Forty years after its enactment, stakeholders in the education sector are scrutinising the effectiveness of affirmative action policies in the Nigeria education system. Some believe that while the government is trying to promote inclusion on one hand, it is inadvertently promoting mediocrity and marginalising qualified students in favour of unqualified ones too. In this report, NKECHI ISAAC examines if this practice would lead to the desired inclusion that engender patriotism and loyalty or under developing the nation’s education system.
My blood went cold when I saw my son’s name online. He was posted to Federal Government College, Sokoto. How can they post a 10-year-old boy from Lagos to Sokoto, so far away from his parents, to school alone in a northern state where he has no relative or connection?
Those were Mrs Ezinne Nnaji’s words, the mother of an aspiring junior secondary school boarding student, Chinedu Nnaji.
Speaking exclusively on her experience with the quota system in Nigeria’s education sector, Nnaji told the story of how her son wrote the 2019 National Common Entrance Examination with the hopes of gaining admission into the prestigious Kings College, Lagos.
“When the results came out, my son scored 159 out of 200 which qualifies him for admission. We made inquiries and were told he made the merit list for admission but all still boils down to quota available for each state. But his father and I were shocked beyond words when the list finally came out and he was not admitted into Kings College, his first choice not his second choice, Federal Government College, Odogbolu but was flung to FGC Sokoto. It was quite painful because people from other states in the north with lower scores, as low as 40 and 120 got admission into the same Kings College while my son who got better score was denied admission simply because he hails from the Southeast,” she narrated.
According to her, the system simply denied her son the opportunity to get quality, affordable education because of quota system, which is outright marginalisation where mediocrity is promoted against merit in the name of getting equal representation.
Narrating a similar situation, Amina Yusuf, narrated how her younger sister was denied admission into her course of choice in the university even though her score was well-above average because of her state of origin.
“My sister, Asipeter Ramatu, made the cut off mark, she applied for Accountancy in the University of Abuja. She scored 230 while the cut off was 190, but because they said the quota for her state for that particular course at the university was filled up, she was pushed to Education Psychology which she initially rejected. Again, because of her score, the department persuaded her that if she scores above 3.5 in her first year, they will take her back to accounting. Her CGPA was over 3.5 in her second year, sadly, however, she was not given the course and she ended up graduating as an education psychologist,” she recounted.
The presently vexed quota system in higher education as is the case currently in other facets of our national life, was conceived to ensure even development in all the component parts of our country. It was aimed at ensuring inclusiveness and a sense of nationhood, and was thought wise at that time, even when those parts of the country that were educationally backward at the point of independence from colonial British rule should not be left behind. Even representation, even when it meant lowering the standard, was thought to be wise for national cohesion.
There were deliberate efforts to not only establish schools but to also ensure adequate enrolment. Efforts were made to employ quality teachers, even if such teachers were to be sourced from Europe and America.
However, over 40 years later, key players in the education sector are seeing the system which was supposed to be transient and a temporary arrangement as marginalist.
Speaking at a national conference with the theme ‘Exploring the effectiveness of quota system policies in higher education in Nigeria,’ convened by the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (CENTRE LSD) with support from Ford Foundation in Abuja, stakeholders unanimously opined the arrangement has outlived its usefulness and now marginalising students and promoting mediocrity.
In his welcome address, the founding Executive Director of the Centre LSD, Dr. Otive Igbuzor, said the conference was organised to get the result of research commissioned by the centre on the effectiveness of the affirmative action policies in education.
“The conference will not only be diagnostic of the policy problems but will foster and offer an opportunity for suggesting alternative approaches to dealing with the problems and by that ensure improvement and maximisation of the policy. It is well known that policies are formulated to address problems confronting society. No doubt, the policy of federal character or quota in Nigeria was developed to address the problem of education imbalance and close the gap between educationally advanced and disadvantaged states,” he said.
He noted that while the quota system is universal and used in several countries worldwide including India, South Africa, Kenya, USA and Uganda; the system is transitional in many countries but that the policy seems to have become permanent as there is no exit strategy in Nigeria.
Delivering the keynote earlier, Dr John Ejobowah of the Department of Political Science, Global Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada, called for the enforcement of the compulsory, free universal basic education and to punish parents who fail to send their wards to school.
Speaking on ‘Affirmative Action and Inequalities: The Theoretical Slip and the Nigerian Lapses,’ Ejobowah said, there is need for Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 to be enforced especially in the North, to curb the rate of out of school children in the country.
“The law of 2004 on compulsory education should be enforced. There should be compliance. Why pass a law if you cannot enforce it? The law requires parents to send their kids to schools and if they take them out of schools, they have to be punished.
“I do not think there is any case of a parent being tried in court. The Act provides for the court to try parents who violate these provisions. But, so far, I do not know of any recorded case. This is necessary because the universities get their students from secondary schools. ‘‘So, we have to address the imbalances at that level so that the educationally-disadvantaged states can have more students,” he stated.
Ejobowah further said more attention has to be focused on happenings at the primary and secondary education levels.
“This is in terms of bridging the horizontal imbalances and narrowing the educational gap between the North and the South and so on.’’
He said the primary and secondary schools, which he described as the supply line to the universities, were the major areas where there were problems in the education sector.
The don expressed concern that the supply line to universities was not being addressed. “So, it will be futile to do affirmative action at the university levels.’’
Speaking also at the conference, the director-general of National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr Garba Abari, said the quota system was introduced in 1975 to address some educational challenges.
Abari, who was represented by his special assistant, Mr David Akoji, said there were questions 40 years later if the policy had achieved its objective.
He pointed out that this was because of the rate of out-of-school children in Nigeria.
“Today, we are faced with the problem of out-of-school children, especially in the North, providing a ready army for Boko Haram to recruit.
“Worse still, we are faced with the contradiction of students who have scored 290 and such other good marks in JAMB but cannot get their desired courses to study, while their counterparts with lower marks from other regions are being accommodated into such courses,’’ Abari said.
He said NOA would come up with answers to many questions facing the nation in terms of the quota system and urged other stakeholders at the meeting to contribute their quota.
A communique issued at the end of the meeting which had representation from the government, policy makers, educational administrators, civil society and citizens, urged the federal government to evolve an exit strategy for the quota system in the nation’s education sector as part of measures to raise the education standard in the country.
According to the participants at the event, while the quota system is universal and used in several countries worldwide, the system is transitional in many countries but that the policy seems to have become permanent as there is no exit strategy in Nigeria.
“Despite its many weaknesses, the quota system policy in Nigeria has achieved some good outcomes in regional distribution of educational opportunities; one of the reasons the quota system has not succeeded as expected is the inability of the primary and secondary schools to produce the right quality of students to feed into the higher education system. The carrying capacity of universities in Nigeria is one of the major hindrances to higher educational attainment,” the forum said in the communique jointly signed by the founding executive director of the Centre LSD, Dr. Otive Igbuzor and other partners.
Participants agreed that the current quota system, as it is currently constituted, has not delivered the expected outcome, hence, the need to revisit and review the policy and its implementation in terms of geographical coverage and target demographic groups.
“In view of advances in technology and innovation which has significantly shifted the disciplines that drive development, the policy of 60:40 ratios for science and arts courses in terms of admission should be reviewed to reflect current trends. Governments at all levels, federal, state and local governments, should invest in the development and delivery of high quality primary and secondary education, through enforcement of the universal basic education programme, as a means to create a stronger feeder system to connect young people to higher education and bring to effect the intended gains of the quota system.
“Uniform and competitive entry criteria should be enforced for all candidates to replace the quota system applied to the educationally less developed states, in addition to supporting catchment area criteria, both of which can be accommodated under a uniform admission system. Government should make necessary investments to improve the quality of teachers, as well as regular capacity building for teachers; the conference recommends that governments at federal and state levels, look into strategies and opportunities to increase the capacity of existing institutions as against establishing new ones,” it added.
Culled From Leadership Newspaper