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Fixing education sector challenges for increased productivity

Of the various sectors of the Nigerian economy, education is among the most important, being a major incubator for human capital. Yet, the sector is more challenged than any other in very many ways.

From obsolete curriculum to poor funding, decaying infrastructure, varying knowledge acquisition levels, low carrying capacity of institutions, poor teacher-quality, and growing number of out-of-school children, the sector reels in academic calendar disruptions arising from inconsistent policy and government-induced labour unrests.

In a very disturbing way, the Covid-19 pandemic has unmasked the gaps in the education system of the country. Given its undeniable role in economic development, fixing these challenges should make the list of government priorities, more so as economic productivity is a function of quality education system.

A United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Report states that 10.5 million of Nigerian children aged 5-14 are not in school, adding that only 61 percent of children within 6 to 11 age bracket regularly attend primary school.

Some states in the North East and North Western parts of the country have more than half of their girls out of school as marginalisation ensures that girls in those regions are deprived of basic education. This explains why Nigeria contributes as much as 20 percent of the total global out-of-school population.

Regrettably, Covid-19 outbreak has increased the numbers and worsened the situation

When the federal and state governments, in an unintended but necessary action, ordered the closure of schools at all levels in a bid to curb the spread of the deadly virus, the action, disrupted learning processes and outcomes across the country.

It is noteworthy, however, as unfortunate as it is, COVID-19 pandemic has helped to revolutionise digital and online education globally. While some schools in Nigeria have fully embraced the ‘new normal’, children in rural and underserved communities in some Nigerian states, are left behind as they are not equipped to adapt or transition to the new method of learning.

We were alarmed when the Federal Government cut a whopping 54.25 percent from its 2020 budgetary allocations for Universal Basic Education to N51.1billion, down from N111.7billion. All these have reflected in the sub-optimal performance in the sector. In 2019, the sector recorded a weak growth of 0.80 percent.

Despite some imperfections, the efforts of some private and non-governmental sectors executing projects such as Digiterate and Teach for Nigeria in Lagos are commendable. There are, however, some children who currently cannot keep up with their peers because they don’t have access to digital tools.

It is pertinent to note that the challenges in this sector have to do, partly, with issues of access. It is also that of quality. This is why we believe that, to drive quality and access, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and government aid must be encouraged.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) notes that, “PPPs can do much to improve the quality of, and increase access to education for poor children in underserved communities,” adding, “more schools in such areas, especially Lagos, would go some way to start shifting the teacher/student ratio which has hit alarming lows of 1:83 at some points in the past decade.”

Educationists argue that if Nigeria must have a vibrant education system, education should be viewed as a high government priority. They advise that there should be an understanding that an investment in it is one in human capital and very beneficial to economic development.

This should inform budgetary allocations to the sector. Also, investing in educational tools of the future alongside a total revamp of the educational sector is key. Reforms in the national curriculum post-pandemic would be an effective way to also bridge the inequality gap.

Nigeria’s human development index is very poor and depicts the miserable state of its citizens. For this reason, we advise that the way to improve this index is to start investing in quality education.

This, we believe, is a sustainable mission that must be embarked on because the more educated a country is, the more productive its workforce becomes, and the more it grows economically.

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