tackled if the country is to march towards development.

“A reading culture is a vital focal point in the overall development of Nigeria. The practical solution to this problem is the reintroduction of English literature as a compulsory subject in all secondary schools,” stressed Dr Adewale Adeyemi-Suenu, of the department of history and international relations at Lagos State University.

The novel, an important component of literature, is a lubricant that oils the imagination and thinking. “Thinkers in all fields of human knowledge, far and wide, read novels. We must bring back literature to recreate a reading culture.

“Today South Korea, the fifth biggest economy in the world, also has one of the highest reading populations on the planet,” said Adeyemi-Suenu.

Another reform needed, especially for higher education, is a major shift in the curriculum.

Drawing inspiration from legendary author and management consultant Peter Drucker, who argued that this century is for knowledge workers, Nigeria’s politicians must realise that the current curricula in universities cannot produce knowledge workers.

One component of a knowledge economy is that tertiary education must integrate quality education and skills, inculcating a range of skills beyond a student’s narrow specialisation. The brain (education) and the hand (skill) should form the basis of a new dawn in reforming university curricula, which should aim to produce graduates relevant to a knowledge economy.

“Germany, Switzerland and South Korea have successfully integrated education and skills acquisition in their university curricula,” said Femi Shaka, a professor of film at the University of Port Harcourt.

It is obvious that reforms will cost money. But the long-term positive effects of a huge investment could transform the country.

“To ensure the success of this education agenda it is imperative that Nigeria must implement, without delay, her pledge to the UNESCO declaration that each country must allocate, every year, at least 26% of its annual budget to education.

“Our country has the resources. We must draw inspiration from the South Korean model,” said a former vice-chancellor who did not want to be named.