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2020: How strikes, COVID-19, govt wrecked education


Umah Muhammed
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The education sector took off in 2020 on a very sluggish note because federal and state governments as well as the private sector were working on their annual budgets. Stakeholders were also expectant of government policies and programmes in the sector.

President Muhammadu Buhari announced the national budget late. Out of the total budget of N10.33 trillion, the Federal Government allocated N671.07 billion to education, representing 6.7 per cent. The federal and state governments’ budgets for education fell below the benchmark of 26 per cent recommended by the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

ASUU’s nine-month strike

Three months after the sector begun to pick up, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) commenced an industrial action on March 23, 2020.  The strike paralyzed academic activities in federal and state universities.

The issues in contention included rejection of the Integrated Personal Payroll Information System (IPPIS), renegotiation of the 2009 signed agreement, Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) and other outstanding demands. Students spent nine months at home as the federal government and ASUU traded blames over the strike.

Both parties met several times, government withheld the salaries of the lecturers as it applied the “no work, no pay” labour law. After prolonged negotiations, ASUU suspended the nine months’ old strike on December 23.

Government approved N40 billion for EAA, a new payment platform and reconstituted the renegotiation committee. Less than 24 hours after the strike was called off, non-academic staff rejected the sharing formula for the EAA. They decried the allocation of 75 per cent to ASUU and 25 per cent to the three other staff unions.

COVID-19 pandemic, WASSCE and SSCE

Another major issue that slowed down the sector was the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Government, on March 29, 2020, shut schools. Many schools, particularly private ones, could not pay teachers and non-teaching staff for months.

Private schools engaged their students via online teaching and some even conducted exams through the same platform. Unfortunately, many public schools, including universities, struggled to provide online teaching for their students.

Six months after, government directed the re-opening of schools nationwide on September 21, stressing that COVID-19 protocols should be strictly observed. Wearing of face mask was made mandatory for students, teachers, non-teaching staff and even visitors to schools.

During the COVID-19 crisis, 1,549,740 SSSIII students couldn’t write the May/June 2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in April. Government postponed the school exams twice.

To avert mass failure, schools adopted online special tutorials for SSSIII students from April till August.  WASSCE results were released on November 2. Against all odds, 1,003,668 candidates, representing 65.25 per cent, obtained credits and above in five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics.

The conduct of 2020 Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) to be written by 1,209,992 by the National Examinations Council (NECO) was postponed twice. It was initially scheduled to start in July. The exam was conducted in October 2020, but stopped again because of the #EndSARS protests.

At the time of writing this story, some candidates had not concluded their papers.

UTME and pending admissions

The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) escaped the COVID-19 pandemic.  The board conducted the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) from March 14 to April 14 before the outbreak of the pandemic. Over 1.9 million candidates wrote the exam nationwide and in three foreign countries.

JAMB and heads of tertiary institutions met on June 16 to kick-start the admissions exercise.  After the meeting, cut-off marks of 160 for universities, 140 for polytechnics and 100 for colleges of education and mono-technics were approved. However, only a few institutions managed to conduct admissions.  At the time of this report, many had not even started the admission exercise.

LASU union and VC crises

The Lagos State University (LASU) sacked three ASUU union leaders and backed the Dr. Ibrahim Bakare-led executive committee despite the national body’s rejection. The national leadership of ASUU recognises the Dr. Isaac Oyewunmi-led executive and wrote the VC to disown the Bakare faction.

Also, the university was engulfed in a VC selection crisis due to alleged irregularities and manipulation. Petitions were sent to the Visitor, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who cancelled the process and directed the Governing Council to start afresh. He said the council violated the guidelines for selection.

Abduction of students

In 2020, the sector witnessed abduction of students and teachers in the North.  On August 2020, bandits attacked a secondary school in Kaduna State.  One person was killed, four students and a teacher kidnapped.

On December 12, 2020, over 344 pupils of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, were abducted later, and on December 18, they were freed.

The out-of-school kids issue remained unresolved in 2020. The figure of 14 million may not even be accurate because of the problem of data collection in Nigeria. 

UNICEF, in the year under review provided, $15 million COVID-19 grant to 16 states, representing 63 per cent of schools of kids enrolled in schools.

Other staff unions such as the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), National Association of Academics and Technologists (NAAT), Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics (SSANIP), Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) and Senior Staff Union of Colleges of Education in Nigeria (SSUCOEN) at one point in 2020 went on warning strikes to protest the non-implementation of their demands. These also disrupted service delivery in tertiary institutions in the country.

World ranking

Again, Nigeria’s tertiary institutions did not fare better in Webometric or Times High Education ranking. Institutions in countries such as Ghana, South African, Egypt, Morocco, Lesotho and Algeria ranked ahead of universities and polytechnics in the country.

UNILAG crisis

Another major issue that rocked the education sector was the University of Lagos (UNILAG) crisis between the Governing Council under the then chairman, Dr Wale Babalakin and the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe. 

The removal of the VC on August 12 without following due process triggered protest on campus by the four staff unions. They also rejected the appointed acting VC, Prof Theophilus Soyombo.

Buhari intervened and asked Babalakin and Ogundipe to step aside. A special visitation panel was set up to investigate the crisis.  Before the outcome of the report, Babalakin resigned his position, followed by two other governing council members. ASUU UNILAG branch had passed a vote of no confidence on the council chairman.

On November 11, Ogundipe was reinstated and was given him a rousing welcome.

Other issues

These included the discovery of 100 fake professors by the National Universities Commission (NUC); UNILAG sexual harassment involving three senior lecturers and another lecturer from Yaba College of Technology as well as several others; Accountant General of Federation’s directive to the Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Prof Kayode Soremekun, to refund N76 million; the crisis in Federal Polytechnic, Bida, Niger State, over Rector’s retirement in February and he remained in office and the University of Ibadan vice chancellor selection crisis.

Stakeholders’ reactions

A Professor of Management Accounting, Crawford University, Igbesa, Ogun State, Comfort Omorioge, said education experienced a major set back in 2020 with the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the nine months old ASUU strike: “Many schools were settling down for academic work when the lockdown was announced.

“External examination, entrance/qualifying examinations were suspended and formal learning process grounded. The situation created an opportunity for schools/universities, especially the private ones to commence online teaching and learning.”

A teacher at St John’s Secondary School, Kuto Abeokuta, Ogun State, Mrs Oluyemisi Taiwo, said the major striking incident that occurred in 2020 was the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic that crippled the academic calendar: “The closure of schools reinforced teaching and learning approaches from pre-primary to higher learning institutions where they introduced online learning.

“Despite the online classes, some schools were unable to participate because they did not have ICT facilities to help in that area. This brought set back because the sector could not achieve much in a crippled situation.”

Proprietress of Berth-Abel Montessori School, Yenogua, Bayelsa State, Mrs. Monisola Aiyekunsyin, observed that the education sector in 2020 was like climbing down the cliff: “It shows that as a nation there are a lot of loopholes and we must fill the loopholes. COVID-19 is an eye-opener for the nation to embrace remote learning, that is, online education, and to ensure both parents and students adapt to it.

“We have a lot of grounds to cover, for nine months students sat at home. It is unfortunate that our leaders do not see education as a priority. Our education sector fell below expectation in 2020 and only a nation that takes education serious can thrive.’’

 
Source: The Sun Nigerian Newspaper
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