Students have highlighted their expectations for the New Year. They urged relevant stakeholders in the education sector to find a lasting solution to issues relating to incessant strike as well as design a more workable framework to foster and enhance development in the nation’s education sector, which according to them, experienced a terrible downturn in the previous year, report ESAN FEMI WILLIAMS (FUOYE), ELIZABETH FADEYI (IBADANPOLY), and FORTUNE AMAECHI (ABSU).
Last year was as turbulent as it was challenging for the country’s education sector. First, the coronavirus pandemic struck in February culminating in school closure at all levels.The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, mandated tertiary institutions to revert to virtual learning to cover up lost grounds.
Ministries of Education in some states activated classes on radio and television for primary and secondary school pupils. There were options for video streaming on You-tube and other Apps.
They also created e-learning programmes as various platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Zoom, and Google classrooms were used in teaching.
However, the tertiary level was unable to cope with the demands of online learning compared to the primary and secondary levels.The e-learning infrastructure of most public tertiary institutions was almost non-existent such that some schools did not even attempt virtual classes.Those that started were unable to continue as a result of poor network, high cost of data, and poor handling of course content, among others.
Also, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on what could be described as the longest strike in the history of the country since 1999. Academic activities were halted for nine months.
The union went on strike last March over the non-payment of salaries of ASUU members who didn’t enrol into the Federal Government’s Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), a payroll software made compulsory for public officials.
The union directed it members not to enrol on IPPIS because it would erode university autonomy. It then developed an alternative,the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which is undergoing integrity test.
It also called on the government to intervene on major issues — renegotiation of the 2009 agreement, payment of earned academic allowances, establishment of visitation panels in universities, revitalisation of infrastructure, stoppage of proliferation of universities, among others.
However, after series of meetings and negotiations, the union on Wednesday, December 23, ‘conditionally’ suspended the strike.
The union said it suspended the nine-month-old strike while monitoring the compliance level of the Federal Government to the concessions they have made.The union’s President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said the agreements reached are to be met between January and March, this year. He noted that failure to meet the agreements would result in a fresh strike.
He said: “The time frame is a bit elastic. There are some items that are supposed to be addressed in January. There are some others that will drag till March or thereabouts.
“What we have done is to give the government the benefit of doubt and that is why we have added the caveat. Should the government renege, our members are not tired of withdrawing their services.”
Nonetheless the challenges which crippled education last year,students want government to prioritise education and find lasting solutions to problems afflicting the sector.
A 300-Level student of the Department of Mass Communication, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Odole Busola Deborah, urged the Federal Government to fulfil its promises to striking academic unions, to put a permanent stop to recurring strike plaguing the nation’s tertiary institutions, stressing that the past year was a bad year for students.
She said: “I hope 2021 will be a better and favourable one if only government will reopen schools early, and as a matter of urgency, concretise all agreements with striking academic unions, to prevent future strikes.”
Okaingbuan Joshua Ohihon, a 400-Level student of the Department of Pharmacy, University of Benin, said: “I don’t believe the ASUU strike and COVID-19, which led to disruptions in academic activities, were appropriately tackled by the government in the previous year.
“I believe things can get better this year. Meanwhile, considering the ASUU strike, government should come to a consensus with striking academic unions to prevent something like this from happening again. If another strike occurs this year, it will affect students psychologically. Most students may even drop out of school because they would believe the education system has failed them. As regards the COVID-19 pandemic, I think there are plans for a second lockdown considering the second wave of the dreadful virus. Government should not allow this disrupt the academic year any longer, but should rather consider other preventive measures to curb the spread of the virus among students. During the first wave of the virus, schools resumed, although private schools and some state universities were able to subject their students to practising safety measures like washing of hands, use of nose masks and physical distancing. Government should set up a special COVID-19 task force for all the schools to monitor and ensure that safety measures are adhered to. Until the nation acquires a vaccine, we must try our best to make sure it doesn’t stagnate our academic activities.”
Another 400-Level student of the Department of Animal Science and Animal Production, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Nwachukwu Chimaroke Junior, noted that for Nigeria to experience a paradigm shift in the education sector, the Federal Government must put an end to incessant ASUU strike once and for all.
“The government should make necessary arrangements for both students and staff, in line with the COVID-19 protocols as the virus does not seem to go any time soon with the situation of things now. The drama that played up between ASUU and the Federal Government last year displayed the government’s lackadaisical attitude to education.
Also, institutions should allow their students to dwell more on field work. Almost 60 to 70 per cent of graduates have no field or practical knowledge of their discipline. Universities should stop all irrelevant courses they impose on students. Nevertheless, we are still hoping for a better 2021 as far as our education system is concerned.”
Okon Joel Nnanna, a 300-Level student of the Department of Geology, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State wants the government to learn from the troubles experienced as a result of the ASUU strike, the numerous issues surrounding the containment of the pandemic and the need to channel great resources in building a stronger and better education sector. Thus,he hopes there would be a total turnaround in the fortunes of education.
“I hope they will understand that the future of our education sector does not just lie in the citizens’ call for more establishments or structures, but rather on the welfare of her employees and by extension, the students who ought to enjoy the dividends of democracy. I wish that our government equip schools and teaching hospitals with sound machinery that will boost greater and better service delivery. The employees should also endeavour to do the right thing, take the right steps and remain committed to their job. In line with this, the government must be kind and fair enough to them by paying their salaries, earned allowances and other gratuities as and when due to avoid strike,” he said.
A 400-Level student of the Department of Medical Laboratory Science, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Ebode Nelson, said: “Due to the shortfalls in education, most especially in our public universities in 2020, I believe 2021 is a year to balance and cover for the lost year. My school has already released an academic calendar to cover for two sessions in a year. All things being equal, I will be graduating this year irrespective of the shortfalls recorded last year. I pray against another lockdown and ASUU strike.”
Olumuyiwa Gbenga, a 100-Level Law student of the University of Ibadan, wants all lapses in education addressed.
He said: “I hope normality is brought back , last year was just a set back for every student. Having to sit at home for months without academic activities did not help.Hardly can I recall what we have been taught . As we begin a new year, I pray we resume academic activities with no disruptions of any kind.”
Adegoke Tomiwa, a 200-Level Forestry student of Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta(FUNAAB), said: “This new year, I really hope ASUU can just stay away from anything called strike. Not even ASUU alone this time,but any other school association. We all agreed that COVID-19 has already affected and changed lots of things but we should not be deterred.”
For Habibat Lukman, a 300-Level Pharmacy student of University of Ibadan , the Federal Government should improve the education standard in the country. The government should allocate more money to the sector, put proper infrastructure in place in every institution, and try to prevent students from migrating to foreign countries to study.
Ademide Famayo, a 100-Level student of Mass Communication,University of Lagos, said: “I hope lecturers will not try to hasten us with the hope of keeping up with time. Truly, lots of time have been wasted. So, it is needless trying to rush, because rushing us will surely have negative impact. They all should take their time in revisiting things we have done in the past to enable us have fresh memories about what we have done.”
Azeez Elijah Olawale, a 400-Level student of the Department of Library and Information Science, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, while expressing concern over the second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, charged the Federal Government, through various tertiary institution regulatory bodies, to put in place facilities to promote Virtual Learning as practised in many countries.
“Unexpectedly, COVID-19 has greatly affected many aspects of our economy including the education sector. As a country we must come to the reality of the need to change many things as regards education. It is expected that the Federal Government through the various tertiary institutions regulatory bodies such as NUC should provide facilities to encourage learning from home. This can be made possible through working closely with various institutional libraries where students can access materials in various formats,” he said.
Olawale added that keeping students away from classes for too long will only result in the increase of social vices, which the government may not be able to withstand its aftermath effects.
A Chemical Engineering student of University of Uyo (UNIUYO), Uwakmfon Imoh, said: “My expectations are: one, that God will touch the hearts of our leaders to do things right. Again, I expect all unions like ASUU, SSANU, etc. to join hands in stabilising the academic calendar this year because it has been distorted. Finally, I expect final year students studying professional courses like Engineering, Law and Medicine to be able to graduate so they can start their life. ”
Onyisi Christian, a student of Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), said: “My expectations are in two folds: As regards education for 2021, I expect academic bodies to put measures in place and ensure that academics comes back alive (for nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions); where lecturers haven’t been paid (e.g state schools) the government should ensure that they are paid to prevent strike as no one would want to teach on empty stomach.The various institutions should also ensure that the COVID-19 preventive measures are in place to contain the virus.”
Vivian Iheme, a student of University of Abuja (UNIABUJA), expects the Federal Government to improve schools’ infrastructure and meet the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
“The government should settle the educational bodies such as ASUU, SSANU and others in terms of their salary arrears,” she said.
Cleopatra Onyeji, a Food Science and Technology student of Abia State University (ABSU), said: “I expect the Federal Government to please do the right thing as regards ASUU and SSANU and stop delaying their payment.
“Again, the government should improve on the infrastructure we have in schools, they should make our learning environment conducive.”