Nigeria, leading Africa’s economy with a poor education sector

With a $480.5 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as at 2021, Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa and 29th in the world, according to the IMF. But, surprisingly, the country’s rather large economy is running on the back of poor funding of its education sector.

How the country wants to run and sustain the growth of the economy, manage industries within various sectors, feed its 200 million population and compete favourably in the international market with graduates from the deprived education sector remains a mystery. For experts, education is at the heart of achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

Other countries are heavily relying on intellectual capabilities derived from the education sector to transform their economies faster instead of natural resources such as oil that are finite.

With clear knowledge that education is the foundation of a better future as stated by Elizabeth Warren, American public servant and a candidate in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Nigeria is expected to pay much attention to the sector, but it is not.

Over the years, the Nigerian education sector has received poor budgetary allocations not enough to equip it for the demand of running the economy. For instance, the education sector received a total of N771. 5 billion in 2021 out of a total budget size of N13.58 trillion. This was 5.68 percent allocation.

In the year 2020, education sector received the sum of N671.07billion, or 6.7 per cent out of N10. 33 trillion budget while in the year 2019, the sum of N620 billion or 7.05 per cent was allocated to education out of N8.92 trillion budget. The previous years did not fare better either for the education sector.

While other countries such as South Africa and Ghana have continuously increased their budgetary allocation to the education sector to about 20 percent respectively towards meeting the UNESCO recommended 26 percent, Nigeria’s budgetary allocation to education is far less than 10 percent of the budget over the years.

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Olusola Oyewole, former Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) in a report, described education funding in Nigeria as abysmal. Each year, the budget that is released is mainly focused on payment of salaries with no unique initiative to address the challenges facing the sector.

Florence Obi, former Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Calabar in a report warned that any country that neglects knowledge resulting from educational activities sets itself back by a decade, noting that “any nation that does not pay attention to the educational needs of its population is likely to face difficult times in the future.

She further pointed out that higher education in Nigeria has been experiencing loss of facilities, deterioration of equipment, and uncompleted projects as a result of the financial crisis facing the system.

10 percent allocation, even in the 2022 budget, when education received N1.29 trillion or 7.9 percent of the N16.39 trillion budget, contradicts President Buhari’s promise at the global education summit

The less than 10 percent allocation, even in the 2022 budget, when education received N1.29 trillion or 7.9 percent of the N16.39 trillion budget, contradicts President Buhari’s promise at the global education summit on financing global partnership education (GPE) 2021-2025 held in London, United Kingdom on 29th July 2021 where he told the world that the Government of Nigeria will ensure that total education spending increases by 50% over the next two years and up to 100% within the next five years (2021 – 2025).

“We also undertake to work with, and ensure that every State in our Federation progress towards or maintain spending levels above 20% of their total budget to achieve national minimum standards for education outcomes”, President Buhari said, but the nation has not seen this come to reality.

According to statistics, Ghana in 2018 allocated 18.6 per cent while South Africa allocated 16.7 per cent in the same year showing seriousness to beef up education sector for economic development.

Due to inadequate investment, improper attention to education sector and dearth of quality teachers and teaching aid, standards are said to be dropping in the last 20 years with some graduates said to be unfit for employment.

Analysts observe that the constant below par budgetary allocation to education has several notable downsides at all levels. Nigeria, for instance has one of the highest number of out of school children at 8.5 million while some who want to attend tertiary education are denied through the JAMB process.

Poor education standard is manifesting in JAMB and WAEC scores. Figures from statiSense, a consulting firm, show that 12 candidates in every 100 candidates scored 200 points and above, out of total 400. In 2019, it was 23 candidates in every 100 that scored 200 and above.

Unfortunately, none of the country’s universities that produce the needed manpower for the economy is ranked among the top 1,000 universities in the world by Webometrics.

The global low ranking of Nigerian universities is largely a function of poor funding of education by Nigerian governments over the years.

Many school buildings, both public and private are not good enough for learning due to poor funding. Some private organisations have attempted to assist in reconstructing and funding education, but this is not enough for the wide gap of decay in the sector.

Argument is rife that some of the graduates from the 322 tertiary institutions lack the relevant skills needed in the job market and this makes them unemployable. Some of them therefore find something else they could do to survive.

Managing post Covid economy requires dynamism and thoroughness and this requires that the education system especially the tertiary institutions should be strengthened for improved learning, and new techniques which would translate to better results.

In his opening remarks at a presidential summit on education in November 2017, President Buhari even recognised that it is those who acquire the most qualitative education, equipped with requisite skills and training, and empowered with practical know-how that are leading others.

He further said in a media report: “We cannot afford to continue lagging behind. Education is our launch-pad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future. This administration is committed to revitalizing our education system and making it more responsive and globally competitive. One of the primary roles of education is to build and sustain individual and society’s development. It renews and improves the economic, social, political and cultural aspects of any nation.

“Education upgrades the living standard of citizens and enables people to become better and more productive citizens. It is a human right that creates a safe, healthy and prosperous society. It changes the visions and perspectives of individuals, enhances critical decisions and improves democracy. Indeed education is paramount and necessary requirement for all-round development”, Buhari noted.

But many stakeholders in Nigeria are simply not happy with the poor education standard which produces graduates that should be fit for running the economy.

Omotunde Lawson, who runs a school, described the whole situation like a computer. “What you feed in, is what gets out. If you put in garbage, you get garbage.” She said in a chat with BusinessDay that the country’s education is poorly funded even when the country has a big economy that should be run with graduates from a well funded education sector.

According to her, if state governments can understand the importance of education and take up the responsibility of funding it, this will impact positively on Nigeria.

For Isaac Adeyemi, former vice Chancellor, Bells University of Science and Technology Otta, Ogun State as referenced in a report, if the nation’s education system is to position itself on a platform any relevance, the government must prioritise education through proper funding and policies that will enhance the sector across the board.

In his view, Aderemi Aaron-Anthony Atayero, former vice chancellor, Covenant University, Otta, Ogun State opines in another report that the solutions to the socio-political and economic problems in Nigeria lie in quality and sustainable education. He said any investment in the education sector is an investment in the future of Nigeria.

“Quality and sustainable education has the potential to create employment, improve wellness, and create a well-informed or politically-informed citizenry. Therefore, I want to appeal that Government should declare a state of emergency in this sector and devise a developmental plan that will address and remedy the problem of access and quality within a specified period. There is need for massive infrastructural development in this sector”, he said.

On his part, Peter Okebukola, former executive secretary of the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), in a report called for improvement in funding across all levels of education.

He observes that such a move would increase capital development to aid teaching and learning, adding that the Nigerian education system is not up to the level it should be.

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