By Joseph Erunke
Nigeria’s education sector has undergone a lot of reforms over the decades. The sector has long not only been privatised but also commercialised.
There have been private schools existing alongside the public ones since the 1960s. There has been the adoption of different educational curricula. At a time, Nigeria adopted six years of primary school, five years of secondary school and a minimum of four years of university education. This brought about the 6-3-3-4 educational system when secondary education was broken into junior and senior secondary schools.
There are also specialised schools such as those for the deaf, the blind and other persons with disabilities. Nigerian education is on the concurrent legislative list with the three tiers of government sharing responsibilities on it.
There is a Federal Ministry of Education just as all the Nigeria’s 36 states have ministries of education while local government areas similarly have education secretariats. These were some of the measures emplaced by authorities to enthrone a sound education in the country. Regrettably, Nigeria’s education system is characterised by dilapidating infrastructure, unqualified manpower, cultism, industrial unrest, mass abduction of students and staff, ill-equipped schools, corruption and examination fraud, to mention but a few.
Without a doubt, this certainly seems to be a turbulent time for Nigeria’s education system. The country faces a perennial problem of low learning outcomes at all levels of education.
Results of different learning assessment surveys at the basic level conducted by experts at different times did not only indicate low attainments in literacy and
numeracy, they also indicated declining trends. Academic achievements are a critical measure of quality learning outcomes at the different levels of education. At the basic education level, it is important that children attain
minimum benchmarks in literacy, numeracy, science, and other life skills.
In Nigeria, national assessments of learning achievement have been few and far between. This has been hinged on a number of issues.
Apart from the country’s security problem occasioned by insurgency, terrorism, banditry and kidnapping which has contributed immeasurably to a large number of out-of-school children, said to be standing now at 10.5 million, the remaining number of children in schools who cannot learn or perform simple numerical tasks!
There is abundant evidence showing that many Nigerian children do not learn much even when they are in school. The evidence is in the World Bank Human Capital Index, HCI, which measures the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18. A report from the World Bank indicates that Nigeria is experiencing a learning poverty in which 70 per cent of 10-year-olds cannot understand a simple sentence or perform basic numeracy tasks. The bank’s World Development Report (WDR) 2018, tagged, ‘Learning to realise education promise”, had said schooling without learning was not just a wasted development opportunity, but also a great injustice to children and young people worldwide.
The report warned that millions of young students in Nigeria and other low and middle-income countries may face the challenge of lost opportunity and lower wages in future as the primary and secondary schools are failing to educate them to succeed in life. For instance, it said among young adults in Nigeria, only about 20 per cent of those who completed primary education can read. This worrisome development has largely threatened the Sustainable Development Goal 4 which seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
The Nigerian government through its vice president, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, had recently expressed concern following the latest revelation of the poor learning outcomes in the country’s education system. Speaking at Nigeria Learning Passport, a digital platform aimed to raise the quality of education in the country, developed by Microsoft in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the Global Partnership for Education, the vice president, noted that Nigeria was facing learning crisis, regretted that millions of children and young people were not developing even the basic skills required of them to escape poverty. But he blamed the development on the destruction of schools and learning facilities in some parts of the country by insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic, among others.
This worrisome development further gave rise to recent convention of a two-day media dialogue on Sustainable Development Goals,SDGs with focus on ‘Foundational Literacy and Numeracy, by the United Nations Children’s Fund,UNICEF, in partnership with the Child Rights Information Bureau,CRIB, of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture,where experts drawn from the media,academia, developmental and humanitarian agencies among others brainstormed on for possible solutions.
UNICEF Communication Specialist, Dr Geoffrey Njoku,specifically explained during a welcome remark that the aim of the Kano forum was to create awarenesses on the need to resuscitate Nigeria’s education sector at the foundational level.
The event,he said,focused primarily on the Sustainable Development Goals as Child’s Rights, as he warned that unless Nigerian children’s rights were protected,the country
may not meet the SDGs 2030.
“Talking about children’s rights, education is one of such rights. Education is a fundamental human right, and that right is well articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which guides the work of UNICEF, and of course, in other legal instruments, including the Nigerian Constitution”,Njoku emphasised.
Speaking during the forum which took place in Kano between Friday, April 8 and Saturday, April 9, 2022, UNICEF, quoting the World Bank, noted that Nigeria was “experiencing a learning poverty in which 70 per cent of 10-year-old cannot understand a simple sentence or perform basic numeracy task “
“It is clear that to improve learning outcomes in Nigeria, achieving basic foundational skills at that level of learning cannot be overemphasized,” said Elhadji Issakha Diop, Officer-in-Charge (OIC), UNICEF Field Office Kano, in a welcome remark on behalf of Rahama R. Mohammed Farah, Chief of Field Office.
“To address the challenge, achieving basic learning outcomes at the foundational level of education is key. It is clear that to improve learning outcomes in Nigeria, achieving basic foundational skills at that level of learning cannot be overemphasized,” he emphasised.
The organisation which said education was one of the fundamental human rights of children, and “well-articulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, regretted that, “For instance, as is the case with some countries globally, and in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria faces a learning crisis in which learning is not taking place, even for children that are in school.” How did the country get to this point? Well, a number of factors are responsible. These include insecurity, corruption and poverty.
On April 14, 2014, the abduction of almost 300 female students from their hostel in Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State by a terrorist group, Boko Haram, created panic and fears in the minds of school children and parents in the North. Since then, there have been several other abductions in many schools across the country, thus scaring parents from sending their wards to schools. This has also affected the concentration of school children in classes, thus contributing immensely to the current learning crisis. Many children cannot attend school now due largely to insecurity.
Poor funding of education by authorities in Nigeria is, without doubt, a major contributing factor to the crisis in the sector. The UNICEF Education Specialist, Manar Ahmed, corroborated this in a virtual presentation at the Kano Media Dialogue when she expressed deep worry that poor funding and low public spending on education have retarded progress in the nation’s education sector. She cited allocation to the sector in the ongoing year, where about 7 per cent of the national budget was allocated to education.
Inadequate qualified teachers, physical resources as well a high teacher-pupil ratio of 1 to 55 in primary schools were among the factors she said, were inhibiting progress in Nigeria’s education system even as she said the country does not lack the right policies to address the learning crisis, regretting however that the political will to implement the policies to improve on the quality of basic education delivery was the problem.
In a paper titled,”Foundation Literacy and Numeracy”, presented at the forum, Ahmed harped on the need for children at age ten not only to be able to read sentences but also comprehend simple arithmetic.
“Nigeria is facing a staggering learning crisis with learning outcomes being one of the lowest globally. When you look at public expenditure on education, the World Bank said that it was at 5.6 percent. This year, 2022, President Buhari had already approved 7 percent to the education sector budget, which is a great move to address the learning crisis. However, we have to put it in the context of the recommendation that 20 to 30 percent of the annual budget should be allocated to education. The states need to double what they currently have as public financing of education if Nigeria wants to improve on the learning outcome,” she said.
Poverty has its share in what the Nigerian education system is going through. Records available show that 72 per cent of the poorest children are out of school, compared to three per cent of the richest. Reports have shown that even when children enrol in schools, many do not complete the primary cycle. According to current data, 30 per cent of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54 per cent transit to junior secondary schools. Reasons for this low completion rate include child labour, economic hardship, early marriage for girls, and insecurity.
Corruption is equally playing an active role in Nigeria’s education crisis. Common examples of corruption in the education sector include the embezzlement and diversion of funds, equipment and school supplies; procurement fraud; examination malpractice; sexual exploitation, nepotism; favouritism; and bribery. Some persons in authority are pocketing funds – either through kickbacks or through diversion into frivolous projects. There are a lot of children who wish to go to school but the schools are not available in the first place. Even where there are schools, there are few teachers, lack of infrastructure and even manpower to do it. A lot of money has been budgeted to finance the construction of schools and to ensure the welfare of teachers, but all those things are not in place. These have continued to deny Nigerian children the right to quality education.
Dr Chidiebere Ezinwa Anthony of the Department of Mass Communication, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu, who spoke at the event on child’s rights, said impacting education on children was not negotiable, as he noted that relevant legal instruments provided a framework for the realisation of child rights and SDGs, including International Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC as well as the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria among others.
According to him,“The Sustainable Development Goals will remain a mirage until the rights of children are fulfilled.
“If you look at the situation in the education sector, we are already in a learning crisis, a situation where we are not just talking about millions of our children being out of school; we are also being faced with the challenge of those in school not being able to learn. It is important that we raise awareness about this situation and also make people realise that without the fulfilment of the rights of children to education, the SDGs will remain a mirage. With education, a child is given necessary skills he or she needs for tomorrow,” he said.
The Executive Secretary of Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, Dr Hamid Bobboyi, reacting to a report by UNICEF, that Nigeria is faced with a staggering learning crisis with about 70 per cent of children in schools cannot read and write or perform basic numeracy tasks at age 10, said the commission was worried by the poor learning outcomes in basic education despite huge intervention by the federal government. He, however, blamed the development on a number of factors including, the recruitment of unqualified teachers by some state governments, lack of regular professional training programmes for teachers, and low remuneration, among others.
Even as he argued that the figure was not scientific, he hinted that the commission was working with UNICEF to have a large scale assessment of learning achievements in the country, going into the details of what the problems are and to improve on learning outcomes in Nigeria.
While noting that there was the need to invest more in teachers that would teach children at the basic level of education, especially in public schools across the country, he said: “There is no justification for all the investment, if the child in the classroom is not learning.”
This is a confirmation of the statement by the UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Mohammed Farah, that: “UNICEF is already supporting the Government of Nigeria to improve Foundational Literacy and Numeracy through tailor-made, teaching-learning practices, such as Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) and Reading and Numeracy Activities (RANA.”
But as Farah said, a lot still needs to be done to scale-up foundational literacy and numeracy in Nigeria.
The government must invest more resources in the country’s education sector. Such investments might include building new schools or adding more seats to existing schools to increase enrollment. It might also mean additional financing for teacher training and making schools more accessible, such as feeding programs and the provision of free uniforms and textbooks. While those investments are critical, it must not neglect the important fact that it is not enough to simply enrol children in school. Policies must go much further to ensure that children learn while they are in school.