Zainab Sandah: Educating the Nigerian child: Who’s responsible?

by Zainab Sandah

education in Nigeria

The biggest factor attributable to the failure of both international and local intervention schemes is government at the state level; they – state governors – have not, so far, fulfilled the conditions of the schemes…

‘Zainab, you are wasting your time, I’m sure you’ve seen the statistics.’ My good friend Frank said to me in a flat tone.

We had been engaged in a conversation on the necessity of infusing individual effort – time, resources – into combating social challenges especially within our immediate constituencies. So I enthusiastically shared my interest and travails in education at the grassroots level; my motive being the time-honored fact that education is, among other things, a guarantor of upward social mobility, and if scaled up to meet demand through a consolidation of efforts, could turn Nigeria around socially, politically and economically.

However, my friend’s scathing remark (above) left a niggling sense of worry, and created some doubt within me, with respect to the plausibility of yielding positive results through small-scale or individual intervention considering, as he pointed out, the magnitude of the challenge.

Realistically, the statistics on the Nigerian education space is disturbing and appalling, it is even more so when considered demographically and regionally. For instance, according to a report by the British Council titled Gender in Nigeria report 2012: Improving the lives of girls and women in Nigeria,  ‘Nigeria has 10.5 million children out-of-school the largest number in the world,’ and ‘only 4% of females complete secondary school in the northern zones’.  These few points highlight the multi-dimensional nature of the problem encompassing enrolment, dropout etc.

Meanwhile, annual and consistent infusion of cash by government into the sector and creation of sub-agencies and task-forces have not yielded much result. Last year alone, the federal government, in a budget tilted more  – and illogically – toward recurrent expenditure, spent over N400 billion on education. Local and international interventions have failed. For instance, 2% of the federal government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) is staked to support provision of free basic education through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme. The UK Guardian recently reported that after channeling millions of pounds into education in Nigeria, a UK aid watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (Icai) ‘advises DfiD to scrap £102m joint girls education programme as aid shows limited benefits’.

Quite evidently, this is all money going one way with little or no tangible returns, in terms of, say, child beggars or Almajirai in Hausa, – estimated at 9.5 million – taken off the streets and into classrooms, improvement in literacy levels in northern Nigeria, a well-educated and employable youth, – and as suggested by the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayytu Rufa’i, we might not be meeting the education component of the MDGs either. Instead, we are bedeviled with news of serial failure in transitional exams (WAEC and NECO), and sights of ramshackle education infrastructure across the country.

The biggest factor attributable to the failure of both international and local intervention schemes is government at the state level; they – state governors – have not, so far, fulfilled the conditions of the schemes, which for UBE requires that they contribute some amount of money in order to access the federal government’s (matching) grant for developing education in their respective states. This attitude is also discernible in their treatment of the UK intervention, which prompted Icai to say that ‘the programmes have yet to achieve sustainable results, largely due to the failure of state governments to fund adequately, and equitably the required improvements’.

It is worthy to note that it is not for lack of legislation that education is suffering from this woe; constitutionally, free basic and quality education is the responsibility of state and local governments.

Ironically, against all these challenges, the much-awaited and highly charged revolution that is expected to cleanse the land of bad leadership is yet to takeoff, civil society organisations (CSOs), parents, religious bodies are totally laissez faire about education, or at least their (in)actions are not commensurate to the challenges. Waiting for a miracle to cure the empathy deficiency plaguing Nigerian state governors is clearly not a smart strategy as that has been tried before. So, what more can be done where funding and legislation have failed?

Paul Kagame said – at the recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos – that, ‘Africa’s story has been written by others; we need to own our problems and solutions and write our story.’ Consequently, it is actually a good thing then that Icai has recommended the scrapping of the girl education programme in Nigeria, because frankly, educating the Nigerian child is not the problem of the British, more so, since the money and effort are just going to waste.

Thus, we have to be very radical in terms of owning, tackling and seeking solutions for our problems, especially a problem like education. It is therefore not enough that issues are legislated and passed into law; enforcement of laws is paramount. For instance, the section in the UBE Act that criminalizes parents who do not send their kids to school needs to be activated, even though maximum penalty is incarceration for just one month, with the option of paying N2000 fine, or both.

Social and economic reasons (such as poverty) that propel child labour, hence hindering enrolment and increasing dropout need to be considered. Implementation of the Child Rights Act in states might help in reducing child labor, and in improving enrolment. It however, does not solve the issue of near-perennial poverty and the need for subsistence. Quite a cyclical challenge!

Further legislation needs to be made that equally criminalizes states that refuse to comply with the UBE Act. That they do not comply with the Act is bad enough, but that they escape unscathed is injustice. So, legislating and enforcing criminalization with jail term has become necessary. Maybe we need an ‘Education Crimes Commission’ in the same capacity as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). It is doubtful though, if these can be achieved or enforced, considering corruption, and the near absolute power that the Nigerian state governors wield.

Hiring competent teachers is key, as is consistent capacity building exercises for them. Fundamentally, the curriculum for National Colleges of Education (NCE) and National Teachers Institute (NTI) need consistent upgrading to reflect the dynamics (especially ICT) of our time. This will ensure a transfer of sound education to children. Grade-level proficiency tests need to be carried out, in order to ascertain how far, or by how many years our children have lagged behind educationally, i.e. in comparison to say, China or even Ghana. Strategies such as enhanced studying, longer school days, and term elongation could be leveraged to close the -achievement- gap.  Total overhaul of education infrastructure needs to be prioritized and actualized as a matter of critical urgency.

As for individual intervention, (the type my friend scoffed at), I think passing up on small gains that individual intervention entail simply because statistics indicate that the challenges are too big, and our efforts too small, is lame and counterproductive. That reasoning might help us sleep well at night, because real life children have been made abstract and reduced to statistics in a colossal report. We however, have to care (even) within our limited capacity. We are duty bound to donate old books, pool money together to set-up a 2-classroom block, organize and coordinate interaction and dialogue sessions between PTAs and education officials, ward councilors, community chairmen, commissioners of education, etc. If these small measures ensure that children (no matter how few) are provided with the opportunity to face-up to life challenges through education, then we have succeeded.

Really, nothing any individual, non-government organization or foreign donor agency, can and will do is comparable to the government fulfilling its mandate on education. But that mandate also can never be realized if we – the people – do not push for it.  The mandate for educating the Nigerian child lies with the individual, the community, the CSOs and ultimately, the government. We may not share equal criminal liability, but we certainly share equal responsibility.

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Zainab Sandah blogs at www.zainabSandah.wordpress.com and tweets from @zainabsandah

 

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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