Still on the NECO 'Disaster'

THISDAY Newspaper- David Apeh

The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) is constrained to respond to the write-up: “Still on the NECO Disaster”. A curious thing that happened on the back page of the March 31, edition of THISDAY necessitated this write-up with a view to educating the public but particularly people that head education ministry without adequate knowledge of the activities of parastatals under their ministry.

The piece was itself a disaster for lovers of education, coming from a Commissioner for Education, who should know better. While reviewing reasons for the mass failure in the recently released NECO results, the Kwara State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi, wrote and I quote: “If we count backward, we would find that majority of these children who failed this examination must have started school in the last 10 or 11 years, about the same time that UBE was introduced in this country. Therefore, these are the UBE children. They are the children who passed through a system that promoted them automatically from one class to another, whether they passed or not. The UBE did not want to leave any child behind, now we have ended up crippling all the children.”

For a Commissioner for Education not to know the accurate age of UBE in Nigeria is ridiculous, to say the least. Assuming he does not know, this is a piece of information that a Commissioner for Education, who knows the functions of his State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) under his supervision, can obtain.
Simple arithmetic and not mathematics shows that those who wrote the said NECO examination could not have been UBE children as the commissioner stated. The Federal Government of Nigeria launched the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme in September 1999 for the purpose of achieving compulsory, free and Universal Basic Education, and as Nigeria’s response to the achievement of Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The UBE Programme, as a Policy reform measure, was established by the UBE Act of 2004. It is aimed at rectifying distortions in the basic education delivery in Nigeria and embracing basic education in the formal and non-formal sectors. It is important to point out that UBE means first nine years of continuous education, covering six years of primary and three years of junior secondary education. This programme has been implemented for about ten years now. The first in-takes of the programme that registered in September 1999 have just concluded the JSS and are in their first year of SSS.
The Commissioner contradicted himself when he agreed in his write-up that UBE was about 10 or 11 years old. It takes a minimum of 12 years to be eligible to sit for the SSCE, so how did he come to the conclusion that the programme, which is in its 11th year, could have produced candidates for last year’s November/December examination?

Perhaps our Honourable Commissioner has forgotten that so many factors are responsible for failure at examinations. We are not here to defend the NECO Registrar, but to simply educate our Education Commissioner who is supposed to know better on issues relating to education in general and basic education in particular. While we are not denying the fact that he acknowledged some of the good things that have come out of UBE, he was economical with words when he wrote in the same article that: “The UBE has certainly contributed something to our education, especially in the provision of infrastructure. But we all know that a classroom does not guarantee that children would learn anything. After operating the UBE for more than 10 years, I think it is about time we reviewed the policy critically and honestly to focus more on quality rather than mass education.”

This commissioner belongs to the class of people who criticised Chief Obafemi Awolowo when he introduced the free primary education in the Western Region in 1955. But the results are there for all to see today. I want to think too, that he must be one of the critics of some Governors who introduced free and compulsory education in 1979. The same person will not hesitate to include in a paper for his Governor the priority that must be given to the realisation of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as Education for All (EFA) goals. The UBE mass access concept was to ensure the achievement of EFA as well as the MDGs, on or before 2015. It is not unlikely that our Honourable Commissioner himself is a product of free primary education.
In the process of finding more reasons for the mass failure, he went further to show his limited knowledge of education concepts, when he argued that a child should have pedagogical skills. When did pedagogy become a skill to be possessed by a child and no more a teaching strategy for a child? After all, we all know that teaching of children means pedagogy from pediatric, while the teaching of adults is andragogy. Read the part of the article of our Honourable Commissioner for Education: “When a child leaves the primary school without the basic pedagogical skills, there is little or nothing a subject teacher can do at secondary school level to compensate for these.”

Let me make one point clear, I am not writing to defend NECO; after all, NECO Registrar has provided reasons for mass failure. Among such reasons was the massive participation in the NECO examination by workers, who hardly had time to prepare adequately for the examination. Again another reason attributed to failure was the closure of schools for a long period of time because of strikes by teachers. However, what attracted me to the article was the wrong information provided on UBE. This, I believe, must be corrected to put the records straight.
The passage of the UBE Act in 2004, paved the way for the annual release of 2 per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Government as an intervention fund to support the implementation of the UBE programme in the 36 States and the FCT as from 2005 fiscal year. The funds have solely been applied to assist the States and the FCT o address access, equity, and quality in basic education delivery. To date the sum of N119,047,675,189.98 was allocated, while N82,499,914,009.17 was disbursed to states and the FCT.

However, due to low commitment of some of our Governors to basic education, they have not been able to fully access the funds. To date more than N36,547,761,178.81 has not been accessed by States. In addition to this, text books on core subjects like English, Mathematics and Basic Science with assorted titled library books for the use of students in the Junior Secondary School were distributed to States through their SUBEBS.
As part of the efforts of the Government to reduce the gap created as a result of shortage of teachers, NCE certificate holders were recruited and posted to States on the ticket of Federal Government for two years after which States were expected to absorb them in their school system. The first batch of these teachers was 40,000 for the years 2006-2008 sent to the 36 States and the FCT out of which 1,200 served in Kwara State. The State absorbed 600 of these teachers leaving 600 unemployed. Again, training and re-training of teachers are on going activities towards quality assurance as capable teachers will certainly deliver the best to their pupils. We remember that the tone of education is always determined by the quality of teachers. These and other activities have been carried out in the various states of the Federation by UBE to ensure access, equity and quality in the basic education system.

It is therefore necessary for our Honourable Commissioner to endeavour to consult its SUBEB while writing on issues relating to UBE in future to avoid submission on wrong premise.
•APEH is the Principal Public Relations Officer of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).


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