By Abiola Owoaje
It is on a very sombre note that Nigeria joins the rest of the global community in commemorating this year’s International Day of Education. The solemnity is compelled by the current morass in which Nigeria’s education system has found itself.
The grim statistics presented on the decadence of Nigeria’s educational sector on this very day last year now threatens to evoke an eerie nostalgia as the nation’s education sector has further plunged into abysmal conditions since then. From 10.5 million out-of-school children in 2020 – a whopping 1 in 12 of all out-of-school children globally, Nigeria now has over 20 million out-of-school children. These latest numbers have made the World Bank posit that the crisis in Nigeria’s education sector means that 70 per cent of 10-year-olds are incapable of understanding a simple sentence or performing basic numeracy tasks. This is an unsustainable state of affairs!
As the world marks this fifth anniversary of the International Day of Education, it is instructive for all relevant stakeholders to take recourse in, and gain insight from the day’s theme – To invest in people, prioritise education.
This theme was selected after very meticulous deliberations on the increasing inequities which continue to frustrate national and international efforts at achieving inclusive and equitable education and converting verbal commitments and aspirations into tangible outcomes.
The National Association of Seadogs, Pyrates Confraternity, has continued to express grave concern about the parlous state of child education in Nigeria. That a country of almost 200 million people (with an average age of 18) has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world should be a source of worry to everyone. The potential menace which a lack of quality education amongst such a vast section of society can unleash is unimaginable.
The astronomical out-of-school numbers in Nigeria can be said to be as a result of multiple factors, chiefly, the adverse impact of perennial terrorism and banditry on education, especially in northern Nigeria, and the cavalier attitude with which governments across the board have handled issues pertaining to education – from budgeting to matters of policy formulation and implementation.
We are aware that a lot of the issues bedevilling education in Nigeria persist because of a disturbing lack of political strategy, and political will, in the scanty instances where a semblance of such strategy exists. Governments, over the years, have continued to allocate paltry percentages of the yearly national budget to education, in spite of the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation, (UNESCO)’s persistent recommendation of at least 15 – 20%. In the last 8 years, Nigeria’s education budget has hovered between a meagre 5.68% and 8.8% of the national budget. Allocating 8.8% of this year’s budget to education may look like an improvement on previous years, but in the face of the odds that continue to mount, it can best be described as perfunctory.
In the wake of the devastation caused by lockdowns and lost school time occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, crippling insecurity, a chronic dearth of infrastructure, declining quality of curriculum and teaching, and worsening out-of-school statistics, we urge the Federal Government of Nigeria to immediately declare a state of emergency in the education sector.
We strongly recommend that the Better Education Service Delivery For All, which was rolled out by the Federal Government in 2018, and which has reportedly ensured the enrolment of over 1 million out-of-school children, needs to be re-evaluated and primed for improved results. The Alternative School Programme, which came on stream in January 2021 as a federal government education and social welfare programme for pupils has not quite made a much-needed impact beyond the pageantry of its inauguration day. The Federal Government of Nigeria should lead from the front in ensuring qualitative, affordable and compulsory education for a young demographic bursting at the seams, and upon whose frail shoulders the very future of the country rests. The rankling dishonesty that characterised the government’s handling of the recent industrial action by public university lecturers does not present much hope.
The International Day of Education is another opportune moment for all stakeholders to reflect and redouble their efforts to ensure that the future of present and future generations is secured. The approach has to be holistic and sincere, else we run a grave risk of contending with tens of millions of young people, bereft of formal education, unable to compete with peers across the world, and cannon fodder for all sorts of social vices. Anything short of a concerted effort, hinged on increased funding and a collective will to see plans to fruition, will come back to bite one and all.
By Abiola Owoaje
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