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Transforming Nigeria’s Student Loan Framework For Better Access

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Transforming Nigeria's Student Loan Framework For Better Access

Founder of the Nigerian Teachers Community, Dr Peter Ogudoro, considers the new student loan scheme a favourable start but insists it does not sufficiently address the difficulties poor students face, urging the adoption of Scandinavian educational models that regard education as a public good.

In an exclusive interview with Naija News, Dr. Ogudoro emphasized that Nigeria’s education system needs to be more adequately equipped for low-income people. 

He stressed that Public schools lack essential resources like laboratory equipment and computers, and this disparity is worsened by computer-based exams such as JAMB UTME, which disadvantaged students struggle with due to limited access to technology and electricity.

He suggested incentivizing professional counsellors to study abroad for career management in schools, as Nigeria lacks the necessary programs. 

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He stressed the importance of cultivating a love for learning over vocational training alone and highlighted the need for entrepreneurial skills rather than just job-specific training.

He advised students to pursue education wherever they find it, focusing on solving real-world problems. 

For policymakers, he urged respect and better teacher training, emphasizing the need for STEM education. 

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With your extensive experience in education advocacy, what are some of the biggest challenges facing students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Nigeria?

The Nigerian education system was not designed with the poor in mind. Public schools where most of them study are grossly under-resourced largely because children of the rich are not there. 

“Those children lack access to laboratory equipment and computers, but we assess them through public examinations that are constructed on the assumption that all Nigerian students are computer literate. 

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“JAMB UTME is one example that stands out. The test is computer-based, which puts a serious obstacle in the way of poor students with regards to access to higher education in a country where a university degree has been presented to society as a meal ticket. WAEC is moving in the same direction. 

“Most of the students I’m talking about don’t have access to reliable electricity supply and broadband internet. Now, electricity supply in Nigeria has been configured to exclude the poor from access to the little supply available to the country. 

“It is an open secret that in the age we live in, lack of access to electricity and internet spells precarity for the affected individuals. In this situation, social migration will remain a mirage for most disadvantaged people in Nigeria.

Your doctoral research focused on career management for those from economically disadvantaged families. How can this system be implemented in Nigerian schools?

We need the human capital to implement it. We don’t have that now, but we can start by giving incentives to intellectually capable professional counsellors to go for graduate studies in career management in the UK or North America. We don’t offer graduate studies in career management in Nigerian universities currently. 

“I know what I know in this field because I studied in the UK and had the opportunity to do further research in this field in countries such as Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Austria. 

“Meanwhile, we can leverage technology to help students who have access to the internet via the work we do at Nigerian Teachers Community. Some of our partners in the UK and Finland are happy to help if relevant education agencies in the country show interest in fixing this major missing link in Nigeria’s education system. 

“I will continue to help as a private citizen through my career counselling clinic, which is available both physically and virtually.”

You’ve mentioned projects across Europe and North America. How do these international experiences inform your approach to education in Nigeria?

Graciously, I benefitted from cutting-edge training in career management abroad, studying in places such as Cambridge University and Austria’s Centre for Innovation in Education. My recent research trip to Finland was a big eye-opener. 

“My rich international experience makes me realize that our overfocus on certificate acquisition is one of our major obstacles to development. We need to define education and learning properly to ensure that our teachers do not continue to produce seekers of white-collar jobs in a world where young people are becoming multi-millionaires legitimately before they are twenty years old. 

“We are bringing UK’s top business school to Nigeria to work with about one hundred outstanding teenagers in August this year so those young people can experience early success at a global level. We are also bringing Finland’s top teacher-training institution to help about one hundred Nigerian teachers acquire the latest teaching skills so we can start transforming the way we educate our children. 

“What we call education in Nigeria currently is mere schooling that does not deliver learning. This must change for national development to take off. Our politicians must understand that education is truly the bedrock of development. 

“It is that one thing you fix, and our other problems will evaporate. So, my privileged education and international network have separated my work from what regular educationists do. It’s my hope that our governments will take full advantage of what we are doing.

The new Student Loan Scheme is a hot topic.  What are your thoughts on its potential impact on access to higher education?

It is a good starting point if the spirit of the law establishing it is respected. All that money will be released directly to tertiary institutions in Nigeria. That’s my understanding of what the government wants to do. That’s a good idea so young people don’t borrow money from public coffers and use it to indulge in self-aggrandizement. 

“The student loan scheme does not, however, remove the hurdles poor students must overcome in pursuit of higher education. Children of the elites will get the loans because their parents will provide them the tuition services that will guarantee them access since the competition for university spaces remains stiff. 

“We are not yet running an equitable education system. We are copying the American model, which has not worked well, even for Americans. Ultimately, we should look in the direction of the Scandinavian countries for good examples to copy. 

“Education is a public good. The government must take financial responsibility for it. When you borrow money to go to school, you study what you believe will provide the financial returns that will enable you to pay your loan, not necessarily what you love and have gifts for. 

“The system we are putting in place is gravitating towards this unfortunate end. We must correct it as soon as possible if we want a Nigeria that we will be proud of and the country that works well for everyone.

There’s a growing focus on skills development in education. How can Nigerian schools better prepare students for the job market?

Our children should first be helped to take joy in learning. We should learn for learning’s sake. That’s how to become curious individuals who ask questions and challenge the status quo. Jobs are created by people who ask questions and make inquiries, not certificate holders who believe that society owes them jobs. 

“The brain drain we are witnessing in Nigeria is largely fueled by this unfortunate type of education that makes young people think that it is their certificate that qualifies them for job opportunities. Employers and people with pains are seeking problem solvers and will pay handsome amounts to have their pain points removed. 

“I hear a lot about the need for vocational training. The people talking about it most probably mean well, but I don’t have evidence that proves that that is what we need desperately in our education system. 

“Spending years teaching people how to fix cars, make cake and fix roofs may not be as empowering as becoming critical thinkers, excellent communicators, and leaders. You can learn how to make cake or even repair your water dispenser without spending years in school. YouTube can teach you that for free and will do better than most schools in the world because people make new videos to help you solve new problems. 

“I’m an educationist and know that schools don’t move that fast. We need entrepreneurs who do not have to be mechanics. They are people with the capacity to take calculated risks that create jobs for thousands of people and solve the problems of millions of people. 

“Both our grammar schools and vocational institutions currently lack the capacity to deliver good results in that area. This is largely because the people attempting to produce entrepreneurs for us are not entrepreneurs themselves. You can’t give what you don’t have. Let’s stop putting the cart before the horse.

Your foundation offers a “Study Abroad Bootcamp.”  What are your views on the role of studying abroad in Nigerian education?

We need to learn from those who have trodden the path before us, but we should send only critical-minded people abroad for further studies. This is to guarantee that they don’t come home and impose Western solutions on Southern problems. 

“The people we send abroad for further studies must be people who are patriotic enough to want to return home to help, and we must create an enabling environment for them to come home to help. 

“The bootcamps we are associated with accommodate those needs. That’s why they are popular with the discerning parents who send their teenage children to benefit from them. We prepare them to withstand the cultural shock they will experience abroad and give them the tools they need to stand out academically and in any other department that matters. 

“We are now collaborating with a UK business school to ensure we can make the programme accessible to more teenagers in Nigeria and the wider African continent. It’s now called the Rising African Scholars Programme (RASP). I’m happy that I’m making this indispensable contribution to the development of Nigeria and the wider African continent.

The Nigerian Education Enhancement Project aims to lift millions out of poverty.  Can you elaborate on the project’s specific strategies?

The project recognizes that teachers are at the centre of the education industry and that the best brains must be attracted and retained in the industry if we are to move our education forward. Well-trained, recognized, and rewarded teachers will help you get the results you want from education. 

“We are doing poorly in this area as a country. The education policy arena in Nigeria is populated by misfits. They are in office to fill the quotas of their benefactors and not because they understand what we need to move our education forward. 

“Our Education Enhancement Project is intervening to address those problems by leveraging the skills of our international partners to promote good education practices in Nigeria. 

“Over half a million teachers are learning how to teach properly on our platform for free. The study abroad bootcamp we discussed earlier is one of the elements of the project. There are many others.

Your online communities have garnered a large following.  How do you leverage social media to address educational needs in Nigeria?

In a modern society, people naturally gravitate toward where their friends are. What we have done is to meet education stakeholders in places where they hang out and serve them learning materials in ways that do not disrupt the fun they are having. 

“People, including teachers and parents, learn on our platforms in engaging and entertaining ways. The beauty of what we are doing is that they are offered by well-informed people, including professors, for free. 

“We are crowd-sourcing learning materials and delivering them for free. Our teachers’ platform on Facebook called Nigeria Teachers is approaching three quarters of a million. Teachers ask questions on the platform about their jobs and get free answers in minutes from their colleagues around the world. 

“The platform is also a place where teachers come to relax. It’s a replication of the typical staff room in a school. We discuss lesson plan, school leadership and romance issues, among others there. 

“It has become the most vibrant teachers’ platform in the world, and we are getting international recognition for the work we are doing there. We also have other fora for students, parents, spirituality, and even cars for those who love automobiles. They run on a 24/7 basis.”

You offer programs like “Management Training” to equip graduates with job skills.  How can such initiatives bridge the gap between education and employment?

Our management training programmes focus on delivering employability skills to tertiary institution graduates. It’s an open secret that our universities and polytechnics are not producing the kind of people employers want. 

“The programmes we run bridge that gap and help the beneficiaries to gain the skills and confidence they need to do well in selection processes and also do well on the job. 

“Most university lecturers lack industry exposure and therefore lack the capacity to prepare their students for what they will meet in the workplace. We don’t waste time talking about irrelevant theories. We give them what they need to get the jobs they want or set up the businesses they are dreaming about. 

“Interestingly, we deliver everything they need in only one week. They learn what universities struggle to teach them in four years within only one week. They find the experience amazing.”

What are some of the most promising trends you see in Nigerian education today?

Education technology, homeschooling, and teachers’ preference for freelance work. 

“Education technology is helping to deliver education to people we cannot reach physically. That’s a good thing, given the huge cost of moving from one place to another in today’s Nigeria. The fuel subsidy is gone, and it is probably for good. 

“More parents are unhappy with the quality and type of education their children are receiving in conventional classrooms and are rebelling against that, especially as it comes at a cost they consider unreasonable. I think they have a point. 

“Many teachers do not know what learning means and waste children’s time by making them cram a lot of information they don’t need and demand parents’ precious time through truckloads of assignments their children bring home every day. 

“Schools must upgrade if they want to remain in business. The poor remuneration of teachers in Nigeria is driving the freelance movement. This is not good for our education system.  

“Relationship stability is one of the qualities of a good education system. That involves school leaders, teachers and students working together for a long time.”

What are the biggest challenges you anticipate for the future of education in Nigeria?

The brain drain we are witnessing in the industry is a huge challenge. It is robbing us of our best brains. Universities are the worst hit. 

“Many STEM departments lack the professors they need to produce the human capital requisite for our development. 

“Funding, access, teaching and learning, and governance are also problematic areas. It’s my hope that the relevant authorities will find the wisdom to address those challenges urgently.”

In your view, what role can technology play in improving educational outcomes in Nigeria?

“I have already called your attention to what we are using technology to do for teachers. You can extrapolate it to other stakeholders in the industry. Technology when used appropriately, saves you money and time and helps you reach more people in ways that make them truly learn and at their own pace and convenience. We can’t ignore the use of modern technology in our education system and remain competitive.”

Drawing on your experience, what advice would you give to a young Nigerian student passionate about education?

Define education properly. Schooling does not automatically result in education. Get the education you want wherever you can find it. That place doesn’t have to be called a university.

“The Nigerian education system takes too long to deliver what looks like education, but when scrutinized, it is not education but knowledge that may be useless.

“Find out what people with problems want. Get the skills that will solve those problems and learn how to promote yourself to people who need what you can do. 

“Remember to study what you love and not what will give your parents bragging rights in the short run and make everybody unhappy in the long run. 

“Invest in the acquisition of principles that endure not just the information you need to pass exams and earn a certificate that no one may ever bother about. People hardly ask me for my certificate. What puts food on my table comes through referrals. 

“As Emerson said, ‘if you do better jobs than others, the world will make a bitten path to your door even if you live in the woods.‘”

As a leading education figure, what message do you have for policymakers on improving Nigerian education?

Give teachers the respect, recognition and rewards they deserve. We are not aware of any education system that delivers results without teachers. Train them well for their jobs and give incentives to young people to study education courses, especially in STEM areas. 

“We need excellent scientists to move our country forward. Some of us will be happy to help for free. Use round pegs in round holes in all facets of the education industry. Let’s be in a hurry. The world won’t wait for us.