Editor's note: In this piece, Phrank Shaibu, a publicist and special assistant, public communication to Atiku Abubakar, PDP Presidential candidate, writes on the agenda for the education sector by the former vice president.
The question is often asked what makes a great leader; we often debate what makes a great leader in every aspect of our lives, be it business, politics or entertainment. Opinions may differ slightly, however, there are some time-honoured common factors of great leadership which remain the trademark of most of the renowned world leaders.
In other words, there is a congruence of thought that good leadership is a combination of many qualities like charisma, sound education, exposure, and a great deal of common sense which enable leaders to make a way where there seem to be no way- and leave a trail.
It is in the light of the above that the establishment of a university in Yola, Adamawa state which focuses on development issues while providing an education modeled after the best US practices fits neatly into the trail-blazing trait of great leaders admonished by a renowned American author and philosopher, Harold R. McAlindon when he urged leaders “not to follow where the path may lead. But instead, they should go where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Founded in 2004 by former Vice President of Nigeria and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate for the 2023 general election, Atiku Abubakar, American University of Nigeria enrolled its first students in 2005. Since then, it has not looked back; it has continued to meet the needs for which it was set up—to fill the void created by conventional universities which have remained teaching based as against US styled universities which are largely entrepreneurial in model, acting as business incubators and income generators through their entrepreneurial bent.
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With six schools (faculties), offering several undergraduate majors and graduate programmes, students of AUN are the future that Nigeria will need to remain productive and competitive.
For many decades, Atiku has given the education sector significant attention. He knows that for Nigeria to fulfil its dreams - for the successor generation to fulfil the promise of basic service delivery to the ever-increasing population, and even more - it must have a stream of technical and skilled manpower needed to impact life as it is actually lived. Hospitals, for instance, need qualified doctors and personnel and schools, qualified teachers - and farmers, who are the main stay of every nation, need a steady supply of extension workers to keep pace with new farming techniques.
Between 1999 and 2007 when he served as vice president to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the administration recorded significant achievements that are difficult to ignore. For instance, under the Obasanjo/Atiku administration, education got many international recognitions on account of its policy of free tuition in all federal universities
Other achievements include the pursuit and implementation of national policy on space science, implementation of national policy on information technology; reintroduction and expansion of the federal scholarship programme; promotion of establishment of distance learning (open university system); as well as the introduction of free and compulsory Universal Basic Education (UBE).
Riding on these achievements, Atiku has articulated a 5-point plan anchored on unity, security, economy, education and devolution of power to states and local governments, known by the acronym of Unity-SEED which lays great emphasis on development and promotion of science and technical education for the creation of skills for the new economy. To support the country's growth into the 21st Century, the Atiku administration will collaborate with state governments to prioritize science and technical education including ICT and related IT-based programmes.
The policy framework explains how the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) systems shall be improved and capacitated to deliver quality and relevant training and assessment aligned to the Nigeria Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF).
This is the reason that Atiku plans to drive the required investments that will enhance the absorptive capacity of technical and vocational schools. The former vice president is worried that currently, the vocational and technical colleges have inadequate absorptive capacity- there are less than 400 TVET colleges nationwide with total enrolment of less than 200,000 students.
And because this is a bottom-up approach, Atiku plans to increase primary school enrolment from 60% to 90% and the graduation rate from 63% to 82% by 2027. The education agenda envisages an increase in secondary school enrolment from 47% to 80% and the graduation rate from 56% to 75% by 2027.
What’s more? Atiku’s 5-point plan encourages and promotes more schools for girls in science and technology and generally stimulate interest in science courses for women. Incentives for the private sector to set up additional Vocational Enterprise Institutes and to partner with the public sector in skills provision is also on the cards.
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On tertiary education, the central government shall select from existing universities and develop one university in each geo-political zone as Centre of Excellence. The universities shall be encouraged to charge user fees at market rates under a partnership between the federal, state and local governments.
To be sure, nothing in all this is particularly extraordinary. All of these steps and many others in the pipeline are measures that should be taken by any government which desires to place its education sector on a sound footing. The reasons for the planned deep and painful surgery being contemplated by Atiku should make a lot of sense to all concerned because the Nigerian story is the stuff paradoxes are made of. It is the story of poverty and illiteracy in the midst of huge potentials.
An instant revelation of the challenges that confront the nation’s education sector is the fact that, UNICEF statistics reveal that Nigeria has more than 18.5 million children that are out of school, which accounts for 47% of the global out-of-school population.
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Furthermore, Nigeria is among the four worst-performing countries in this area since 1999. These low participation rates perpetuate high illiteracy rates in Nigeria, accentuated along regional lines, with even lower participation in the impoverished rural parts of the country.
But access is not the only challenge facing the education sector: there are critical challenges with regards to quality, relevance and equity. Nigerians presently spend in excess of $1 billion annually to acquire education outside the country. This represents a significant leakage in the economy particularly when a fraction of the amount over 5 years can make a huge improvement in the country's health care and educational systems.
This appalling back story to the sector’s dysfunction is what has fired up Atiku to do a complete overhaul of this all-important sector. If elected president, Atiku will ensure that more parents enroll and keep their children in school. The Wazirin Adamawa believes that strengthening the education system in a manner that makes it more efficient, more accessible, more qualitative and relevant to the needs of the Nigerian economy and society is a task that must be done.
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