• Saturday, April 20, 2024
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Achieving SDG 4 in Nigeria – Quality education for all children

Achieving SDG 4 in Nigeria – Quality education for all children

Fatima, a 7-year-old girl, lives in a low-income community in Lagos after migrating with her family from Borno because of the Boko Haram insurgency. When she started school, little did she know that her opportunities would be limited because of the type of school she attended—”a private school for the poor” (low-fee private school).

Fatima and her family are part of the 133 million people living in Nigeria who are multidimensionally poor (NBS, 2022). Fatima has likely been counted as one of the 20 million out-of-school children (UNESCO, 2022) because her school is not approved by the Lagos State Ministry of Education. You can read this sentence, but 70 percent of students who complete primary education in Nigeria cannot read it, and Fatima might end up being one of them.

These data signal a dire need to ensure quality education to break intergenerational poverty and convert our nation’s human potential to economic growth. These trends in Nigeria, while very mind-boggling, can be reversed—but we need to re-imagine our education systems.

The UNESCO PEER report reveals that non-state actors own 51 percent of schools in Nigeria. They provide most education in urban areas (particularly in the south). The former Commissioner of Education, Lagos State, Mrs Folashade Adefisayo, shared: “The ratio of public to private schools at both primary and secondary school levels in the state is 1 to 22.” In her forward to a Global Schools Forum report (2023), she indicated, “Over 70 percent of the children in the state are educated in private schools.”

Of these non-state schools referenced, low-fee private schools, like the one Fatima attends in Lagos, are in the majority. This type of school was the last resort for her parents to give her an education.

Nigeria is falling short of meeting Sustainable Development Goal 4, and the affordable non-state sector can help alleviate this pressure. Unfortunately, the ideological response from stakeholders is that because most low-fee private schools are funded by tuition fees (albeit low), they do not need help [implying children should be left to their fate].

Of course, that does not mean that their choice to support public schools is not grounded in reason. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria indicates that the government will strive, as and when practicable, to provide free education, compulsory and universal primary education, free secondary education, free university education, and a free adult literacy programme. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government need not be the sole provider of education. 20,000 schools and 907,769 classrooms are needed to absorb the current out-of-school children (UBEC, 2023), excluding the current enrolment in the non-state sector. This sector plays a vital role in complementing the government’s efforts, and stakeholders should support them.

Despite the low-fee private schools providing significant social returns by providing access and educating millions of out-of-school and marginalised children in Nigeria, the voice of this sector and the children they serve are drowned in ideology. For many poor parents who engage in daily economic activities, these schools (especially those charging daily fees) provide payment flexibility. Also, the sector contributes to economic growth and development by serving as a source of revenue for the government, creating jobs (for teachers, administrators, and support staff), and contributing to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Human Development Index (HDI), and poverty reduction, amongst others.

If we don’t commit ourselves to solving Nigeria’s education challenges together (state and non-state), we may reap a whirlwind of worsening education trends. The government, foundations, corporations, investors, civil society, state and non-state education actors—all of us—must do more for every Nigerian child, like Fatima.

The government should give the affordable non-state sector a seat at the table for national and state education systems planning, create policies that promote collaboration, and truly support the sector by providing grants, subsidies, intervention funds, capacity building for teachers and leaders, and teaching and learning resources, amongst others. The low-fee private school owners and leaders must also commit to providing quality education, improving administration and management, enhancing operational efficiency, investing in sustainability, and creating a supportive learning environment for better learning outcomes.

We need all hands on deck to improve education for all Nigerian children now, no matter the type of school they attend, so they can thrive and succeed. As 2024 is the African Union’s Year of Education, let us start taking the right steps to achieve SDG 4 by 2030.

Olanrewaju Oniyitan is the Executive Director of SEED Care & Support Foundation, a non-profit that supports the affordable non-state education sector to deliver access to quality education for all children by providing advocacy, evidence and a learning network. www.seedfoundation.ng. She is also the CEO of W-Holistic Business Solutions, a development advisory firm. www.w-hbs.com.