• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Who will save Nigeria’s children?

Who will save Nigeria’s children?

The average state in Nigeria has circa 200,000 children in public primary schools with perhaps over that number in private primary schools. That translates to approximately 14.8-16m children in primary schools, that is apart from 10.5m out-of-school children aged between 6-15 estimated by UNICEF in 2022.

As the global community marks International Day of Education with the theme, “Learning for lasting peace,” on 24 January 2024, policy makers are again reminded of the complex nexus between education, social and economic stability, and peace.

Unfortunately, the reality that most of Nigeria’s children are missing out on the benefits of quality education casts a shadow on the prospect of future peace anchored on a well-educated, agile and upwardly mobile population.

In the past decade, several multilateral institutions have indicated that Nigeria is travelling in the wrong direction when it comes to basic education service delivery and learning outcomes.

Last year, the calls for education reform grew even louder when prominent figures like Bauchi State Governor Senator Bala Mohammed, Nigeria Governors’ Forum Chairman Mallam AbdulRazaq AbdulRahman, and new Education Minister Professor Tahir Mamman all voiced their support.

For Nigeria, the education statistics are grim. According to UNICEF, one in three children are out of school: 10.2 million at the primary level and 8.1 million at the junior secondary level. Additionally, 12.4 million children never attended school, and 5.9 million left early. In stark terms, Nigeria’s out-of-school population accounts for a staggering 15% of the global total.

While out-of-school children are a major challenge, Nigeria faces an even subtler, yet pervasive, problem: learning poverty. Many students enrolled in public primary schools fail to achieve acceptable learning outcomes, raising questions about the effectiveness of the Universal Basic Education Act (2004). The harsh reality is that most children in our public school system perform significantly below their grade levels in numeracy and literacy skills.

No one captured the frustration with this reality better than Senator Bala Mohammed, Executive Governor of Bauchi State, when he met with basic education sector managers in his state last year.

“The quality of supervision by SUBEB is appalling, so you have the opportunity to change. I have done my best but, certainly there is no supervision, no quality control, it has been business as usual. I am highly disappointed with all managers in the sector, from my humble self, the SSG that is supervising SUBEB, the Ministry of education and the LGAs. We have not done well in that sector,” the visibly unhappy governor said at a solemn meeting where he addressed basic education managers last October.

The numbers tell a clear story. UNICEF says no fewer than 70 per cent of Nigerian children are suffering from learning poverty.

To corroborate this, a report titled “Mapping the Learning Crisis: Learning Deprivation as an Early Warning Indicator Among In-School Children in Nigeria” (Sponsored by The Nigeria Economic Summit Group, The policy Innovation Centre and High Level Forum on the SDGs), concluded that “the reading proficiency rate in Nigeria is below the global average, a situation that demands an urgent policy and programme response by government to address the learning losses and meet the SDG education targets.”

Solving the learning poverty problem in Nigeria is imperative. Policy makers, donor agencies, state governments and other partners have to address the remote and immediate causes of the problem.

Preliminary research indicates that several factors exacerbate the problem. Beginning from the home to the school system itself and government.

Some states in Nigeria have started on the path of holistic reform. Edo, Lagos, Kwara and Bayelsa seem to be at the forefront with statewide reform programmes designed to address key challenges like teacher truancy, the curriculum and learning materials, classroom management methods and quality assurance.

These states are using cutting edge technologies to address age-long problems that have bedevilled basic education in Nigeria. The very realisation that the governor is interested in what is happening in the local classroom is making teachers seat-up in those states.

The realisation that punctuality and lesson completion in the most remote school is being monitored by His Excellency himself is sending messages of “This is not business as usual” in the system.

But more states have to embrace reform. The National Orientation Agency has to address challenges that bring our children down. Nigeria cannot afford to breed a generation that is at best illiterate. This cannot be our story.

Things have to change so that we can put our children on a path of “Learning for lasting peace.”

 

Ejiro is an award-winning communication strategist and editor with a specialty in development communications.