No country can ever attain the status of being developed without its citizens being literate. Using Nigeria as a case in point, our economic growth and improved living standards depend on several factors i.e. economic and social inequality, government’s spending priority and education. Several problems which can be associated with over population, unemployment, health, productivity, HIV/AIDS, high infant mortality rate and poor agricultural production, can be addressed if and only if we can get a high percentage of our citizens to read and write.
Adult literacy rate is the percentages of people aged 15 and above who can, with understanding, read and write a short simple statement on their everyday life. Based on UNICEF statistics between 2005 – 2010, Nigeria had a 61% adult literacy rate compared to South Africa’s 89% which is ranked second behind Zimbabwe’s 91.86%- the highest on the continent of Africa. I doubt the accuracy of the adult literacy level in Nigeria to be 61%; if the above definition is applied, I believe it should be between 40% – 50%.
In a firm I work with, we requested that clients who wanted to pursue a master’s degree abroad provide their CVs. A few responded negatively by questioning the rationale behind the request, they claimed not to be seeking employment but education, and those who did submit were a poor majority. A good study would be a comparison of the interlinks between literacy levels in China and India against their economic growth.
Universal Basic Education (UBE), was launched on the 29th of September 1999 by former President Obasanjo in Sokoto, Sokoto State. The programme was later signed into law in 2004 with the aim of providing 9 years of free, compulsory and continuous education in two levels: 6 years of primary and 3 years of junior secondary education for all school aged programmes. The fanfare attached to the launch however did not match the outcome in the long run; one does not need a scientist from Pluto to decipher the failure of the UBE. Why did the UBE fail or perhaps why is UBE failing? What have we learnt from that failure? How much revenue was wasted on that white elephant project?.
Fast forward to April 10th 2012, President Jonathan launched a school for Almanjiris* in Sokoto, Sokoto State? The President, accompanied by his aides, ministers and governors claimed to have launched an ultra-modern school facility. A closer look at pictures from the launch reveals nothing of that nature. The President reminds me of my childhood days back in Ibadan, where one Baba Sogo erected a 3 storey building comprising lock-up shops without any adequate provision for parking or toilet facilities, and named it Temidire* Ultra-Modern Shopping complex. My father would cringe in distaste at the wrong choice of words; he was deeply worried about kids growing up with the impression of it being an epitome of the word ultra-modern.
I wonder who sold the idea of an all-white school uniform for Almanjiri school kids in the North- shouldn’t the nature of the environment have had a bearing on such a decision? I recall how we struggled with maintaining our white school shirts in my first 2 years at Federal Government College, Odogbolu. How would this primary school Almanjaris kids cope? Coupling this with a white pair of socks and open sandals is the joke of the century, at least if one did not grow up with shoes, acquiring a Phd should more than make up for that. By the way, does the President need so large an entourage of ministers and aides to travel with him for a school launch? Save for the Minister of Education, I wonder what the whole entourage was in Sokoto for.
What purpose is this Almanjiri School supposed to serve beyond getting destitute kids off the street? What is the correlation between these schools and the mainstream schools in other parts of Nigeria? Will they teach the kids how to speak English so they can engage their peers from other parts of the country? I have gone through the website of the Federal Ministry of Education and Information and there is yet no policy/white paper available on these schools. Until then, I will continue to see this as one of our governments’ misplaced priorities [the present challenges in the North is not purely that of education but economic inequality as well]. Primary and secondary education should be the primary responsibility of Local and State governments not the Federal government. What capacity does the FG have to cover all 36 states and over 700 LGAs? The inconsistency of the 6-3-3-4 or 9-3-4 system as implied by government within a 5 year period, does not indicate what the government’s priority is.
The 6-3-3-4 system should stay: what we should develop is the curriculum, the quality of teachers as well as the facilities required to deliver qualitative and quantitative education. At this rate I don’t think every child would be able to get basic primary education in the next 10 years unless we step up our efforts. Likewise university education, we must bring non formal education into this space.
Sometimes I ponder over why most government initiatives and poverty alleviation or empowerment programmes focus on the provision of okadas, wheelbarrows etc. Perhaps the government does understand that it’s burdened with a large population of unemployable youths who have acquired no skills over the years, and hence this approach. However, I don’t see how this fits into plans of achieving significant economic growth.
All levels of government claim to be investing billions of Naira into the education sector without giving an analysis of what we get in return for this investment. The recent NECO, WAEC and UTME results are nothing to write home about, yet no government agency including the President and the Minister of Education have reacted nor shown their displeasure at these results. How come the State governments who offer free secondary education and write off examination fees, are not matching the output (NECO/WAEC result) with the investment (cost of paying teacher’s salaries, furniture, buildings, books, etc.). This is nothing short of having bad managers in charge of State funds. I could cite Oyo State teachers who were on strike recently to ask for more pay: has the Governor confronted them with the last NECO/WAEC results from the state? What would change if the government gives them a pay increase with more investment on education? The same disturbing results? Yes, the teacher deserves a pay increase, but is the increase worth the quality they deliver? This situation is also very applicable to other states across the country.
What is the role of various stakeholders in the education sector of Nigeria? Nigeria is aiming to become a developed state with one of the top economies in the world. How feasible is that if there is no correlation between the demands of the private sector and the products of the education sector? Education, skill formation and funding continue to be part of the integral policy mechanism for most economies. With the role of the Federal Government in the present Nigerian system, we should be having a coordinated market economy conceptualizing the inputs of the private sector in the education sector with state support and cooperation. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark have been successful with this approach till date.
Though the demographics (especially population) are not similar, we could learn a lot from their approach. We share common challenges they had in the past such as academic drift, labour market stratification and gender inequalities, still the development of our political economy is yet to yield any fruits. Probably at the risk of having to outsource skilled labour if eventually we have significant economic growth, the reality may dawn on us that we are experimenting with a large population of unskilled youth.
As our social capital seems to diminish before our very eyes, I begin to look inwardly at the role education played in the development of the generation before us. With relative success, the vision for the country was driven by leaders who had both qualitative and quantitative education and were eager to build on this. We no longer have a middle class and our downward relative social mobility reflects in several development indicators such as health, poverty level etc.
Till date, I don’t understand what the plan for education is and how it meets our urgent demands. In order for us to own and steer the trajectory of our economic and social development, our education sector must evolve along with time. I don’t expect this present government to fix the problems as it were in one night, but the policy direction must be precise and concise with input from all stake holders. We may just start to drive our education as a priority again.
*Almanjiris- a term used to describe young children who roam Nigeria’s streets begging- a prevalent syndrome in Northern Nigeria.