BusinessDay

Re-thinking the future of education in Nigeria

For the fourth time, Nigeria joined the United Nations General Assembly and the world to commemorate the International Day of Education themed “Changing Course, Transforming Education” amidst falling budgetary allocation to education, dwindling enrolment rate for children, rising insecurity, and general uncertainties as to the direction of literacy and learning in view of the rapidly changing landscape of the future of work globally.

The Education system in Nigeria has sadly become a shadow of itself and is currently subsumed under a divisive preference for quantity over quality, visibility over impact, and aggregation over clustering.

On a global scale, and against the backdrop of the heavy and negative impact of Covid-19 on the educational system, António Guterres, Director General of the United Nations says that “Some 1.6 billion school and college students had their studies interrupted at the peak of the pandemic — and it’s not over yet. Today, school closures continue to disrupt the lives of over 31 million students, exacerbating a global learning crisis.”

The current challenges affecting the Nigerian education system has left much to be desired, the system is characterized by high illiteracy level, infrastructural decay, and deficits

The UNICEF says that “In Nigeria, only 61% of children of primary school age attend school and the percentage is lower in the North. It is worse for the female child in the North of the country, where only about 40% are registered in school.”

In addition, “A full one-third of Nigerian children are not in school, and one in five out-of-school children in the world is Nigerian.”

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its 2020 report on women and men, ten states were homes to more than half of Nigeria’s out-of-school children, Topping the chart was Kano State (989,234), Akwa-Ibom (581,800), Katsina (536,122) and Kaduna states (524,670)

In a bid to gear up the number of enrolled children, beef up the general level of education, and reinforce the importance of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 – Education, in November 2021, in Paris, France, participating countries at the UNESCO global Education meeting committed to an increased budgetary allocation for education – at least 4% of GDP, or at least 15% of public spending.

For Nigeria, this has become a tall order as the budgetary allocation to education has fallen below this benchmark and has oscillated fiercely in recent years.

It has now been estimated that of the N55.3 trillion allocated by the Nigerian government to education in the last six years (2016 and 2021), only N3.5 trillion representing less than 10 percent have been successfully disbursed to the sector.

Also, according to official data from the Budget office, in the year 2016, 6.7 percent (N369.6 billion) of the total budget of N6.06 trillion was allocated to the education sector. In 2017, the percentage allocation to the sector rose to 7.38 percent (representing an estimate of N550 billion) out of a total budget of N7.29 trillion.

In 2018, the percentage allocation again dropped to 7.04 % with N605.8 billion allocated to education of a total budget worth N9.2 trillion. A slight rise was recorded in the year 2019 when N620 billion representing 7.05 percent of a reduced total budget of N8.92 trillion was recorded. In 2020, N671.07 billion or 6.7% was allocated to education out of the N10.33 trillion budget.

In 2021, 5.6 percent (N742.5 billion) of a budget of N13.6 trillion was apportioned to the sector, and finally in the current fiscal year, of Nigeria’s 2022 total budget of N17.13 trillion, only a paltry 7.2 percent has been allocated to the education sector, a rise from the previous year.

However, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari at a recent Global Education summit in London, co-hosted by British prime minister, Mr. Boris Johnson, and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, pledged to increase the budget for the education sector in Nigeria by as much as 50 percent in the next two years.

“We commit to progressively increase our annual domestic education expenditure by 50 percent over the next two years and up to 100% by 2025 beyond the 26 percent global benchmark.

Experts in the education sector have also noted that rather than a perfunctory focus on increased budgetary allocation, the essence of funding, and its expenditure clusters be taken into cognizance the more.

The training for teachers, adaptability, the relevance of curricula, and increased skills acquisition and knowledge for digital tools and equipment have been identified as critical to meeting global standards for education especially in a fast-changing world driven by technology.

At the 2020 UNESCO Education Meeting Declaration, one of the focus points stated was identified to be “Narrow the digital divide in education, develop quality open educational resources and build digital commons as a complement to face-to-face learning, with a view to enabling inclusive and equitable technology-supported learning.

In so doing, protect learners’ privacy, foster digital citizenship and reaffirm education as a public good.”

The UNESCO has now walked the talk.

In its recent prospective education report titled “Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education” UNESCO has acknowledged the importance of re-thinking the future of education.

The new report is the “fruit of two years of work by an independent international commission drawing on contributions from more than one million members of the public alongside the expertise of 400 UNESCO Associated Schools and 200 UNESCO Chairs worldwide.”

“The report calls for the reform of curricula and teaching methods to take into account three major recent changes in our societies: those linked to globalization, the climate challenge, and the digital revolution.

It notably calls for:

1.) Education to be based on human rights and respect for cultural diversity,

2.) The integration of environmental education in all school programmes

3.) Teaching of digital tools to instill both the technical mastery and the critical spirit and distance that are necessary for their proper use.”

Secretary-General of the United Nations – António Guterres seems to be in support of the new direction of education. “Our world is changing at a dizzying pace, with technological innovation, unprecedented changes in the world of work, the onset of the climate emergency, and a widespread loss of trust between people and institutions.

Conventional education systems are struggling to deliver the knowledge, skills, and values we need to create a greener, better and safer future for all.” He says.

Thankfully, multilateral organizations are committing to an investment in the future of education and work in Nigeria.

According to the European Commission and High Representative/Vice-President (VP) Josep Borrell in a statement released ahead of the International Day of Education on January 24, education will continue to be a primary avenue for the EU’s involvement with the rest of the world.

In terms of assistance to partner countries, Borrell stated that EU institutions and EU Member States will continue to work together as Team Europe to help these countries improve their educational systems and “address shortfalls and inequities in teaching, training, and learning at all levels.

“Europe will engage with partner countries in particular on teacher training and governance to achieve quality education outcomes,” he added.

“Partnerships with civil society, the private sector, and global education stakeholders will be vital to building global citizenship,” the VP said.

For Country Director, SCI Nigeria, Ms. Mercy Gichuhi, “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 21st-century economy or leave behind half of humanity. The prize of non-providing the necessary skills to the leaders of tomorrow is a catastrophe.”

“It is high time the government and all stakeholders prioritize education as a public good; support it with cooperation, partnerships, and funding; and recognize that leaving no one behind starts with education.

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

Apart from external partnerships, donations, and pledges, a couple of organizations in Nigeria are in the lead to advance training and education using technological tools and resources.

When contacted to comment on his personal experiences within the Nigerian educational system, Uzochukwu Alutu, a Policy Analyst and Development expert in a worried state asked rhetorically. “What sort of skills are Nigerian students being taught? Do these include – financial literacy, robotics, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, 3D painting and various form of creative arts, the internet of things and biotechnology amongst others?”

SING Nigeria in its recent education report, says that an initiative has been set out to address the digital skill gap by making technology infrastructures accessible within Nigeria’s underserved communities.

Alt School, an education learning start-up founded by Adewale Yusuf is also in the lead to reduce the time it takes to train entry-level tech graduates to be able to meet the high demands in the market. Within a year, students can get tech training and subsequently exposure by an internship in a firm. Tuition fee is to be paid at the end of the training and internship period. Adewale Yusuf (CEO) discloses that the startup will launch its Schools of Product, Data, and Blockchain in Q2 2022.

Already, the firm has raised $1 million in pre-seed funding with pledges received from Nigerian entertainer, Folarin Falana (Falz); Flutterwave Founder, Olugbenga GB Agboola; Paystack Founder Shola Akinlade; Nigerian musician and rapper, Akitoye Balogun (Ajebutter); Pledges, Nestcoin, and ODBA VC.

U-Lesson is also another educational firm taking digital educational learning by storm. Founded in 2019 by Sim Shagaya, it says in its recent Edtech report, that “Despite clear demand, the current educational infrastructure – both public and private – is failing to meet the needs of Africa’s future. Falling technology costs are bringing online education tools within the reach of families and students who can benefit from additional support.

“Initial data suggests that online, on-demand learning fills a distinct need, both in preparing for new subjects and studying for exams. Students are using educational technology and virtual tutoring support as a means of furthering their career aspirations, particularly in STEM-related fields. The Edtech report also states that U-Lesson’s focus is on the core curriculum subjects in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The Minister of State for Education – Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, acknowledges that more needs to be done.

“The current challenges affecting the Nigerian education system has left much to be desired, the system is characterized by high illiteracy level, infrastructural decay, and deficits.”

“We have an inadequate number of qualified teachers, inadequate infrastructural facilities/resources, and poor funding,” he says.

We can be optimistic about a redirection of focus and the will from the government to increase the quality of education in the country to global levels.

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