As Nigeria joined the international community for the fourth time to mark the International Day of Education – celebrated this year on the 24th of January 2022 and themed ‘“Changing Course, Transforming Education”, it is important that a retrospect of key themes for education in Nigeria is taken.
Quite notably and unfortunately, we find that very little has been achieved by the Nigerian government in addressing key challenges with the sector, given its current and dire state. There have been numerous interventions and coordination by International organizations – the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which have culminated into several pacts.
The UNICEF says that even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school
Notable amongst them is the recent Paris Declaration signed in November 2021 and supported by members from over 40 countries. The Paris Declaration commits to increased investment in education by the government of countries and the partnership of public and private organizations. In particular, members committed to devoting 4% of GDP, or at least 15% of public spending to education. This became necessary given the negative effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on enrolment rates and the aggravation of schools closure and disruption worldwide.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron “At the height of the crisis, in late March 2020, 90% of the world’s schoolchildren, or more than 1.6 billion students, saw their schools close.” As regards Nigeria, rather than immune from global education shocks, Nigeria has always been exposed and overly prone to a direct, aggregated and intertwined macroeconomic and socialpolitical impact on her quality of education and the rate of children in school. “Millions of Nigerian children have never set foot in a classroom – and this is a travesty. Perhaps equally tragic is the high number of children who make it into a classroom, but never make the transition from primary school to secondary school – thereby cutting off their chances for a secure future.” Peter Hawkins the UNICEF representative in Nigeria explained on the occasion marking the 2022 International Day of Education.
On her part, the Country Director, Save the Children International Nigeria, Ms. Mercy Gichuhi, also lent her voice to the importance of education in the world “Children constitute a great number of the world population and they are the future of the society. The worst option is to see a generation of children and young people who lack the skills they need to compete in the 21stcentury economy or leave behind half of humanity. The prize of non-providing the necessary skills to the leaders of tomorrow is catastrophe.” For a little over a decade, the palpable security situation in the north has displaced both young and old leaving children at the mercy of international organizations and donor agencies to cater for in internally displaced camps without any education whatsoever. The rate of children hawking wares in traffic and by effect assuming breadwinners’ roles for their families in the south is all the more unique to Nigeria.
Little wonder that UNICEF says that at least 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria – the highest rate in the world. A full one-third of Nigerian children are not in school, and one in five out-of-school children in the world is Nigerian. Violent attacks on school children have continued unabated around the country especially in the North. In 2021, there were 25 attacks on schools. 1,440 children were abducted, and 16 children were killed. Even more vulnerable children remain in captivity of bandits and kidnappers.
The UNICEF says that even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 percent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education. These bleak reports on Nigeria call for concern from all concerned stakeholders. Quite notably, the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari was present at the UNESCO head of government meeting around the period the Paris declaration was conveyed. There were expectations that a commitment to the Paris pact was to be strengthened. The Ministry of Education also is well aware of the deteriorating state of education in the country.
On this note the Minster of state of Education was recently quoted along the following lines: “My heart and soul are with all Nigerian Children who are still in captivity. I stand with the parents in the circumstance. The government will continue to do all it can to free our children who are being held for what they know nothing about.” But is a mere verbal commitment enough to solve the impending consequences of a neglected sector as important as as education? Before President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the 2022 budget, *N3.70 trillion was allocated to the education sector by the federal government between 2016 and 2021 and this has been given the sector.
During this period, Ghana and South Africa allocated 23 percent and 16.7 percent respectively of their budgets to education. In Nigeria’s 2022 budget of N17.13 trillion, only a paltry 7.2 percent is allocated to the education sector. At the tertiary education level, the Academic Staff Union of Universities still remains embroiled in a tussle with the Federal Government in relation to the 2009 agreement not reached with another strike action being threatened in the weeks ahead largely due to poor welfare of lecturers and facilities in Universities. Ironically enough, the Nigerian education system serves as a breeding ground for the finest of professionals worldwide with medical and technology experts leaving the economy in droves for ‘greener pastures’ resulting in a brain drain It begs the question of where funds are being channelled for educational purposes in the country.
Beyond devoting a proportion of expenditure to education, it is overly important to also spend on the areas that promise the most impact for the actualization of other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), poverty eradication inclusive, and the growth and development of the country in general. Training for teachers should top the list of areas of education expenditures as with learning tools and equipment as conventional spending on brick and mortar classrooms, chairs, and tables phase out. We cannot feign ignorance of the new direction for global literacy and education.
The health and safety of students and improved working conditions of teaching staff need to be enhanced. The girl child also needs to be protected in Nigeria. All told and in the light of the foregoing, it will be disastrous for Nigeria to close a blind eye on the impact that education plays to making life meaningful for its citizens. This is because, a literate society promotes comprehension, internationalism, and value-based contribution to the common goal of our nation and living
*Note Updated to correct total allocation to education between 2016 and 2021 as revealed by data from the Budget Office of the Federation.