YNaija Editorial: The fight over religious studies is a distraction from real problems

For the past few weeks, there has been a raging controversy in Nigeria over a change to the country’s educational curriculum. Christian leaders allege that Christian Religious Knowledge has been melded with a new subject called National Values, while Islamic Religious Knowledge is a subject on its own. There is also a lot of angst over the perceived introduction of Arabic Studies.

However, what they allege is far from the truth: the curriculum which was approved in 2014 and is subject to review every nine years included IRK, CRK, Social Studies, Civics and Security Education as part of a new subject called Religion and National Values. The religion tracks of the subject are to be chosen by the student, meaning no track is imposed on them.

Also, Arabic is an optional language subject while French is mandatory – an important subject considering our proximity to French-speaking countries and how widely spoken the language is internationally.

But beyond that, this controversy distracts from more important issues regarding Nigeria’s basic education system such as lack of access, poor facilities and inadequate and poorly trained teachers.

In 2014, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) together with Educational for All (EFA) and Global Monitoring Report (GMR) released a report that said Nigeria needed to allocate an extra $1.8billion to be able to pay for the shortfall in teachers. This amount will expectedly pay for the 1.6 million more teachers that the Federal Government admits it needs over the next six years.

But it is not just the fact that Nigeria needs more teachers – it is also where it needs them and in what areas. Rural areas disproportionately suffer from a lack of teachers and schools, with pupils having to cram themselves in overpopulated classrooms and trek long distances to get an education, which negatively impacts school attendance and performance.

Also, there is a gross shortage of teachers for Science, Mathematics and English subjects, a situation that is so bad that the Director-General of the National Mathematics Centre called for a state of emergency to be declared in this respect.

Yet, despite this, the federal budget for education is still heavily tilted towards tertiary education except for the 103 federal secondary schools which take up less than 20% of the budget for the sector. When combined with monies allocated for colleges of education and teacher training programs, the spending on basic education development is still a small percentage of the total.

It is even worse at state levels with many governments preferring to focus on building universities, which starves basic education of funding in the face of inadequate facilities and well-trained teachers.

This lopsided thinking harms Nigeria as it does not allow the majority of children get the best of education that will allow them compete even within the country and add to our economy, talk less of competing internationally.

These are the real issues we should be focused on pushing our governments to act upon, and not to focus on religious studies. Pressure groups such as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) should align their protests to the greater benefit of the country and her future.

Let us not be distracted from the real problems.

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