Ululations over the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, calling off its five-month-old strike have overtaken the damage the long-drawn dispute has done to education. How do we ensure that in the new year, another ASUU strike does not occur?
What appears to be important is the fact that the lecturers are returning to the classrooms. Government is relieved that it has stopped the embarrassing headlines of universities that have lost five months of academic activities while haggling over a 2009 agreement.
How important is education to the authorities? How would the lost learning time be recovered? What is the quality of certificates the students would obtain after the long absence from school?
ASUU’s refusal to call off the strike until government produced proof of depositing the money to meet its demands in the Central Bank is another chapter in government’s relations with ASUU. Other labour unions would adopt the same measures in resolving own issues.
Government has failed to gain the trust of labour unions. When the Academic Staff Union Polytechnics, ASUP, went on strike, government did not speak to the union for three months. The issue remains partially resolved. Governments sign agreements with no intention of keeping them. The disputed 2009 agreement is due for re-negotiation, yet it has not been implemented.
Our governments should change their policies of planning for immediate needs. ASUU is not the only labour union in education. Its strike that took so long to resolve is not the major challenge education faces.
At the foundational levels, challenges with number and quality of teachers, teaching aids, classroom space, learning environment, and curriculum persist. The thinking that once the universities are open, education is on the proper ken is deceptive. Higher education is at most vacuous when foundations at the primary and secondary school levels are ignored.
Governments urgently need to address these issues as well as the bureaucracies in education. They are wasteful; savings from emerging them could release funds for core education.
What are governments’ plans beyond depositing N200 billion to end the ASUU strike? How would they tackle sustainable funding to stem another wave of strikes next year? Would governments ever consider education important enough that it should run without disruptions?
Thousands of conferences held annually on the future of education are mere talk sessions that hardly improve education. When will the changes be made? Do governments require strikes to realise the importance of education? What are governments’ plans for education?
Unions, which always consider the welfare of their members as a first charge, cannot determine the future of education. Governments should provide sustainable means for funding education, not to avoid strikes, but to underline the importance of education.