Addressing education inequity in Nigeria: A pre-requisite for poverty alleviation
Access to quality education for all is an imperative for any nation that wishes to make any significant progress in reducing or eradicating poverty among its citizens.
Recently, the world poverty clock, a web tool produced by World Data Lab indicated that Nigeria has now overtaken India as the ‘poverty capital’ of the world with nearly 87 million Nigerians purported to be living in extreme poverty and about half of the entire population living on less than $1:90 a day. This is surely a sad turn of events for the people of this great nation, so abundantly blessed with human and natural resources. Sadly, Nigeria’s poverty indices have been terrible for decades and successive governments have come up with diverse poverty alleviation measures to stem the gruesome tide, but poverty is a stubborn thing that will not be easily carried away in a kekenapep or a wheel barrow or some of the other ineffective poverty reduction initiatives that have been embarked upon in the past.
Indeed, multiple factors often contribute to a community or nation becoming impoverished, and conversely, many factors are often responsible for pulling a people out of poverty, of which education plays no small part in this mix.
Access to quality education for all is an imperative for any nation that wishes to make any significant progress in reducing or banishing poverty from within its borders. It is important to understand the intertwined relationship between poverty and education and how each reinforces the other to perpetuate a vicious cycle of poverty. Although we measure poverty in monetary terms, poverty is not merely the absence of money, but is in fact, mostly a function of an individual’s low earning potential and lack of opportunities that enhance human capabilities to lead an acceptable standard of life; which is where the role of education becomes vital. Simply put, education has a direct correlation with income. The higher the level of education, the less likely the person is to fall below the poverty line.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Education at a Glance 2017 report found that 85% of young adults (aged 25 to 34), on average, have attained upper secondary education in OECD nations; it is, therefore, no surprise that OECD nations are also the most prosperous nations in the world. Education remains the most potent and formidable tool for breaking the cycle of poverty and exclusion, and the more we act like this is not the case and allow our children, in their millions, go uneducated, the more our people will sink deeper into poverty.
Unfortunately, the quality of education in Nigeria has continued to deteriorate, and access to what poor education we have remains an insurmountable hurdle for millions of Nigerian children. We know that over 10.5 million Nigerian children are out of school. It is also the case that most of the children who make it to school are not learning and nearly 6 out of 10 Primary six pupils in Nigeria cannot read at all. Consequently, the World Economic Forum’s
In this fast-changing global economy, fueled by technology and globalization, it is now, more than ever, important for Nigeria to invest in human capital development (education) to ensure that every one of our citizens has the skills necessary to thrive. All of us – the Government, the private sector and well-meaning individuals – must take appreciable steps to ensure that the right measures and investments are made to improve the quality of education for every Nigerian from pre-primary school to tertiary level, otherwise Nigeria will continue on this path towards an increasingly untenable and unjust future with a youth population that does not have the necessary foundation to contribute meaningfully to the growth of the economy, but have incredible capacity to do damage to society. Putting bandages on the current broken system is not working.
To solve this crisis, it is important to note that there can be no single solution to a problem as systemic and complex as educational inequity. We will require many integrated solutions by diverse actors coming at the problem from different directions to meaningfully address this crisis. The private sector has a critical role to play as nation building is not a task for the government alone, substantial investments must be made to support the actions and plans of the government to achieve the standard of education that we deserve. We need to deploy our brightest minds to the education sector and channel more of our society’s most outstanding, well-educated and capable human resources against this problem and foster their leadership as a force for change inside and outside the system.
The country also needs to develop a strong, collaborative network of determined leaders who understand the root causes of the challenges facing our public education system and are committed to challenging them with innovative solutions. Fortunately, citizens are already taking direct action in this regard via Teach For Nigeria.
Teach For Nigeria (TFN) is focused on developing a movement of leaders across the nation who are committed to ending educational inequity. In the short term through a two-year Fellowship, TFN recruits Nigeria’s most outstanding university graduates, existing teachers and young professionals of all academic disciplines to teach as full-time teachers (as Fellows) in high-need schools, in poor communities. Through this experience, our Fellows gain exposure to the realities of Nigeria’s education system and begin to identify their role in building a wider movement for educational equity. In the long term, TFN supports its alumni – equipped with the experience, conviction, and insight that comes from leading children to fulfil their potential – to be a force for change, working from across sectors to expand educational opportunity.
In 2017, we deployed our first cohort of 45 Fellows to teach in 25 high need schools in low income communities across Ogun and Lagos state. This year we are expanding to the northern region and scaling our program across Lagos and Ogun state, by placing an additional cohort of 200 Fellows to teach in high need schools. We plan to be present in all six geo-political zones in Nigeria by our 10th year with a view to making our vision a reality, that one day every Nigerian child will have access to an excellent education.
Folawe is the chief executive officer of Teach For Nigeria, a social enterprise focused on developing leaders who will drive the movement towards educational equity and excellence in Nigeria