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DOES ASKING FOR FREE EDUCATION STILL MAKE SENSE?


In this article I will approach the concept of free education from different angles. In my opinion, following the conviction of Dr. Segun Okeowo (to who's memory I dedicate this piece of writing), "free education is a non negotiable obsession".  You and I have read how policies worke and fail. We have seen civilizations rise and fall. Empires have collapsed and nations have failed. One peculiar institution, so strange you almost can not doubt its divinity, that has survived all empires and still stands strong and powerful is the learning institution. Learning was particularly difficult to destroy such that it became an integral part of the regeneration process of Europe. The world, religious houses and people of all ages have learned to pay due respect to the learning institution. After the fall of the Roman Empire and Dark Ages, learning threw light to the part of men. Martin Luther rose from the ash heap of church's brutal suppression and persecution of reformers and challenged the fundamental doctrines of the church. Without his contribution, the course of history would have been different and freedom, as we know it, would have been a dream that may never come true.

Yet, this supposed inalienable reason for world justice, peace and progress is so much embattled by the people it has once freed. From the Taliban's terror against education to the carnage of Boko Haram, men and women have had to sacrifice their lives for the spread of learning. The way to education has been paved by blood and tears. A little girl had a bullet put in her skull before she could get the attention of people who matter to her cause. Her name is Yousoufzai Malala. Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of girls and took them into slavery in a bid to fight the conquering power of education and terrorise the people. The contrast between the terrorists who view education as a threat and the people who profit from its sales is sharp. Both are guilty of crimes against all of humanity by deliberately making it unreasonably difficult to access. The reasons for which you can tell them apart from each other are that one rules over the people and the state department has not labeled them as terrorists yet, while the other is a terrorist sect. They both agree on one thing, however -education is to be paid for at a huge price.

In an interview with the Al-Jazeera Network, concerning education, former Governor of Kogi State said people "...have to pay more". That is coming from a Nigerian Governor whose convoy allegedly killed Festus Iyayi, a Business Professor and an education activist who had, previously, lost his job for being a frontliner in the movement for the reforming and proper funding of the education system of the country. The brutal killing of Festus Iyayi in a supposed car accident left the nation in awe. For education, Nigeria and other countries pay hugely.

Talking about other countries, the idea of free education was dominant in the U.S. for about one hundred and twenty years before its destruction around half of a century ago. Again it has to be paid for at the cost of lives and limbs. To pay your tuition in the United States, you may have to join the army and fight in Afghanistan -the place we now know as the graveyard of many Americans. Others lived in debt for many years to pay up. The debt estimate runs up to $1,300,000,000,000 -one-point-three trillion dollars.

Did you know that as recent as 1970, many of the United States' tertiary institutions had free education policy? That is the story we are not told by the men and women who want us to continue to buy education at a cost.

In an April, 2016 article on the matter in the U. S. based Counterpunch magazine, Robert M. Nelson -a NASA researcher working as senior scientist affiliated with the Planetary Science Institute and who had retired from the position of senior research scientist at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote;
"After the Civil War, the free tuition principle was expanded to include higher education. It worked brilliantly for a century for millions of Americans, including me... In 1966 I finished college. I joined my sister as the first generation of our family to cross the divide. My father was an immigrant; my mother was the daughter of immigrants. The family had little wealth to show despite their life of hard work.

"How could low-paid immigrant families and ordinary dirt-poor working-class families send their kids to college? It was simple. I graduated from the City College of New York. My sister graduated from Brooklyn College. Both schools were tuition-free. It’s easy to forget in today’s America where the “free market” is the national religion that it’s the way things still were a just half a century ago."

So those self hating Nigerians whose thoughts on free education are shaped by their hopeless naivety and willingness to be ignorant should bare in mind that education is a different enterprise entirely. It is a recipe for a prosperous future and not having it is perpetual darkness. To be sincere, only self-hatred can explain why a poor person can accept that education is a profit making venture and nothing should be said against it -not because he has the facts because there are no facts to prove it. Despite the nature of the U.S. economy, a candidate for presidency on the platform of the Democratic Party -Senator Bernie Saunders did call for a free tuition policy during his campaign. On his campaign website it is stated clearly that he wants to "MAKE TUITION FREE AT PUBLIC COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES."

Senator Bernie continues;
"This is not a radical idea. Germany eliminated tuition because they believed that charging students $1,300 per year was discouraging Germans from going to college. Chile will do the same. Finland, Norway, Sweden and many other countries around the world also offer free college to all of their citizens. If other countries can take this action, so can the United States of America.

In fact, it’s what many of our colleges and universities used to do. The University of California system offered free tuition at its schools until the 1980s. In 1965, average tuition at a four-year public university was just $243 and many of the best colleges – including the City University of New York – did not charge any tuition at all. The Sanders plan would make tuition free at public colleges and universities throughout the country."

In a 2014 interview with Mr Yomi Layinka who currently serves as a Special Advisor for Media to the incumbent Oyo State Governor, our septuginerian President, Muhammadu Buhari stated that the defunct Western Region of Nigeria fund education with up to 45 percent of the region's budget. We do not need to doubt the President if the pace at which the region traveled educationally is considered. Enlightened governance was a hallmark of the region for most parts of its history -producing numerous scholars and professionals the ouptut and size of which could contend with western countries.

Nigerians are too poor to afford what is being offered by Nigerian intellectuals. The policy is the only way to keep education in the hands of everyone and not restrict it to the reach of the rich. Scholars, reacting to statistics, have said that majority of young people in the United States that drop out of school today do so due to high tuition. That is a country with less than 15 percent of the population living below poverty line. Dirt-poor people in Nigeria amount to a scale dropping portion of the population and the number is increasing. Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world. Right?

The constitution of Nigeria grants free tertiary education to Nigerians on condition -"as soon as practicable". It further leaves that decision to the hands of the leaders who in their part are largely without the sense of decency to be responsible to the public. So we have what we have. No visionary leadership and of course, President Buhari's government funding of education is at an all time low. The excuse they give borders on the inability of the economy to cope with the cost. The economy can, however, cope with cash flight and corruption, mammoth benefits of members of both Houses of Assembly and the security votes (plus other benefits) of thirty six State Governors.

You may ask how my dream would be funded. Here it is; I must not make the mistake of not at least giving an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the brilliant wealth creators of this country. The top one percent. Some of them have no stories to tell about how they became rich. But then, Nigerian society has a problem with interrogating power. Speculation itself is not a good way to build for the future, which means that it is dangerous to assume that they have no sincere stories to tell about how they became rich simply because they have not written books -yet. It is, therefore, reasonably benign to impose taxes on the rich to educate the population. When I become rich -Amen!- this idea will not change.

The choices are limited. To create a future for the nation by giving quality education to the young hopeful and motivated minds. It gives us a sense of belonging and a sense of gratitude to give back to the society just as much as we got from it. "Education for all" is "opportunity for many". We then can say we have been given a level playing ground. If education is properly funded in Nigeria, all other sectors will work. There will be international exchange of the work force. Dignity will be restored to the Nigerian worker both home and in diaspora. It will also mean more jobs since knowledge will not be limited and more creative inventions will happen. The profit in free and quality education is a better and more prosperous future. An enlightened citizenry with a world view. More wealth from both local and foreign firms. The untapped natural resources will find use in the hands of properly educated people.

This kind of future is the reason for the current strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities. I support them and if you don't, you either naive or selfish. The strike is the part that labour can play and your support, as a Nigerian, is the least you can do for the labour Union to battle the negligent government. It is the government that deserves the pressure not ASUU.

Ojo, Aderem is President of the University of Ibadan Students Union (2017/18 session). He can be reached via email ojderemi@gmail.com and his articles appear on his website platinumderemi.com
Follow him on twitter @oj_deremi or @platinum_deremi

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1 COMMENT

Teju
Teju Tue January 22, 2019 at 9:30pm

Brilliant submission! Education shouldn't be what we should be paying for through tears and heavy sweats. I hope we would have good leaders soon who will wear the same lenses as this piece...

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