By Jérôme-Mario Chijioke Utomi
There are two recent exciting events in the country that have provided secondary illumination to this particular piece. Fortunately, both are also specific to the education sector.
First, the recent one in Abuja while receiving members of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) led by Co-Chairs, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the reverend. (Dr.) Samson Olasupo Ayokunle.
During the meeting, President Muhammadu Buhari said, among other things, that the federal government remains committed to honoring the promises made to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to prevent disruptive strikes, create uninterrupted university programs and improve the financing of institutions. of teaching.
The second relates to another similar decision/commitment by the Federal Government of Nigeria, in observance of the International Day of Education, to increase Nigeria’s annual domestic expenditure on education by 50% over the next two years, and 100% by 2025.
Interestingly, this article isn’t alone in seeing the comments, especially the second development, as a good step in the right direction.
Take, for illustration, a statement issued and signed on Monday by Geoffrey Njoku, UNICEF Communications Specialist in Maiduguri, among others, which read: “The Nigerian government is committed to increasing funding for education, which is a very important step. Far too many Nigerian children today are not in class and for those who are; far too many of them do not receive a solid education that can translate into good prospects for the future. This is a step forward, an increase from the 5.7% allocated for 2021, although there is still a long way to go to reach the internationally recommended benchmark of countries devoting 15-20% of their national budget to education”.
The statement added that “at least 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, the highest rate in the world. A full third of Nigerian children are out of school and one in five out-of-school children globally is Nigerian,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
Essentially, apart from what UNESCO has said, there are of course, in my view, other intrinsic reasons why the latest measures taken by the federal government, if implemented, are to be commended Nigerians.
The chronic and continuing underfunding of the sector by past and present administrations has consequently prevented professors in public universities from conducting academic research, truncated the academic calendar with strike actions, provided Nigerian universities with learning facilities dilapidated and overcrowded, with universities producing graduates with no connection to the labor demand of the domestic industrial sector.
More pathetically, this age-old challenge has, in some public institutions of higher learning, led to a thoughtless demand for tuition fees of varying amounts/offered by school authorities, a development that has financially squeezed out the lives of innocent students and their parents while undressing. our educational process and the equity of outcomes.
Take as an illustration of underfunding, the Nigerian government’s initial budget for 2020, according to reports, was 10.5 trillion naira ($25.6 billion), of which 686.8 billion naira ($1.7 billion dollars) were for education. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been changed. The overall budget was increased slightly to 10.8 trillion naira, but that for education fell to 607.7 billion naira. The education allocation of N686.8 billion represented 6.5% of the original 2020 budget. The revised budget of N10.8 trillion meant that the education share of N607.7 billion then represented 5.6% of the total.
According to the country’s budget office, the funding allocated to the basic education commission in 2020, in the initial and amending budgets, are as follows; the initial budget, 137.97 billion naira ($336.5 million) was allocated to the commission. In the amended budget, the allocation fell to 79.9 billion naira ($194.8 million).
Despite these efforts, the budget allocation to the education sector for the said year has not scratched the surface of UNESCO’s budget recommendation to nations, which currently stands between 20/26%.
The failure and failure above, coupled with another mirage of challenges within the sector, has rendered the current movement and celebration of the federal government’s effort/promise like a new invention that comes with usually of opportunities and challenges.
This assertion is based on the fact that the challenges facing the education sector in Nigeria are water-related and go beyond permanent underfunding to include dilapidated learning facilities, overcrowded classrooms and outdated policies, among others. A matter that requires more work, reforming the holistic approach in a way that requires the federal government to urgently need to go beyond this current promise.
Take as another illustration, the Institute for Statistics (UIS), the official statistical agency of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) until, when it ceased to publish these indicators in September 2020, as it had since adopted other indicators, recommended approximately 58 students to each qualified teacher. But this is not the situation in most schools in Nigeria, especially public/federal primary and secondary schools.
Specifically, a visit to public schools (primary and secondary) in parts of the north and south of the country not only confirms this belief, but says something “new and different”. Even in other southern states, the situation is no different. In Lagos for example, where the demand for learning opportunities is huge, the number of students per teacher/per class is well above the UNESCO recommendation. The facts are there and speak for him.
It is also true, according to a research report, that there are still a large number of those who are in these schools, but do not learn anything, because school does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, it is finally becoming clear that there are more out-of-school learners than out-of-school.
Also today, the world agrees that the road has not been easy for the Nigerian education sector. Since May 1999, when democracy re-emerged on the political surface called Nigeria, the race has been hard and tumultuous. Even the practice of democracy in the country, contrary to earlier beliefs, has not helped in curbing the pangs of challenges experienced by Nigerians in the sector.
The federal government and state governments in Nigeria continue to let the rate of out of school children especially in the northern part of Nigeria increase in numbers even when it is evident that the streets are known to spawn all forms criminals and other social misfits who pose the real threat in the form of armed robbers; thugs, drunks, prostitutes and all the other social ills that give society a bad name, Nigerians are beginning to see that the government’s approach to the challenge is not delivering the intended result.
Just recently, it was reported that out of the seventeen states in the country with the highest number of out-of-school children, 14 of the states are in the North. The commentary also noted that if the rate of out-of-school children could be reduced, it would help control the insecurity currently plaguing parts of the country and would to a large extent signal goodbye to the threats of insecurity across the country. .
For the recent promises of the Federal Government to bear fruit, one point that we must all bear in mind is that the major problem preventing Nigerians from benefiting from the education sector is the gradual non-recognition by the Government of the right to education as a human right despite their adherence to a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, where this right is respected.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Program Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based non-governmental organization (NGO). He can be contacted via [email protected]/08032725374