EDUCATION IN sub-Saharan Africa has come a long way. About 70% of children can expect to finish primary school, up from 45% in 1971. Progress though, has not been evenly spread. A new paper sheds light on why. The strongest predictor of whether children will finish primary school is their parents’ level of education. But geography also plays a role. Children who grow up near big cities are more likely to climb the educational ladder. Living near certain colonial-era institutions, such as railways or mission stations, also improves children’s chances of becoming better educated than their parents. Living near diamond mines or oil wells does not.
President Akufo-Addo of Ghana passionately addressed the audience at the Global Partnership for Education Conference in Dakar early February, he spoke passionately about the situation of education in Africa. According to him, discussions on education should not only focus on providing access to education but also on the quality of education provided.
A lot has changed in the past years, new skills are now required to be relevant in the 21st-century workforce. It is true that many children in sub-Sahara Africa are now enrolled in primary education. However, many of them finish school without having really learned the basic skills in reading and mathematics. The United Nations attributes this to poor learning conditions and inadequately trained teachers.
Can students in public schools compete with their counterparts in standard private schools (standard because even many acclaimed privately-owned schools have the same low standard of education as public schools)? If laboratories are nothing but museums because experiments cannot be conducted there? How do students understand what is taught when they learn under the heat of the sun? How can students excel when there are no libraries or the libraries are full of outdated materials? How can girls go to school when there are no good sanitary facilities they can use during personal times?
These and more are the realities of African educational institutions. Little wonder then that Nigeria ranks highest globally with over 10 million out-of-school children.
Since 1999 after the return of democratic rule in Nigeria, budgetary allocation to the education sector has been between 4 and 10 percent as opposed to UNESCO’s 15-20 percent recommendation. This allocation to Nigeria’s education sector is lower than that of Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey. Because of poor funding to schools and higher institutions, students cannot learn in the best environment and cutting-edge research that can translate to societal development cannot be conducted.
Aside from the personnel and infrastructure gap, security also stands in the way of Nigeria achieving inclusive and equitable quality education. According to Nigeria’s MDGs final report, the progress made during the era of Millennium Development Goals was thwarted by Boko Haram insurgency. During that period, enrolment in basic education declined from 60% to 54% due to the destruction of schools and displacement of schoolchildren. The Chibok girls kidnapped four years ago by terrorists have not been all released, now, over 100 others have been recently kidnapped in Dapchi, Yobe state. This appalling security situation in the country does not favour Nigeria in achieving Goal 4 of the SDGs (Education).
What Can We do?
As President Akufo-Addo said at that Dakar conference, Africa cannot continue to depend on outsiders to fund our education. Truly, what happens when they threaten to stop or they actually stop the inflow of funds? The continent has enough financial resources to achieve quality education if, the illicit outflow of finance is blocked and redirected for better use. This means that corruption has to go, to achieve quality education. In addition, the opportunities in Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), Alumni Associations and Civil Society Organisations should be explored in addition to government financing; to provide necessary amenities for quality learning.
In Nigeria’s 2017 SDGs National Voluntary Review, it is captured there that the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs (OSSAP-SDGs) has partnered with Google’s Digital Skills for Africa to train 125,000 youths in Nigeria. This is a good step in empowering youths with ICT skills, but this could be extended to students in secondary schools to prepare them for the stages ahead.
The Home Grown School Feeding Programme by the federal government is also laudable. While this has the potential of increasing enrolment, it can also help boost nutrition in students, especially the very young, who are undergoing crucial psychosocial and cognitive development. The government should look at investing more in and employing qualified caregivers, and provide necessary infrastructures to aid early childhood development. This will make subsequent investments in education worthwhile with healthier children and a potentially productive workforce.
To forestall the recurrence of youths graduating from school and waiting on the government for employment, it is necessary to integrate entrepreneurship with learning to grow a community of self-dependent and business-oriented graduates. Also, incentivising education through the provision of scholarships at different levels and provision of research grants to students will boost youth’s interest in education.
The main purpose of education should be to answer questions, address challenges and influence societal development. While Nigeria is making progress to address the current travesty of learning that we call education, more needs to be done on funding and facilities. Otherwise, the country will continue to churn out graduates annually without any benefit to the society. So what can we do to address these challenges?