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Year 2020: Nigerian education still in shambles amid Covid-19, poor funding, high drop-out rate, ASUU strike

Education in Nigeria, at least in the public sector, is in a state of dysfunction. Its human capital is in disarray, so is its physical infrastructure. The nation’s standard of education totters as the government continues to talk more about the crises facing it rather than act on resolving them. The students are disillusioned with public education. Their teachers are frustrated in the face of poor motivation and ramshackle facilities. As the rot deepens, so does the attention paid to the sector wanes.

If there is one thing successive Nigerian governments have succeeded in doing, it is organising summits or conferences to consider issues that have been thoroughly analysed and solutions proffered. In Nigeria though, history is a fall guy; nobody learns from it. The repeated calls for a declaration of state of emergency in the education system corroborate that point.

For how long this huff and puff will go on nobody knows. What is clear is that successive governments in the last five decades have paid lip service to revamp a sector bedevilled by low budgetary allocation, poor incentives for teachers and dilapidated infrastructure. It is for those reasons and more that the country’s education system is in a mess, education experts say. It is difficult not to agree with them.

According to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Nigeria has approximately 20 per cent of the total out–of-school children population in the world. Adding to this challenge is the demographic pressure with about 11,000 newborns every day that overburdens the system capacity to deliver quality education. In the northern part of Nigeria, almost two-thirds of students are “functionally illiterate”.

An additional challenge is the direct threat to schooling, especially for girls, emanating from political insecurity through insurgent activities, and attacks on schools.

However, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, believes that the Buhari administration is committed to promotion of education, research and development, pointing to the ‘Education for change: A ministerial strategic plan (2015-2019)’ blueprint of the government.

The document, according to the minister, is concerned about the issue of out-of-school children, basic education, teacher education, adult literacy, curriculum and policy matters on basic and secondary education, technical and vocational education, education data planning, library services, information and communication technology, and tertiary education.

“Sixty per cent of the 11.4 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls. Only a fraction (17 per cent) of 3.1 million nomadic children of school age has access to basic education despite decades of intervention. Similarly, only a small proportion of the ministry’s 2010 estimate of 9.5 million almajiri children have access to any basic education and an increasing number of displaced children (about one million) are being forced out of school in the insurgency-stricken states,” Adamu said.

In the document, the Federal Government had proposed strategies for engaging with state governments in addressing the problems of out-of-school children. It also planned to raise the national Net Enrolment Rate (NET) by enrolling 2,875,000 pupils annually for the next four years as well as renovate schools destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents and construct additional 71, 874 classrooms annually.

In addition, government is expected to provide additional 71, 875 qualified teachers through the deployment of 14 per cent of the new teachers to be recruited annually (by 2050, Nigeria will need to recruit 400,00 teachers and raise the enrolment of girls in basic education schools by 1.5 million annually for the next four years.

Concerning basic education, the minister admitted that 15 years after the launch of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, pupils’ learning data remain unsatisfactory and mean scores in English, Mathematics, and life skills are very low and generally not up to standard. But almost two years after, there is no sign that implementation has commenced on the document.

All in all, stakeholders and education experts believe that the successes are few and far apart, noting that things have fallen apart in the education sector and efforts by successive governments have not had impact on a system long left to rot.

For former Nigeria’s permanent delegate and ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Michael Omolewa, a professor, said “Private participation in educational provision has yielded positive results in the advancement of the sector through the contribution of private individuals and religious groups that are committed to investing in education.

However, in spite of the enormous expansion that has taken place, the foremost historian said there is still need to invest more on education, as proposed in the ministerial strategic plan of Adamu Adamu.

He said, “We should always remind ourselves that investment in education is an investment in the future of the country. The out-of-school children and young adults, as well as the illiterate adult population require special attention to ensure that peace reign, social malpractices are uprooted and fairness and equity are promoted, to guarantee peace in the country,’’Omolewa said.

However, a struggle was going on prior to COVID-19 to ensure young children stay in school and have access to proper education, as Nigeria contributes approximately 20% of the total global out-of-school population.

The COVID-19 pandemic is revolutionizing digital and online education globally but kids in rural and underserved communities in Lagos State, Nigeria, are being left behind as they are not equipped to adapt or transition to the new methods of learning.

On 19 March 2020, the Federal Ministry of Education approved school closures as a response to the pandemic. States in the federation contextualized this, with the Lagos State Ministry of Education releasing a schedule of radio and TV lessons for students in public schools.

Priorities include the introduction of courses such as coding and robotics.

However, for families that earn below $1 per day and faced harsh economic realities due to the four-week lockdown in the state, the purchase of radios or TV might be a trade-off that they cannot afford. A suggestion to this problem was the provision of portable solar radios to help bridge the digital divide.

The pandemic has unmasked substantial inequities in the education sector. Private and non-governmental sectors are tirelessly working to salvage this situation. Projects such as Digiterate and Teach for Nigeria hope to ensure proper tools for education are available to all in Lagos.

However, one major issue that may stem from this inequality is that these kids who currently cannot keep up with their peers because of inaccessibility to digital tools may never catch up and will continue to feel the effect of this gap long after the pandemic is over.

Aside, the Academic Staff Union of Universities [ASUU] went on an indefinite strike on March 23, 2020 after its two weeks warning strike ended without resolution of their dispute with government.

The closure of the universities engendered by the indefinite strike snowballed into further shut down of schools by the government following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.

Students of Nigerian government-owned universities have lost the entire academic year to the long dispute between government and the lecturers.

However, on Wednesday December 23, ASUU through its national president, Biodun Ogunyemi, announced the suspension of the nine month-old-strike.

The union had gone on strike over non-compliance by government on ASUU-FG agreement of 2009 and Memorandum of Action 2013 that require legislation such as the mainstreaming of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) into the annual budget and amendment of the Executive Bill in respect of the National University Commission (NUC) Act 2004 as well as the IPPIS.

Ogunyemi listed key demands of ASUU for which agreement was reached to include, the immediate release of Earned Academic Allowances and mainstreaming of the EAA into the annual budget, using the agreed formula, to immediately engage the universities and other research centres in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.

He said that part of the agreement was that government should expedite action on the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) for the payment of salaries in the university system.

In addition, Ogunyemi said that ASUU expects government should fast track the FG – ASUU re-negotiation exercise to ensure that it was concluded within the timelines agreed by both parties.

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