• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Funding education: Money is not the problem

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Over the last 11 years, United for Kids Foundation (UKF), has built, upgraded and equipped nine libraries in some of the most impoverished sections of Lagos. The foundation serves as many as 6,000 children a week and provide educational materials, food, and household supplies to these children to ensure they are able to attend school.

By its own admission, UKF needs more money to deliver its goals but access to funds is not their biggest challenge. Rather, it is school administrators who frustrate their efforts because they refuse to present bribes. In some cases, it has taken the intervention of Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State to scale some of these obstacles.

UKF is able to raise funds because of their governance and accountability processes. UKF is audited yearly and have their reports published for all to see. Except for ten salaried staff members who manage the libraries, all other UKF members are volunteers. This includes the Founder who does not draw a kobo from the organisation but pays her way whenever visiting from Washington DC to work on UKF projects. With this level of transparency and accountability, it is no surprise that UKF enjoys a lot of goodwill.

Against conventional thought, funding is not the most significant challenge with developing Nigeria’s education system. Many erroneously argue that increased funding is the panacea to Nigeria’s educational system. While acknowledging the need to increase funding to education, accountability in the fund management process is a prerequisite for unlocking private sector funding and for achieving optimal outcomes.

For instance, federal budget allocation to the Ministry of Education was increased by 194 percent from N149.3 billion in 2005 to N439.5 billion in 2014. Yet, Nigeria’s education system continued to underperform on most indicators. A review of the 2000-2004 examination results shows that 85 percent of Unity School students failed the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations and only 38 percent made 5 Credits (including English and Mathematics) in the National Examination Council (NECO) examinations. Furthermore, a ranking of the top 100 secondary schools in Nigeria based on 2000-2006 NECO examination results had the best performing Unity School, Federal Government College, Ikole, Ekiti, at the 54th position.

Given the fractured nature of Nigeria’s public service, one has to play ostrich to feign surprise on the poor education outcomes. In 2006, Federal Ministry of Education conducted a self-assessment across twelve parameters required to run an effective educational system. On a rating scale of A for highest and F for failure, the Ministry scored a deplorable seven Fs, two Es, two Ds, and one C. The Fs were on all the accountability parameters: Structures, Systems and Processes; Ethical Dimensions and Transparency; Leadership; Managerial Competence; Human Resource Capacity; Management; and Communication Strategy. As such, one can only imagine how much of the funds allocated to education actually end up being deployed and not lost through graft.

Notwithstanding, funding for Nigeria’s education sector is nowhere near what it should be. UNESCO recommends that countries invest in education about 15 to 20 percent of the federal budget and 4 to 6 percent of GDP. From 2005-2013, federal government invested in education an average of 8.5 percent of the federal budget and 0.83 percent of Nigeria’s GDP. The top three education systems in Africa (Mauritius, South Africa and Rwanda) average 16.7 percent of their federal budgets and 4.7 percent of their GDP. South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, the top performing education systems in the world, average 18.2 percent of their federal budgets and 3.9 percent of their GDP.

Unlocking Private Money

Undoubtedly, the government alone cannot, and should not, fund the education system (infrastructure, learning aids, and teachers’ development). Private involvement is required across the entire education system to improve existing services with a focus on access and quality. Despite understanding that businesses suffer when education is underfunded, private sector involvement will remain marginal until there is accountability in fund management. How many private sector companies have the patience to deal with school administrators who demand bribes to allow for free libraries to be built?

According to initial estimates by Nigeria’s National Planning Commission, about US$70 billion is required over the next 30 years to develop education infrastructure. This quantum of funds cannot come only from the government. However, the first step is to ensure effective governance structures. A results-focused funding mechanism will ensure effective coordination across all strata of government, mobilisation of resources and support from the private sector, and efficient deployment of resources.

Onward Together

Experience from around the world shows that public-private partnerships (PPPs) are effective vehicles for funding education. PPP models can be used to improve the learning environment, provide innovative teaching materials, develop the curriculum to ensure it is relevant to the economy and enhance access to education for hard-to-reach people.

According to Michael Latham in “Public-Private Partnership in Education”, effective private sector involvement in education should include government, business community and civil society organisations with each playing unique but complementary roles. The government assumes responsibility for regulation, sector-wide delivery, long-term engagement, and public accountability. The business community ensures efficiency, innovation and flexibility. Civil Society Organisations bring an understanding of local communities to the design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting on projects.

There are various PPP models that can be implemented in Nigeria including private sector philanthropy, adopt-a-school programmes, capacity building programmes, outsourcing of school management, partnerships to develop school infrastructure, and private schools providing subsidized education to selected indigent students. These models go beyond mere provision of funds to involve private partners in the management and accountability processes and ensure performance targets are adhered to.

Public-private partnerships run the risk of being misconstrued as an attempt at privatisation or profiteering. To address this, government needs to effectively communicate the purpose, benefits and scope of the partnerships. Government must ensure stability of the overarching policy to give the private sector the confidence to make the required investments. Additionally, government should work with partners that have verifiable experience in education partnerships.

As with UKF, government must subject itself to transparency and accountability processes as a prerequisite for any successful collaboration with the private sector.

Those who approach equity must come with clean hands. Government must show strong leadership in planning and management of the public education system, streamline agencies with overlapping responsibilities, realign recurrent and capital expenditures, and provide independent monitoring, evaluation and reporting. Without this commitment, government will not secure significant private sector involvement or partnership.

Patrick O. Okigbo III & Francesca Pat-Ekeji