Last week Saturday was a great day for several Nigerian school age children (mine not included) as they sat for the national common entrance examination into 102 unity schools, 6 years after it was shelved by the Olusegun obasanjo administration. The reintroduction of the common entrance examination by President Umaru Musa yar’ adua had been received with mixed reactions by all and sundry. The pro- privatization of secondary schools cluster had taken the development in bad faith calling the exercise one in futility, but this policy reversal in the education sector had been long in coming following the election of a new president last year and perhaps maybe the president sided with the welfare minded parents since he was once a lecturer.
But then only 60,000 students turned up for Saturday’s exams, a far-cry from several hundreds of thousand that usually wrote the exams in the past. Well some may argue that was 6 years ago. Undeniably true, but then the figure portends a grave danger for the renowned 102 federal government colleges and their future. The former minister of education, Dr. Ngozi okonjo-iweala had vehemently argued that the schools catered for a miserly ten percent of secondary school admission demand but then accounted for more than 75% of the ministry’s yearly expenditure; a development she termed as unjustifiable, leading to her call for a corporate sector involvement in the management of the schools. ,Though I was never swayed by the high sounding egalitarian plans of the former minister this poor turn-out at a once all sold- out, hard to obtain examination forms and admission placement may just be the arsenal needed by the pro -privatization, sell off all government secondary schools to the highest bidder caucus to begin its clamour for the sale of the schools. Ordinarily the federal government may be tempted to adduce the reason for the low turn-out on the premature 6 year ban. But then that will be an assessment on the peripheral, for if the federal government is true to itself then it should ask several angry parents who are increasingly wary of the poor infrastructural standards of most of the federal government colleges; many of these parents have hauled their wards to private schools. Inadequate infrastructure in government owned schools coupled with regular policy somersaults, without doubt has been the greatest clog in the wheel of progress. In eight years Nigeria has moved from 6-3-3-4 to 9-3-4 and back to 6-3-3-4. At the end of day the hundreds of thousand secondary school students aren’t any wiser.
The several thousand private secondary schools scattered around Nigeria’s 36 states have been the beneficiaries of this hoopla, well equipped with functional laboratories and up-to-date libraries the age-old school debate between public and private school is gradually becoming a one sided war.
The idea of sending children to public schools is no longer fashionable, the strong desire to send secondary school students to federal government colleges has reduced drastically because these schools which were once national models have suddenly become relics of the past. It is not about making or changing educational policies from time to time but about a complete revamping of the ailing system