How poor countries can overcome learning imbalance in education delivery

Education is often described as essential to the development and success of every country, and every nation committed to progress and advancement strives to have a system of education that reflects the changing needs of its people.

It has also become obvious that learning inequalities (across countries) mirrors economic imbalance. Nevertheless, it is also a proven fact that low-income countries can still attain a quality system of education that will ideally impact their people.

According to Global Finance Magazine (2021) world’s poorest countries rankings, Seychelles is 58th with 28,060 GDP-PPP ($). Yet, Seychelles, a small African country with a population of about 95,000 emerged as the country with the best education system in the continent with 69.3 points at the end of the evaluation. This followed an evaluation by the World Economic Forum in 2019, of 140 countries, including 38 African countries, to rank the best education systems based on skill development taking into consideration the general level of skills of the workforce and the quality of education.

It was the only African country to feature in the top 50 education systems globally, at 43rd position ahead of Ukraine, Hungary, Russia, and UAE.

Huge financial losses due to misappropriation in education, amounting to $10.5 million per year in Nigeria and $8.5 million in Kenya are part of the reasons for the learning imbalance in such countries

Seychelles is one of the African countries that place a high premium on education. According to UNESCO, in 2016, the Seychelles government committed 11.72 percent of its total expenditure on education.

From its inception, Seychelles took a radical approach to the development of its education system with various innovations and inclusions which, today, has led it to be recognised as the first and only African country to fully achieve the ‘education for all’ goal, set by UNESCO.

In Seychelles, education is compulsory for children through primary school and secondary school up to the age of 16, using a system where students must pay for uniforms but not books or tuition, and parents are allowed to choose where to take their children, either to public or private schools.

Secondly, it established an adult literacy programme for individuals without proper education. This was meant to address the problem of adult literacy and this can be emulated in low-income countries, especially through the use of technology and digital means.

Seychelles also introduced quality educational reforms committing its budget to educational development with emphasis on educational equity for all reflecting evidence of its dedication to the improvement of the lives of its citizens.

The World Bank ranks the poorest countries in the world using GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity (PPP). The actual purchasing power of any currency is the quantity of that currency needed to buy a specified unit of a good or a basket of common goods and services. This is determined in each country based on the cost of living and inflation rates.

Research has proven that education in those countries where children learn very well is expensive. High-income countries spend more than 150-times as much on the education of each child as poor countries.

However, according to the Global Corruption Report, huge financial losses due to misappropriation in education, amounting to $10.5 million per year in Nigeria and $8.5 million in Kenya are part of the reasons for the learning imbalance in such countries and other low-income countries.

Besides, lack of accountability results in teacher absenteeism, which can be as high as 30 percent in some countries.

Friday Erhabor, public affairs analyst, blamed the learning crisis in Nigeria’s education sector partly on a lack of accountability and misappropriation of funds.

“The problem we have in this country is that people are not brought to book for their actions. As soon as we get that right where people are made to be accountable for their actions, we will get value for every dime spent in the public sector,” he said.

Erhabor urged policy implementers to learn from the security trust fund initiative of the Lagos State government.

“Lagos State government at a time set up a security trust fund and on a regular basis, they render accounts on how the fund is being utilised. Donors’ especially corporate organisations, were donating generously to the fund because they were satisfied with how the fund was being deployed transparently. The same can be done in the education sector if the administrators demonstrate transparency and integrity,” he stated.

UNICEF in its findings in 2021 discovered that in West and Central Africa for instance, despite progress in school enrolment, a significant portion of children is not learning the basics in reading and mathematics, thus limiting their ability to live productive lives as adults.

Elizabeth Ohaka, an early childhood educationist buttressing this point gave reasons why many children in low-income countries such as Nigeria are unable to learn even while in school.

“There are several factors to this, and one of them is when children are taught the best they learn. Children have specific ways they learn, which is a play-way method. Talking of the play-way method that involves fun, and the use of several sensory organs, so it is multi-sensory.

“They are able to see, touch, hear, move and sometimes smell what is being taught. When learning is emotional, when there is fun in it, songs and plays, children tend to retain what they are taught,” she said.

However, she frowned at the situation whereby even the teachers are not trained to teach in the modern ways, as it becomes a problem.

“Children also have what we call learning styles, a particular child may not want to learn by just talking, the learning style could be visual, auditory etc, and you need to use these channels to get the best out of a child,” Ohaka noted.

This can be said to buttress the fact that the disconnect between education financing and education performance is a serious concern when it comes to the value-for-money in education spending. And that poor education performance is as much related to low investment in the sector as to the inefficient use of existing resources.

However, some experts believe that most cost-effective programmes deliver the equivalent of three additional years of high-quality schooling, that is, three years of schooling at the quality comparable to the highest-performing education systems in the world, about N61,500 ($100) per child.

Noam Angrist, a researcher and a fellow at the University of Oxford, and colleagues suggest that avoiding overly ambitious curricula and ‘teaching at the right level’ could be the panacea.

Perhaps somewhat paradoxically one reason why children in some countries learn very little is that the school curricula are too ambitious. Instead of being aligned to the students’ learning levels, most of the content goes over the students’ heads.

They suggested that countries could match the teaching to the learning level of the students to balance learning. It is just a change in how teaching is done.

According to Stanley Alaubi, a senior lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, “Curriculum should be geared towards solving the immediate needs of society.

“In Nigeria, we are supposed to move from too much consumption to production. Our currency is constantly losing its value due to a lack of productivity. Nigeria’s education policy and curriculum should be geared to solve the major needs of the country.”

Another issue is that teachers are left to fend for themselves. In such situations, it has been shown to be very cost-effective to introduce structured pedagogy programmes in which teachers receive support and are provided with structured lesson plans. The work of teachers can be complemented by technology-aided instruction programmes.

Oluchi Chukwuma-Ojei, a teacher believes that teachers’ encouragement has a big role to play in getting children to learn in schools.

“Giving teachers support in forms of motivation goes a long way in improving service delivery of teachers.

“Teachers need support in areas such as the provision of modern facilities to ease teaching and learning, salary upgrading, among others,” she said.

Read also: 5 Issues we must address now for every child to access quality education

At the same time, researchers have identified low-cost ways to improve their learning outcomes. Taken together this gives us the possibility to turn schooling into learning.

For Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, we become humans only through education. According to Kant, human beings are defined by what they have achieved in education. Thus, education is as essential as the air we breathe, and the food we eat.

Olayinka Bolarinwa, a parent, affirms that the home front helps a child improve learning in numerous ways.

“Good parenting helps a child to be able to function well in schools, besides, an environment where a child is loved is essential to a child’s learning ability. In addition, it is good nutrition which helps improve the brain and learning abilities of a child,” he noted.

However, Bolarinwa lamented the fact that the economic situation in most low-income countries does not allow the parents the luxury to pay attention to the academic well-being of their children again.

“Often times parents these days are juggling between jobs in order to make ends meet, hence, many do not have the time to attend to their children’s academic demands. School fees are another biting factor that does not allow children to concentrate in their studies again

Unfortunately, more than 120 million children do not complete primary education across the world. Half the children in Africa miss out on school.

But one would argue that being in school does not always mean learning. Hundreds of millions of pupils in school reach young adulthood without even the most basic skills, such as reading, writing, or doing basic sums.

However, not all children are affected in the same way by this ‘learning crisis,’ the poorest children are the hardest hit.