On President Jonathan’s book drive and HE Policy

‘Bring back the book’

Is President Jonathan’s current book distribution in any way linked to the ‘bring back the book’ initiative or part of the Federal Government’s overall educational policy? Here is why I am asking.

In late 2010 the President launched the ‘bring back the book’ (BBTB) initiative, a fantastic programme underscoring the imperative to revitalise not just the so-called ‘reading culture’ among young Nigerians, but also an opportunity to revamp the book sector. At the launch event, President Jonathan read from Chinua Achebe’s ‘Chike and the River’ perhaps as a way to demonstrate that even as President, he takes an interest in reading the written word. All this was good. However, it appears to me that as at today the BBTB initiative only exists in the form of a website (not a bad thing itself though, even for archival purposes) which provides regular updates on education and literary issues. Fast forward to June 2012 – ‘President Jonathan distributes free books to schools.’ Is this another initiative meant to get kids reading?

Well here is my take. The bring back the book initiative could have been viewed as part of an overall strategy towards enhancing the availability of books in schools across the country. This means that the launch event would have been preceded by a mid to long-term strategy aimed at ensuring that schools across the country are equipped with books in functional libraries. Such an endeavour would have required elaborate planning and cooperation between the federal, state and possibly local governments (as education is a concurrent constitutional function across the three tiers), with the federal government possibly offering counterpart funding to get books and other learning aids to schools (perhaps through existing initiatives such as UBEC or TETFund or even PTDF). Equipping schools with books and teaching aids would have been part of the long-term outputs of the project and a more reliable route to achieving the stated objective (and outcome) of revitalising ‘the reading culture, with knowledge serving as a tool for development.’

In the absence of such long-term planning, coherence and link with overall education policy, the current federal government initiative of distributing 14 million books and an unspecified quantity of ‘library resource materials’ to schools leaves little to be desired. Are these books meant for all basic schools in Nigeria or selected basic schools? Are they meant to be handed to individual pupils or to the schools? How many basic schools exist across the country? How many pupils are in these schools? Are the 14 million books adequate for students’ needs in the country? If the books are going directly to the students, will the government print more books every year? Our education programmes need to be guided by more detailed thinking, in the long-term. Our investments in education today will benefit the future, not just today, only if they are strategic and well thought out.

NUC’s Suspension of part-time programmes

It is understandable that in its statutory function as regulator of University education, the National Universities Commission (NUC) needs to ensure that the quality of delivery is maintained at the highest levels possible and that Universities are made to comply with set standards. However, this should be done with due consideration of the implications for the students. That is why it is worrying to read about the recent suspension of part-time programmes in Universities across the country, which as one newspaper reported could affect around 10 million students. The NUC must ensure that in performing its statutory functions students do not bear the brunt of these recent measures.

Therefore, in order protect students in the event that any university is barred from further undertaking part-time programmes or Universities are required to reduce the current number of students, the NUC should ensure affected Universities negotiate transfer processes for affected students to other Universities or to the National Open University. The NUC should ensure that part-time students who are currently enrolled are also allowed to successfully complete their courses before any ban/ limit is effected. Otherwise, it should work with the Universities to negotiate entry at equivalent levels of study at the National Open University on behalf of affected students. Both the regulator and Universities must pay adequate attention to the quality of service delivered to the students at the end of the day.

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