Nigerian government has planned to review its higher educational curriculum to meet its present developmental challenges. The choice and organization of curriculum content, realization, assessment, and use of teaching materials, and the relevance of the curriculum to the needs of the people are problems linked to the Nigerian higher educational system. As a result, there is need to review the higher education curriculum. This paper reviews the country's policy on higher education during both the military and democratic era, and submits recommendations on ways that will help in developing curriculum that will be in line with the country's modern developmental challenges.
Higher education is generally considered a vehicle to the development of a knowledge economy and society in all nations (WORLD BANK, 1999). Adams (1977) further said educational system provides the frame work to produce the skilled manpower and the new knowledge essential for technological advancement and economic growth. However, the potential of higher educational system in developing countries to realize these dreams are sometimes being blocked by poor policies and/or implementation and corruption.
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Indeed, Nigeria is faced with numerous problems ranging from electricity, housing, roads, health, employment, education etc. The nation's higher educational system has failed to produce enough and competent people (experts) to salvage it from its irritating problems, in order to attain both economic and technological advancement. As said by Durkheim (1938) "educational transformations are always the result and the symptom of social transformation in terms of which they are to be explained. In order for people to feel at any particular moment in time the need to change their educational system, it is necessary that new ideas and needs have emerged in which the former system is no longer adequate."(Sic)
According to the World Bank (2002) Nigeria has only 15 scientists and engineers engaged in research and development per million persons, which is in quite contrast to some nations like Brazil with 168, China 459, India 158, and United States 4,103. Now, the question is does Nigeria's higher education curriculum matches its ambition of experiencing economic and technological advancement to tackle its modern developmental challenges? Reviewing the country's past and present higher education policies and implementation may provide some answers.
2.0 Definition of Curriculum
Kelly (1983) describes the term curriculum as, "All the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school". But, Blenkin et al (1992) see curriculum as organization of knowledge-content and/or subjects. Similarly, Stenhouse (1975) defines curriculum clearly as a way of passing the important ideology and features of an education proposal in such a manner that is open to critical examination and capable of effective translation. He further says, "Curriculum should be able to provide basis for planning a course, studying it empirically and considering the grounds of its justification". And it should offer:
A. In planning:
1. Principle for the selection of content - what is to be learned and taught
2. Principles for the development of a teaching strategy - how it is to be learned and taught.
3. Principles for the making of decisions about sequence.
4. Principles on which to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of individual students and differentiate the general principles 1, 2 and 3 above, to meet individual cases.
B. In empirical study:
1. Principles on which to study and evaluate the progress of students.
2. Principles on which to study and evaluate the progress of teachers.
3. Guidance as to the feasibility of implementing the curriculum in varying school contexts, pupil contexts, environments and peer-group situations.
4. Information about the variability of effects in differing contexts and on different pupils and an understanding of the causes of the variation.
C. In relation to justification:
A formulation of the intention or aim of the curriculum which is accessible to critical scrutiny.
2.1 Higher Education during Military Regime
According to Saint et al (2003) successive military governments have interfered politically in the higher educational system of this country by imposing distortions and constraints on the system development. They further said that, by 1980 Nigeria has established a good reputation in offering training at international standard in a number of courses. But after the military takeover from 1984 to 1999, the long built reputation was gradually destroyed. Similarly, during this time university autonomy was taken over by the Federal Government. Inducements and rewards for research output, teaching excellence and associated innovation progressively disappeared. Enrollments records grew at an annual rate of 12 to 15 percent. Conversely, during this time, government interference in university affairs was clearly noticed from direct appointment of vice-chancellors and, perhaps sometimes of military background (sole administrators). As a result of all these, the number of research publications dramatically dropped and the hard earned educational quality declined (Saint et al, 2003).
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Similarly, between 1990 and 1997 government allocations for higher education seriously declined by 27 percent, despite the growing enrollments record of 79 percent. This led to the serious decline in university education quality and research (Hartnett, 2000). Another legacy that characterized the country's higher education in the military era was the frequent closure of universities as a result of industrial action taken by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) or students' strikes. Oni (2000) attributed all these actions to the poor payment of staff salaries, poor working condition and political oppressions occurring within the university campuses across the country.
2.2 Higher Education in Democratic Era
Nigeria returned to democratic rule from more than fifteen years of successive military regimes on the 29th of May, 1999 to date with full hope of tackling its pressing higher educational problems. During president Obasanjo's first tenure, the federal government brought in some policies and institutional reforms in higher education which included the following: auditing of all universities and associated parastatal bodies, revocation of the vice-chancellors privilege of personally selecting 10% of each year's students admission (notoriously known as vc's list), reconstituting all universities' governing councils with wider representation, approving the license of seven private universities, incrementing staff salaries with a different scale and increasing funding to the universities to 180% (FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, 2001).
According to Saint et al (2003) in addition to these efforts, on July 21, 2000, a new policy on autonomy for universities was announced by federal government. This policy paves way for the university council's total control of their governance, which includes appointment of senior officers, restoration of block grant funding to universities, defining the powers of the Universities Commission, giving university senates powers to decide on curricula, universities right in setting admission criteria and selection of students, and setting of new academic minimum standards.
Despite concerted efforts on the side of government to improve on educational quality of higher education, shortage of qualified staff has been noticed to be stumbling stone to its improvement. According to Saint et al (2003), there was a sharp decline in the proportion of academic staff (12%) and that of increasing enrollments (13%) between 1997 and 1999. They further noticed that the staff shortages were more conspicuous in Engineering, Science and Business courses. However, NUC (2002) has found that the areas of Arts and Education are not affected by staff shortages.
There is need for different departments in the Universities to revisit their curricula from time to time to confirm whether or not what they are teaching is line with the current scientific developments. In some departments, a lecture can be delivered to the student for more than five years without updating its content. This will affect the quality of graduating students especially when exposed to the current issues in their areas of specialization. This has matched with the findings of Dabalen et al (2001) in which they stated "universities graduates are poorly trained and unproductive on the jobâ€¦ and shortcomings are particularly severe in oral and written communication, and in applied technical skills.
Similarly, academic staff should be recruited to fill the areas where they are lacking, and they should be encouraged to attend trainings such as: conferences, seminars, workshops etc. This will help them to exchange ideas with their colleagues.
The Government should also revisit its decision of making the PhD as a minimum requirement for lecturing in our universities. This decision will close additional gaps in the number of academic staffs needed to takeover courses left by those that went in search of the PhD. Even though this trend will discourage other professionals from becoming university lecturers since they don't acquire the PhD.
There should be strong relationship between the ETF and our higher educational institutions in spending the funds provided for the latter's improvement. Education Trust Fund should provide equipment and materials to the universities based on what they requested for and they should be the current ones in the market.
Joint supervision should be organized among ETF, NUC and FMOE to pay unannounced visits to higher institutions to confirm whether or not the equipment and materials supplied to these institutions are put into proper usage. This is because sometimes machines supplied to these institutions are left idle in the store without being put into usage, as a result of no personnel to operate them and the university authorities are reluctant to send people on training on how to operate them.
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Students should be given the opportunity to assess their lecturers at the end of semester course before exams through questionnaires. The questionnaires should contain questions that cover lecturers' ability to impact knowledge to students. Is he/she helpful in bringing new ideas? Is he punctual? And so on. The students' answers will help the authorities to advise the lecturer in areas where he/she is lacking.
Let's assume our higher education curriculum is in line with our national needs; but the funds, (grants) needed for research works are not available for use. What would you expect in terms of research output from poor research work? So, government and private organizations should encourage research work through giving grants/funds.
Today there is hardly anything we can do without resorting to the computer or internet for a solution (to our dare needs). However, in so many parts of the world and for many years', the computer and internet have been accessible to both educational staff and students, in contrast to Nigeria's situation. So, there is need to provide each class with a desktop computer and projector to enhance easy lecture delivery. Likewise, there is need to provide each faculty with a computer laboratory connected to the internet (with subscription to reputable journals agencies like Science Direct, Springer, IEE etc.) In order to assist both staff and students to get access to old and current materials in their areas of endeavors.
Higher education can provide the means for Nigeria to tackle its modern developmental challenges through proper reviewing and implementation of its curriculum. Over the years, policies were enacted to shape the higher educational system of Nigeria in order to produce qualitative graduates who will participate in finding solutions to its pressing problems. However, this move has always been truncated by poor implementation and corruption from authorities. Therefore, concerted effort is needed from both government and higher educational institutions to use their wisdom in observing the recommendations presented in this paper.