The challenges in the education sector are so enormous that private institutions would need to lend the government a helping hand. Mr. Shina Atilola, Group Head, Strategy & Communications, Sterling Bank Plc in this interview explains what the Bank is doing to support the education sector.
How would you describe the level of education in the country?
It is still not where it should be. Yes government is doing so much to develop the sector but we are not there yet, that is why the private sector must come in and invest in the education sector if we really want our children to get quality education without having to pay so much for it. It is so bad that most well to do and not so well to do strive to send their children abroad to obtain what they see as quality education.
Unfortunately, this has constituted a major drain on our foreign exchange earnings as a country. It is alleged that there are 75,000 Nigerians studying in various educational institutions in Ghana. Just estimate the amount of money these 75,000 students would have saved the country in dollars if they were in Nigerian universities.
Rolling back the years when I was an undergraduate studying International Relations, about 45 per cent of my classmates were foreigners from Equatorial Guinea, Niger Republic and even from France. Such people came for exchange programmes to understand the concept of international relations in Nigeria. Thus, beyond the capacity issues, the quality of education is very critical to make our people stay.
So what is the way out?
First and foremost, government must increase funding to the education sector and ensure that public schools are better equipped to compete fairly with the private institutions. Most importantly, there is a need for urgent intervention in the education sector by private sector companies because government cannot do it alone. This is why we have decided as a bank to focus on the sector.
Sterling Bank’s intervention in the sector will help to ameliorate some of the challenges the sector faces. Over the years, youth unemployment has remained one of the daunting challenges in Nigeria, as recent statistics show that over 25 million youths in the country are unemployed.
This abysmal statistics is linked to, among others, the issue of employability as even where jobs abound, the lack of competence to handle them arises. This problem can be attributed to the declining quality of education in the country.
All this has necessitated our foray into education. We realise that Nigeria will require an investment of about $1 billion yearly for about 55 to 56 years to transform the education sector. Our intervention in this sector will hopefully contribute to resolving the problem of unemployment. It will help Nigerians create their own businesses.
State governments are beginning to come up with initiatives to develop the education sector. For instance, we are aware that Lagos State government has introduced the Lagos EKO project. We have similar projects in other states especially in the south west.
In what ways can the private sector support such initiatives?
The facts are there. We are the first bank in Nigeria to partner the Lagos EKO Project using our staff as volunteer teachers to teach different subjects, all of these are part of our corporate social responsibility to support education, to aid employment and bridge the estimated $1 billion gap that exists in terms of funding education in Nigeria.
Apart from that, Sterling Bank has also helped to improve the look and feel of some schools and we are also supporting with books, writing materials, as well as textbooks. Our books ‘My Little Money Book’ and ‘Funds’, is our way of providing a learning/teaching guide on saving, loans and other financial concepts.
Now what is Sterling Bank doing to support the sector?
The Bank’s focus on education is strategic. We are looking at all actors in the value chain. For instance, the bank has set up an education desk to look at the total value chain of education, from suppliers of inputs to the end users. The bank intends to use it’s expertise to contribute to the development of the sector through a variety of initiatives.
Statistics from EFInA shows that 1.9million people are borrowing for education needs, meaning that there is a need in this sector. The bank intends to reduce the burden on parents occasioned by bulk payment of school fees through our school fees finance product. It provides convenience to parents and peace of mind that their children can stay in school while we finance their education.
We have also instituted scholarship opportunities for brilliant children that excel in competitions organised by the bank. Just recently, we concluded a Mathematics competition in collaboration with a school in Lagos. More than 1,000 children entered for this competition and top performers were beneficiaries of various cash awards.
The winner got N500,000 scholarship support, the second N300,000 scholarship support, and the third got N200,000 scholarship support. The scholarships were extended to the top 51 students: The student that came fourth got N150,000 while the fifth, sixth and seven positions got N125,000, N100,000, and N75,000 respectively. The remaining 44 students got N50,000 alongside books and other materials. We are doing all these to encourage healthy competition among students and at the end of the day develop the sector. I can assure you that by next year, the Mathematics competition will go national.
To encourage students improve on innovation and critical thinking another competition is ongoing for students between ages 5-12. Basically, the kids are allowed to design and create the bank of their imagination which could be expressed as a painting, drawing, writing or even through a presentation. The most creative ideas will be shortlisted for various prizes. The first, second and third prize winners will go home with a scholarship awards of N500,000, N300,000 and N200,000 respectively.
There will also be other cash awards, gadgets and other prizes to be won. This initiative is aimed at identifying talents and harnessing same for global competitiveness.
It is also important l mention this. Sterling Bank supported the 2014 edition of the “We are The Future of our Nation” (WATFON) program, an initiative of Edumark Consult. Over 3,500 final year students in various secondary schools attended the event aimed at providing leadership skills and career development knowledge yearly. We did this as a way of investing in our collective future and create the society we want by investing in our youth. This platform provided the children to meet with accomplished Nigerians, who have excelled in various fields and have thus become role models to inspire the children to greatness
There is need for institutions to promote financial literacy among students which would prepare them with the ability to make informed financial judgments and effective decisions about the use and management of money from the young age which determines the child’s long-term financial security.