Pathways to sustainable education in Nigeria

ALL over the world it is a common ground that education and particularly universities hold the key to economic, political and social development. As a believer in the power of education, I love exchanging ideas on how to reposition Nigerian universities to attain global recognition and excellence. Such issues include university autonomy, funding, strike, indiscipline, sound administrative practices, maintenance of academic standards, staff recruitment, students’ affairs, etc. 

My joy also stems from the fact that of the over 221 accredited universities in Nigeria, ABUAD, which is just 13 years old, has been ranked as number one university in Nigeria and number 321 university in the world by the Times Higher Education Impact Ranking 2022. I consider this as an acknowledgement and appreciation of the vision behind the establishment of this non-profit university and the uncommon success recorded thus far in the actualisation of that vision. ABUAD has been recognised as the fastest growing private university in Africa, a pacesetter in university reformatory education by many stakeholders and lately by UNESCO as “a shining beacon of excellence and one of the best universities in the world; and earlier by NUC as the benchmark, model and reference point”. ABUAD has won numerous awards within and outside Nigeria, including the “2012 Socrates Best Enterprise Award” of the Europe Business Assembly in Oxford. 

No right thinking Nigerian would deny the fact that there is urgent need for a revolution in our education system that would bring about sustainability in education having regard to the ever-growing number of unemployable and unemployed graduates, the poor quality of teachers, cases of fake certificates, the rising list of illegal institutions, strikes and the unprofessional attitude of some teachers to education, etc. Indeed, it is right that the media are concerned with discussing the subject – “Pathways to Sustainable Education in Nigeria”. If the media are not concerned, who else should? Ours is a country in which government is blamed, rightly in many cases, for many of the ills which continue to negatively affect education in Nigeria. Afterall, both federal and state universities are involved virtually in all aspects of university administration, including staff recruitment, matters of discipline, curriculum development, budget planning and implementation. Financial expenditure are either decided by government or regulated to such an extent that universities have little or no autonomy in matters which ordinarily should be within their exclusive prerogative to decide. 

What is the meaning of sustainable education? The phrase ‘sustainable education’ was coined by Stephen Sterling in 2001 to provoke debate on education itself and not necessarily the effect of education on other aspects of human existence and development. In his own words, his aim was to “provoke a little cognitive dissonance and the question: ‘what does that mean?’ I wanted people to move from ‘how do we educate for sustainable development’ towards deeper attention to education itself: its paradigms, policies, purposes and practices (these are linked of course) and its adequacy for the age we find ourselves in.” He went on to define sustainable education as: “a change of educational culture, one which develops and embodies the theory and practice of sustainability in a way which is critically aware. It is, therefore, a transformative paradigm which values, sustains and realises human potential in relation to the need to attain and sustain social, economic and ecological well-being, recognising that they must be part of the same

dynamic.” Accordingly, the phrase is designed to stimulate change in the way educational policies are formulated. The aim is to make education address several environmental and developmental issues which for several years have been identified by the international community but without any meaningful progress in addressing them. Sustainable education is said to imply four descriptors namely educational policy and practice which are:1. Sustaining: it helps sustain people, communities and ecosystems;

2. Tenable: it is ethically defensible, working with integrity, justice, respect and inclusiveness;

3. Healthy: it is itself a viable system, embodying and nurturing healthy relationships and emergence at different system levels;

4. Durable: it works well enough in practice to be able to keep doing it.

In a nutshell, sustainable education requires that vigour and life be returned into the educational system and that education should not be regarded merely as a manufacturing process which is guided by automation. Education must address real issues affecting human lives. Another writer, Mary Cathrine Bateson, stated that: “Our machines, our value systems, our educational systems will all have to be informed by (the) switch, from the machine age when we tried to design schools to be like factories, to an ecological age, when we want to design schools, families and social institutions in terms of maintaining the quality of life, not just for our species, but for the whole planet.”

In relation to Nigeria, the approach to education and anything having to do with education appears to be a cosmetic adherence to a checklist. If a school has a required number of laboratories, a certain number of teachers, a certain classification of infrastructure, all is well. However, as stated above, education requires much more. In the words of the World Commission on Environment and Development, education must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Education must build cultural practices, identity and values and play a big role in setting directions and building common commitment.

Therefore, education must as a matter of necessity be tailored towards addressing many problems which are today preventing the country from achieving its huge potentials such as the Boko Haram insurgency, strikes and riots, religion, insecurity, poverty and unemployment. Education must itself be capable of addressing all these problems and more. If religion has polarised certain sections of Nigerian society, the concept of sustainable education requires that an examination be undertaken to determine how education can bring about a change. If we complain of unemployment, the concept requires that an examination of our educational policies be examined to determine if our graduates, by the education they receive in our institutions, are tailored to be entrepreneurs or job seekers.

Why Nigerian university education is not sustainable: Several factors such as inadequate funding, government involvement in the running and management of universities, strikes, corruption, indiscipline, etc., currently contribute to the poor state of education in Nigeria. More importantly, these factors make education in Nigeria to be unsustainable. The media has recently been awash with news that students of certain universities across the country are preparing to protest the decision of some university authorities to increase tuition fees in their institutions. This is despite the fact, as I will also show, that government alone cannot fund education and that other means of funding, including tuition, need to be explored to shore up the revenue base of public and private universities. In the long run, the media have a huge role to play in ensuring the sustainability of education in Nigeria.


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