Nigeria’s colleges of education and 21st century demands

As Nigeria grapples with increasing falling education standards, Colleges of Education are often overlooked in the scheme of things. But when policies are properly implemented and the government demonstrates the political will, the bastion of education, which are the colleges, will thrive, writes IYABO LAWAL.

Not many people dream of going to a college of education. It is often the last option on the table for many youths. Nigerian youths prefer to go to a university or polytechnic. Not many people remember to make college of education their first choice; going there is often considered an afterthought – the last alternative. 
Colleges of Education (CoE), the doyen of higher learning in the past, have since fallen in the pecking order of tertiary education since the dawn of the 20th century.
In the 21st Century, it is taking a turn for the worse like its counterparts – the university and  polytechnic – except that the college of education system is the worst hit.
In the beginning, the birth name of college of education was “Advanced Teachers’ College”. There were four in existence back then: Advanced Teachers’ College, Ondo, Zaria, Kano and Alvan Ikoku Advanced Teachers’ College. The report of the Ashby Commission in 1958, which condemned the quality of teachers in Nigerian schools then, and raised the need for higher grade or more qualified teachers, gave birth to those institutions, which have now metamorphosed into today’s colleges of education. 
Established in the 1960s to address the dearth of qualified teachers in primary schools, Nigeria’s colleges of education have, for decades, been systematically plugging the gap. However, over time, these institutions have been faltering.
This much was attested to by Prof. Nike Ijaiya, a professor of Educational Management, while speaking at the convocation ceremony of Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin.
Like her, many erudite scholars admitted that the rise in education standards globally is creating challenges for quality and confusion for education managers and students that need to be sorted out.
“How do we match the rapidity of change with quality or funding? This is where the role of the teachers comes in, referring to parents as the early teachers and the school teachers as the guardians of the child,” Ijaiya stated.
To appreciate where Nigeria’s colleges of education should be in the 21st century, Ijaiya and other stakeholders noted that an understanding of what should be the quality of a 21st century student is imperative.
“When educators know what their students should be or know, it helps to direct their teaching strategies. Based on the rapidity of change and widespread nature of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) revolution, today’s students should possess certain qualities. They should be broad-minded and demonstrate deep understanding of the world, its diversity and challenges; and make interdisciplinary connections – mathematics, sciences, history, social sciences, among others,” Ijaiya pointed out.

Yet, not a few scholars are scratching their heads wondering how educators trained in the analogue fashion will be able to produce digital teachers. It also appeared to be a dilemma for them how student teachers trained by digital immigrants, who were trained with analogue methods will teach ‘digital natives’ to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

Presently, there are 152 accredited colleges of education, 21 owned by the Federal Government, 49 by states and 82 privately owned.

Concerns over teachers’ skills
A recent report on a basic literacy and numeracy competency test for teachers in public primary schools in one of the northern states showed that out of 17,229 teachers, only 5,439, representing 31.6 per cent were competent to teach; 3,815 or 22.1 per cent were incompetent and not trainable, while 7,975 others, representing 46.3 per cent, were not competent enough but trainable.
Similarly, in Kaduna State, about 66 per cent of 33,000 primary school teachers who sat for a primary four pupils’ test a few years ago failed to score 75 per cent, leading to massive sack. Though there was a remarkable improvement in Kaduna teachers’ performance in the latest competency test conducted in December 2021, several teachers were asked to retake the test for failing to score 75 per cent.
About 165 of the 27,662 teachers who sat for the test scored below 40 per cent and were asked to leave. Stakeholders warned that incompetent teachers would destroy the future of the college and that of the children.

For about a decade now, colleges of education have faced hurdles that restrict them from living up to expectations. From deteriorating infrastructure to poor funding, the colleges, particularly government-owned, are confronted with challenges, which affect academic standards and, consequently, quality of teachers produced.
This has led to shortage of qualified teachers in primary and secondary schools, a problem the colleges were meant to solve in the first place. For instance, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), said of the 1,761,262 candidates that sat for last year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), only 24,069 applied to colleges of education across the country. This represents one per cent of total applications. In 2021, of the 1,351, 284 that sat for the examination, only 15,747 chose COEs; this is 1.17 per cent of the total figure. Private colleges are worst hit. Some of them could only get a total of 177 candidates in 2021, despite JAMB’s quota for them to admit more than 17,000 students.
 For many students, enrolling at colleges of education is usually the last choice after failing to gain admission into universities. The number of students enrolled in colleges of education varies yearly. In 2019, 69,810 students were admitted, but enrolment dropped significantly in 2021 to 47,920 out of the 235,240 slots allotted, which dropped further in 2022.
The disinterest stems, in part, from poor rewards for teaching across Nigeria’s educational system. At entry level, a teacher with an NCE qualification earns an average of N40, 000 in government-owned primary and secondary schools and even lower in private schools.

President of the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU)
Dr Smart Olugbeko, said COEs lack the needed infrastructure to train students to make them 21st century compliant. He said a committee set up by the Federal Government carried out a needs assessment of colleges of education and recommended that N366 billion was needed to bring them to the global standard.

“The Federal Government later reviewed the report and came up with N465 billion as the amount needed to reposition colleges of education but, till now, the government has not released any funds to pursue this goal.

“That is why we are having problems. This will definitely affect products and that is the situation we have found ourselves,” Olugbeko lamented. 
 A Professor of Adult Education, Stella Nwosisi, noted that by law establishing them, colleges of education are expected to produce qualified teachers for basic education, but sadly, teachers now produced are not properly trained, adding that reviewing the entry requirements at this time will further worsen the case of the sub-sector.

Besides, she noted that some of the colleges awarding certificates do not deserve to be granted licenses, as they do not emphasise quality. Nwosisi added that poor motivation of lecturers is a major factor responsible for colleges’ persistent descent into ineffectiveness, noting that some of the colleges pay as badly as N40, 000 per month, which may not also be regular.

“How do you expect those lecturers to teach effectively in such an environment?” With adequate motivation, Nwosisi said colleges of education would attract more students without necessarily reviewing entry requirements.

How to revive colleges
A retired principal, Akin Folarin, said there should be a political will to secure the place of colleges of education in providing quality teachers at the basic education level.
Rather than lower entry requirements, Folarin said factors such as improved funding, staff motivation, infrastructural development and conducive working environment should be improved upon to revitalise colleges of education.
On his part, Dr Olu  Adesoga, said there is a need to regularly review the curriculum to make it more practical and market-oriented to produce skilled and highly educated NCE graduates needed by private and public sectors.
Adesoga said stakeholders must review entry procedures into the country’s CoE, as the present structure debases teacher training institutions. He, therefore, sought a collaboration that will improve the admission status of the colleges and eliminate the concept of lowering standards to attract students.

He said, “Notwithstanding the overwhelming preference for admission into university, the provision for college of education as third choice in the JAMB form sought to obscure the system from others. After the selection of the very best from the first choice list, colleges of education are left with the low performing candidates and this does not augur well for teacher education.

Former chairman of COEASU, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED) chapter, now Lagos State University of Education (LASUED), Michael Avosetinyen, said lowering entry requirements would negatively affect teacher education.

According to him, teacher education institutes are structured to produce highly motivated and conscientious individuals for all levels of education. Teaching is the mother of all professions; so, lowering entry requirements of colleges where the best candidates are supposed to be trained is not the best.

“CoE is not a dumping ground, and when you look at the criteria for NCE and the qualifications for any secondary school leaver coming for NCE, it is the same five credits including English and Mathematics. It is not the best for the country.”

To raise the standard of those admitted into the faculty of education, the government must review admission requirements for students studying education courses, as those mostly admitted are students with no interest in education or did not meet admission requirements in other courses.