BY MAYOWA SAMUEL AND JACOB BRIGHT
Student leaders in Nigeria have appealed to the federal government to approve a bursary award of between N20, 000 and N30, 000 to students studying non-education courses in the country.
Sunday Asefon, president of the National Association of Nigerian Students and Ogunsanmi Kolade, Student Union President of the Adekunle Ajasin University, made the plea while speaking with The Point.
Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, had on Tuesday in commemoration of the World Teachers’ Day held at the Eagles Square in Abuja, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had among other mouthwatering incentives, approved a N50, 000 stipends to students of National Certificate of Education and N75, 000 stipends to Bachelor of Education students per semester.
The gesture is meant to encourage more students seeking admission into higher institutions to pick interests in studying education courses and ultimately aimed at attracting the best brains into the teaching profession, thereby keeping the promise made last year by President Buhari.
Adamu said, “Undergraduate students of B.Ed / B.A. Ed / BSc. Ed in Public institutions are to receive stipends of N75, 000 per semester while NCE students will get N50, 000 as stipends per semester. Federal Government should find the modality through which respective states’ governments could provide automatic deployment for NCE graduates at Basic Education level.”
Appreciating the government for the new policy, the student leaders pleaded for the extension of the laudable gesture to non-education students to give them a sense of belonging, as they both experience the same current challenging economic conditions in the country.
Describing the initiative as a welcome development and a form of free education for education students, Asefon, the NANS president urged “the president to, from his own magnanimity, also extend his hand of fellowship to students of other courses. We will also appreciate if the federal government can also approve a bursary, probably N20, 000 or N30, 000 to other Nigerian students studying other courses.
Asefon decried the scanty population of the country’s NCE schools, noting that most parents prefer their children to study law, medicine and the likes, rather than allow them study education, but maintained that the president’s action which proves his passion for education, “will serve as a means of returning the glory of the NCE certificate,” and “propel families, friends, and parents to encourage their children to study education.”
On his part, AAUA student union president, Ogunsanmi, supported government’s move but called for non-education students to be treated similarly, insisting on stipends for them which they can save to enable them start up a small business which they must have learnt from the entrepreneurship programme in school, so they don’t depend on their parents after graduation.
He is however, worried about the sustainability of the initiative as government had in times past, been poor at keeping its promises and enforcing laws.
Ogunsanmi said, “It’s a nice idea by government, if only they are going to sustain it. The sustainability of that project is actually what student union leaders in Nigeria should be fighting for, not the money because there are lots of government’s promises and plans on ground that will make this nation a better one, but the sustainability is our major problem in Nigeria.”
Both students’ leaders who themselves are non-education students appealed to their colleagues to exercise patience as this move is a major step to show that there is still hope for the country to get better.
President of Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union, Smart Odunayo Olugbeko, also expressed excitement about the development, saying “if government is coming up with this incentive, it will be a great motivation that will make the society see teachers in a more positive way that will attract attention to teacher education. We believe that this is not a political statement; we believe that government is able to live up to its promise of fulfilling it. Although it is not as if the incentive is much, it is good to start somewhere.”
The minister however said the condition to being a beneficiary for the incentive was not only to attend public institution but the person must also “sign a bond to serve their state for five years on graduation,” which Olugbeko frowned at.
He said, “It is a federal government incentive, and not statewide. That incentive is also not sponsorship. If you are talking about sponsorship, then you can be talking about bonds. Since they are talking about bond, we will not accept it and was not well conceived. That is one of the weaknesses on the part of government about this laudable programme. And if the government listens to superior argument, they should be able to withdraw that aspect of conditions attached to it.
“This money can definitely not take care of their feeding or the cost of accommodation. So, if you are talking about bond, you should be talking about full sponsorship. It’s like you are localizing them. What about the situation when they want to get married? Would you also say that they shouldn’t get married? What about if they got some other jobs or some national assignments, or maybe they joined the military? Are you saying that they can only be posted to their states?” Olugbeko queried.
However expressing a divergent view, the general secretary, Senior Staff Union in Colleges of Education, Nwenyi Leo Isioma, said what will attract students to enroll in colleges of education is giving them free education and not paying them to enroll.
He added that what the system needs is not an initiative that cannot be sustained but good governance and a strong institution.
In his words, “All these monetary incentives don’t help the system. What will help the system is to entrench in it good governance and strong institutions, so that things will work for better, so that overall, the system can sustain itself, not just mere award or simply empowering people with some few Naira that will fizzle out in a moment.
“I don’t see it as assistance because it cannot be sustained but if the system is working and the cost of assessing teachers’ education becomes affordable, it will be much more better than a situation where something is not affordable and you’re offering an incentive that cannot be sustained. Making education free is what will attract students to the colleges of education,” he further added.
Additionally, the federal government also stated that it had begun the pilot implementation of new retirement age for teachers after earlier increasing the retirement age from 60 years to 65 and years of service from 40 years to 45.