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There was no data to work with, says Education Minister, Prof. Rufai

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In this interview with journalists in Abuja, Professor Rukkaiyat Rufai, reveals how the ministry has fared so far.  She said there was no data to work with aside other challenges, necessitating a presidential summit on education. She spoke on how simple school level management is key to unlocking many problems in schools, including even making the toilets work.  Jamila Nuhu Musa was there.

What was the situation on ground when you came in as Minister for Education?
When we came on board, about two years ago, that was my first coming, I met a road map in existence and based on my own background, I knew I had to go through it and see how we can chart a new course for the ministry especially as we know that there have been challenges over the years facing the sector. Though I have been commissioner for education in Jigawa state, looking at the road map, I realized that the four critical areas that were the main framework and yardstick for developing the sector were not really adequate. The critical areas were access and equity, standard and quality assurance, technical education and training, funding and resource utilisation and mobilisation. These key areas are critical but we realised that there were two other critical areas if really the sector is to move forward in the next two years namely, teacher education and development. Realizing that if you don't look at the teacher, or lecturer in any institution of learning, then just forget about whatever development you can bring to that sector, we added two more areas, the issue of strengthening the entire system of education by coordinating among all the institutions, parastatals and having regular meetings etc so we developed a one year strategy because then, we had only one year mandate.
What was the outcome of the one year plan?
We had developed a six task team in terms of the critical areas and after our one year mandate we made a presentation of the full report to the federal government and the major aspect of the presentation was the development of update statistics for the entire sector from 2006 to 2010. Because prior to our coming we realized that even the data in the ministry was not there like I said earlier and if you are in education you don't know the number of students, teachers or even facilities and then you are saying you are planning, and you are always expecting your budget? Then what are we talking about? Our aim in having data for the ministry is for whoever may come after us to know what the Jonathan administration had done in the sector to move it forward. And because of the concern of government on the collapse and decay in the sector the president called for a Presidential summit on the issues.  
Can you give us an insight into the Presidential Summit?
It was a fact finding and the President wanted to hear directly from stakeholders what was happening in the sector, and many things were uncovered. The President presided over the Summit for two consecutive days; and then he formed a kind of Presidential task team on education based on the Summit which was chaired by a renowned scholar Prof Oganyan and with his team they worked on not only the report and the recommendation or communiqué on the presidential summit but also sourced for a memoranda from various individuals that may not have participated in the summit. Towards the end of that our tenure the Oganyan report was handed over to the President and he in turn handed it to the ministry to work on all the recommendations to form a white paper for government to consider.
But the one year plan lapsed after your tenure, so what happened to it?
I was coming to that; we formed a four year strategy when we came back. The mandate for the president is for 4 years and there was no way we could have the mandate without developing another plan which has gone through all the processes now and already we have started work on it because we developed it along with the implementation strategy.
What are the challenges facing the ministry from your experience so far?
We are very much backwards in terms of access; we have many children that are out of a school and our access cuts across women, even for the adult population many are actually not literate. Though we have challenge of quality of education we had to expand because we have about 10m children out of school so government has to expand primary, junior and secondary schools to enroll and accommodate them and we are working alongside state governments. We also have to consider the fact that we have the problem of girls' education in the north and boys drop out in the south east. We started with the north. We realized that the major category of the out of school here is the almajiri. Federal government for the first time in the history of this country, approved for us to address the issue of almajiri from the top by establishing about 94 of the schools in the first and second phase to teach both formal and Islamic education by bringing the children off the street along with their malams to the schools.         
Talking about access why it is that many students who, even though are qualified, don't get admitted in schools?
We are aware that year in year out we don't admit more than one third of students in various institutions of higher learning. Even if they do qualify, more than 50% of them will definitely qualify but we can't admit them all and that is creating a kind of time bomb for this country that was the reason why we had to expand by establishing schools to address problem of youths roaming the streets.
The establishment of new universities generated a lot of controversy; tell us what the issues are since the existing ones are still underfunded?
We realized that 12 states out of 36, do not have a federal university we then proposed that all the 12 states should have federal universities but because of funding, we decided to start with 9, six happened to come from the north 3 from the south, the south because only 3 states do not have university. We were to establish three in the north but the president realized that all the nine states are from the north so let's have six so that for the remaining three, we can now propose and establish them immediately after the take off of the nine. For the polytechnics and colleges of education, it was agreed that we should see how we will do with the universities and also encourage individuals and within two years of this administration we have established 18 universities, nine federal, nine private. And of course we have a number of state universities too, so in the life span of this administration we have expanded universities to more than 20 and for primary schools which will manifest into secondary, about 100.
Why do we still have problem of quality of education?
We have a lot of problems there; our students' do not answer their certificates. But from where do we start is it the students themselves, is it the teachers? Sometimes if you look at teachers' delivery you begin to wonder. Is it the issue of cheating that we are battling with? Some of them do not even sit for exams but they have the results. Look at the issue of fake NYCS recently. It means every year we have such students that may have made it through it was only luck that caught up with them and they were caught and that means we will always have them. So, the ministry started enhancing the quality through the curriculum which we reviewed all through primary, secondary, tertiary levels and even the universities and to include entrepreneur ship education and skills. No country expects that every graduate must work with government. Still, coming into the system is difficult because many do not want to retire and so our youths do not have the opportunity to come in.
Why are the universities still battling funding?
We have funding year in year out with the budget but as you know, even based on the crisis that we had with our colleagues recently in ASUU, it is not really easy for us to subject the institutions based on normal budgetary provisions. As such we are lucky that we have the tertiary education trust fund, because they will benefit even more from it. What we said even to ASUU, was, apart from their regular intervention, through the various interventions we have, we have money coming in from NNDC, CBN, ministry of communication technology, we realized that we can raise even about N12bn for universities. Though I am not querying my heads of institutions but despite that fact that you have these monies coming in, they may not be much, but sometimes you go to these institutions and you see something ridiculous in these institutions, that the toilets are not functioning, and the hostels are not in good order. Some of these things require simple school level management not funding as such. School level management is key. If you have a school level manager that can manage the system it does not even need much to do that but unfortunately we are faced with all these.

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