ASUU, knowledge economy and Vision 20: 2020

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Contrary to the Federal Government's earlier insinuations over the alleged politicisation of some Government's policy decisions in certain quarters, the continued strike embarked upon by Nigeria's Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), beginning from Monday, December 5, 2011, arguably, couldn't have been politicised, but rather carefully-avoided in advance, if the Government had legitimately heeded the previous warning strike and been faithful to the former in the implementation of the FG/ASUU Agreement, reportedly endorsed in 2009.

It would be recalled that the uppermost labour union of academics in the nation's Ivory Towers also, had forewarned the Government of an indefinite industrial action should it fail to satisfy its specified, reasonable demands. The lecturers' demands include improved funding of the University system to produce world-class graduates that can drive today's knowledge-based economy, improved conditions of service, and extension of existing 65 years' retirement age of senior academics, especially the professors, to 70 years among others.  

Without mincing words, the continual disturbing trend in the all-important education sector of the nation's economy, once more, has brought to the fore the indisputably unique place which quality education occupies in any human society that truly desires to transform all critical facets of its national life to accomplish certain development goals and hold its own in the comity of nations.

However, without adequate attention, particularly in terms of funding, to the human development engine room or think-tank –education– among all other areas of the economy, it is doubtful, as things stand in Nigeria now, if the country yet will be able to implement successfully any hypothetical Transformation Agenda, let alone becoming one of the 20 top economies in the world by year 2020.

Interestingly, education as a fundamental instrument for socio-economic transformation in a society has been described as a process of acculturating the young members of humanity to understand the values and ideals of and become competent members who could make meaningful contributions to the development of their immediate vicinity.

Incidentally, among other multifarious reasons being adduced for the depressing performance of the education industry in Nigeria over time are lack of needed teaching, research and learning facilities, shortage of skilled teachers for the teaching subjects and courses of study, frequent strikes largely instigated by unpaid staff salaries and allowances, official corruption, negative social influences, collapsed value system, exam malpractices, and unsatisfactory conditions of service. Consequently, it's obvious across the country to behold the negative repercussions of the near neglect of all the levels of education and concomitant general poor state of affairs in the sector as of now.

With these observed constraints in the system, the capability of the industry to churn out well-grounded graduates with new aptitudes, innovative thinking, first-class communication, problem-solving skills, teamwork and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills to assist the country in occupying the front seat in the international system, has been hampered disastrously, due to poor attention by the concerned authorities.

Invariably, the adverse effects of defective teaching, learning and research skills being acquired by many products of the nation's struggling educational institutions these days are quite glaring to all to see in virtually all the sectors of the economy.

These can be gleaned in workplaces from aviation, academic institutions, medical practice, legal system, media and communications, governance/political system, sports development, energy, accounting/auditing, oil and gas, manufacturing, security, to entertainment, human capital development experts often say it's predominantly instances of mediocrity all the way. But then, it somewhat defies all logic how obtrusive patchiness can transform a society economically, socially, politically, medically, technologically and otherwise as rightly observed in this clime.

Therefore, with the attendant declining level of much-required, highflying productivity in the poorly prepared human capital across the board, weak institutions and frameworks resulting from these lapses, obviously, cannot push Nigeria further in its stride to actualise the declared Transformation Agenda of the current Administration in the country, aside from the Millennium Development Gaols (MDGs) and Vision 20: 2020, unless quality and functional education is institutionalised and well-funded.

It should be recalled that even in the proposed thematic areas for the National Technical Working Groups (NTWGs) of Vision 20: 2020 document earlier made public, education is clearly stated as one of the 28 key areas deserving priority attention by the Government. Nevertheless, with the shabby treatment being meted out to the academics supposed to drive the think-tank in the education industry cum economy, the possibility of this principal sector's making a marked contribution to these high-sounding development programmes may well remain a pipedream.

Just as many Nigerians and their friends abroad are sometimes cynical of the country's seriousness in accomplishing any discernible transformation, whether MDGs or Vision 20: 2020, with the Government's having the bulk of the nation's resources to deploy for the good of all, it is time to acknowledge the significance of knowledge-based economy as a sine qua non in the fuller recognition of the role of knowledge and technologies in attaining new socio-economic growth and heights in today's world.

For the umpteenth time, sound knowledge, not oil and gas deposits and wealth, is now recognised as "the prime driver of productivity and economic growth". More so, having explored, exploited and allegedly mismanaged same huge oil and gas wealth, in the region of hundreds of billions of Dollars in the past 52 years with little or nothing to show the global world for it, it is becoming clearer by the day to millions of Nigerians, that oil wealth may not enable the country to attain fresh socio-economic development frontiers after all.

With the unsettling, rife social tensions resulting from biting poverty, youth unemployment, hunger, inflation, power failure, insecurity of lives and property and social dislocations across the land, the Federal Government urgently needs to dialogue with the ASUU leadership and honour the labour agreement previously reached with them to avoid further complication of an already dicey situation that incidentally involves these young population in the higher institutions of learning.  

Thus, expecting a "miracle" in connection with the attainment of the Transformation Agenda, MDGs and Vision 20: 2020 without a robust knowledge-based economy, basically engineered by a strong, functional education system as required in modern national economies the world over, is only tantamount to living in a fool's paradise. Nigerian education system requires and deserves the needed attention now.

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