Time for reset: Education reforms hold a significant priority in Nigeria
Time for reset: Education reforms hold a significant priority in Nigeria. In order to achieve growth and development, education is a crucial priority for any nation, including Nigeria. However, over the last decade, education has not received the necessary attention it deserves, resulting in limited progress. As a consequence, we have fallen behind our peer nations in all major development indicators, implying a lack of concern for the future.
Despite being a fundamental human right, education is not easily accessible to all citizens in Nigeria, as demonstrated by the low literacy rate of only 62%, according to data from Globaldata.
Our current figures reveal a disadvantageous position compared to other countries, indicating the inadequacy of our primary school system. At this point, empty rhetoric and posturing will not suffice. What we need are comprehensive reforms that challenge the status quo, supported by decisive actions.
To address this, the Nigerian government must prioritize a comprehensive educational reform strategy that focuses on improving education quality, increasing access to quality education, and integrating innovation and technology.
While education falls under the concurrent list, and local governments play a significant role, the Federal Government must take responsibility for setting the policy direction for the country.
To kickstart the process, it may be necessary to establish a “Special Office on Education Reforms at the Presidency.” This office would collaborate with various levels of government and stakeholders to develop a 25-year ‘Marshall Plan’ aimed at revitalizing education. Additionally, it should set policies and a regulatory framework that promotes higher literacy rates and gender equality in education.
To promote equal access to quality education across Nigeria, it is important for both the Federal Government and state and local governments to take action.
While the Federal Government should focus on strengthening regulatory regimes for standards nationwide, state and local governments should establish their own competitiveness standards based on measures such as academic performance in public examinations and high levels of numeracy and literacy skills among children.
However, there are cultural dichotomies and geopolitical differences within Nigeria that can affect access to education and the quality of education. In particular, the challenges faced by the Muslim North are different from those of the South, and the issue of insecurity in the North has only compounded these problems. To address these challenges and promote equal access to quality education, it is crucial for state and local governments to take proactive actions.
The education situation in Nigeria is a cause for concern, as there are many obstacles to providing fair and high-quality education to the country’s diverse and extensive population. Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children worldwide, with around 10.5 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 not receiving an education.
Based on World Bank statistics, Nigeria’s literacy rate is low, standing at 65.1%, and there are significant gender and regional disparities. The Nigerian government only allocates 5-6% of its federal budget to education, which falls far short of UNESCO’s recommended national budget range of 15-20%.
Moreover, the education allocation as a percentage of GDP is inadequate, at just 1.95%. The gravity of the education crisis is further underscored by the fact that in 2022, only 450,000 to 550,000 candidates out of 1.761 million who sat for the JAMB exam were offered admission to universities. This figure represents a mere 0.013% of the 40 million young people aged between 15 and 24 (based on 2020 data) who are qualified for tertiary education.
The sluggish progress of our country can be attributed, in part, to the inadequacy of university education opportunities. The increase in the number of private universities from three in 1999 to 30 in 2009 and 111 in 2022 serves as evidence of the gap in university education, but it does not necessarily indicate the quality or affordability of education.
Multiple challenges confront Nigerian universities, including limited access and low-quality instruction, resulting in university graduates lacking essential skills, cognitive abilities, and critical thinking capabilities, leaving them unemployable.
This discrepancy can be traced back to the poor quality of primary education managed by local governments. In comparison to other countries such as Botswana and South Africa, Nigerian universities and academics produce little research output, which is the primary measure for global university rankings. The accumulation of knowledge is crucial for the development of social and human capital and economic progress, providing developed countries with an advantage over developing nations.
Our limited research output is partly responsible for the sluggish growth of our economy and the thriving rentier system. Moreover, each year, approximately 5-7% of experienced academics in Nigeria leave the country in search of better research prospects overseas. Sadly, Nigeria’s education infrastructure is outdated, rundown, and often inadequate.
In spite of the pressing need of the community, successive governments have failed to construct new public schools. Even when they do, they invest little in infrastructure and facilities. Most public schools are in deplorable condition, making them undesirable for students. The school buildings and premises are ill-suited for their intended purposes.
Nigeria’s education system is severely neglected, with poorly trained and uninspired teachers. Private schools are frequently run as personal businesses, charging exorbitant fees that many parents struggle to afford.
The curriculum emphasizes rote learning, memory-based education, and exam success, rather than skills-based, analytical, and independent thinking necessary for intellectual and economic progress. The theory takes precedence over practice, and education technology is often unavailable in most schools.
The failure of governments at all levels to prioritize education is a clear indication of a failing state. In such cases, functional public education systems may be privatized, leaving public facilities to deteriorate. Education workers, such as teachers, are often marginalized, and their reports to relevant ministries are disregarded.
Despite the commendable efforts of Dr. Oby Ezekwesili during her tenure as Minister of Education under Obasanjo’s presidency, the comprehensive education reform she initiated was discarded with the change of government. Similarly, sub-national governments such as Ekiti State under Fayemi, Edo under Oshiomhole, and Kaduna under El-Rufai have faced opposition from organized labor and other entrenched interests in their attempts to improve teacher quality and reset education.
Unfortunately, this presents a dilemma that requires urgent attention. Therefore, I recommend declaring a state of emergency and conducting a comprehensive overhaul of the education system. This overhaul should focus on positioning the education sector as a catalyst for social and economic growth, following the example of successful countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea.
To achieve this, Nigeria’s new administration must prioritize the restructuring of the entire education system and align it with modern educational techniques.
A multifaceted approach involving the government, businesses, educators, parents, and the wider community is necessary to improve education in Nigeria. The government must first establish a sustainable funding mechanism for education and allocate a significant portion of the national budget to the sector.
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