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Again, Nigeria in the league of non-achievers

By Eno-Abasi Sunday
08 September 2016   |   4:25 am
Based on current trends, Universal Primary Education (UPE), which was supposed to have been achieved in 2015, under the 2000 Dakar Education For All agreement, won’t be realised until 2042. Universal Lower Secondary Completion...
A classroom block at Adolor Primary School, Benin City, Edo State

A classroom block at Adolor Primary School, Benin City, Edo State

The growing lack of political will on the part of past and present governments, to tackle education problems in the country headlong, has yet again earned the country an unwanted medal. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in a new edition of The Global Education Monitoring Report (the GEM Report), on current trends, the country will achieve Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 2070; Universal Lower Secondary Completion (ULSC) in 2080 and Universal Upper Secondary Education (UUSC) in the next century. Though saddened by the development, stakeholders who saw it coming are not surprised. They, however, want government to match words with action, if the country must recover lost grounds. Assistant Features Editor,

Based on current trends, Universal Primary Education (UPE), which was supposed to have been achieved in 2015, under the 2000 Dakar Education For All agreement, won’t be realised until 2042. Universal Lower Secondary Completion (ULSC) won’t be achieved until 2059, and Universal Upper Secondary Completion (UUSC) will only be attained in 2084.

Even though rich countries are not on course either, the poorest countries will reach universal primary education over 100 years later than their rich counterparts. In fact, even at the fastest rate of progress ever seen in the region, one in 10 countries in Europe and North America would still not achieve UUSC by 2030.Sadly, Nigeria and 19 other countries with the slowest progress are all in sub-Saharan Africa. They won’t achieve ULSC until next century. The first non-African country on the bottom of the infamous list is Honduras, which is expected to complete hers in 2095.

Denmark, the United States, Switzerland and Ireland, will all achieve UUSC in 2035, on par with Kazakhstan. Sweden, Belgium, Germany and New Zealand will be 10 years late, on par with Mongolia. France will be 15 years late, on par with the Philippines. Greece will be 20 years late, on par with Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia.All these revelations are contained in a the new Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by UNESCO, released Tuesday, which also show education’s potential to propel progress towards all global goals outlined in the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). It also shows that education needs a major transformation to fulfill that potential and meet the current challenges facing humanity and the planet.

From the whittling down of budgetary allocation to the education sector, to the non-tracking of even the scarce resources allocated, as well as the less than transparent management of allocated resources, the country’s education sector has continued to lag behind as far as meeting internationally set goals is concerned. This latest report, adds to a long list of failures that the country has been recording in the recent past.

For instance, last year, barely six months after the country, alongside hordes of other sub-Saharan nations missed the 2015 global education goals; it again found itself in the company of nations that failed to achieve the goal of gender parity in both primary and secondary education.A Gender Report compiled by UNESCO to mark the 2015 International Day of the Girl Child, had shown that fewer than half of the countries – of which none is in sub-Saharan Africa, attained the goal of gender parity in both levels of education, even though all were supposed to achieve it by 2005.
The latest report by the United Nations group, like the ones in the recent past, held no good news for sub-Saharan Africa.Rather it warned of the urgent need for progress in education to be sped up because on current trends, UPE in the area will be achieved in 2080; (ULSC) in 2089; and UUSC in 2099. This untoward development would therefore leave the region 70 years late for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) deadline. On current trends, however, Nigeria, in particular, will achieve UPE in 2070, (ULSC) in 2080 and UUSC in the next century.

The Global Education Monitoring Report (the GEM Report), formerly known as the Education for All Global Monitoring Report) is an editorially independent, authoritative and evidence-based annual report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Its mandate is to monitor progress towards the education targets in the new SDGs framework. The substance of the report is developed and its quality assured by an experienced team under the leadership of the GEM report director.

Among other things, the report also presents the challenges of monitoring progress on education in the 2030 Agenda. It analyses all SDG 4 targets – some of which are poorly formulated – and discusses the technical challenges of monitoring the respective indicators. It also examines efforts to develop valid, reliable and comparable measurement tools.

One of its most important mandates of the report is to help the international community understand whether and how the world is making progress in education and lifelong learning.While the EFA Global Monitoring Report is seen as having fulfilled its mandate, the landscape is rapidly changing, with the expanded scope of the 2030 Agenda posing new challenges. 

In the 2016 GEM Report titled, “Education for People and Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All,” UNESCO maintains that education needs to fundamentally change if we are to reach our global development goals at all.Giving insights into the report, which also stresses the need for education systems to step up attention to environmental concerns, Communications and Advocacy Specialist, Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report), UNESCO, Kate Redman, in a statement said, while in the majority of countries, education is the best indicator of climate change awareness, half of countries’ curricula worldwide do not explicitly mention climate change in their content. Despite being one of the regions most affected by the effects of environmental change, sub-Saharan Africa has far fewer mentions of sustainable development in its curricula, in comparison with Latin America, Europe and North America.
This prompted UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova, to comment, “A fundamental change is needed in the way we think about education’s role in global development, because it has a catalytic impact on the well-being of individuals and the future of our planet.”She added, “Now, more than ever, education has a responsibility to be in gear with 21st century challenges and aspirations, and foster the right types of values and skills that will lead to sustainable and inclusive growth, and peaceful living together.”
The 2016 report also restates the need for education systems to be fashioned to take care, protect minority cultures and their associated languages, which contain vital information about the functioning of ecosystems.

According to it, 40 per cent of the global population are taught in a language they don’t understand, and matters are even made worse in Nigeria, where are available in only nine of the country’s 520 languages.Consequently, education systems need to ensure they are giving people vital skills and knowledge that can support the transition to greener industries, and find new solutions for environmental problems. This also requires education to continue beyond the school walls, in communities and the workplace throughout adulthood. Yet only six per cent of adults in the poorest countries have ever attended literacy programmes, and in Nigeria, less than 10 per cent of the poorest rural females can read.
For the director of the GEM Report, Aaron Benavot, “If we want a greener planet, and sustainable futures for all, we must ask more from our education systems than just a transfer of knowledge. We need our schools and lifelong learning programmes to focus on economic, environmental and social perspectives that help nurture empowered, critical, mindful and competent citizens.”

There is also an urgent need for education systems to impart higher skills aligned with the needs of growing economies, where job skill sets are fast changing, many being automated. On current trends, by 2020, there will be 45 million too few workers with tertiary education relative to demand. Investing in higher education is particularly crucial for growth in sub-Saharan Africa: increasing tertiary attainment by one year on average would increase its long-term GDP level by 16 per cent.

In 2014, only eight per cent were enrolled in tertiary education in the sub-Saharan region, far below the second-lowest regional average, that of South and West Asia (23%), and the global average (34%). In Nigeria, the new report says only six per cent were enrolled in tertiary education in 2014.The report also points out that in Nigeria, inequalities are high with the richest males having over 12 years more education to their name, than the poorest females. 

Consequently, the report calls on governments to start taking inequalities seriously, tracking them by collecting information directly from families.Former executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Peter Okebukola, “The formula for yanking Nigeria off this ignoble list of countries is contained in the recommendations of the over 20 national education summits and elegant national education roadmaps that have been launched with fanfare and pomp over the last 15 years. We only need to do just one thing- implement at least half of these recommendations, which will narrow the gap between prescriptions and practice. Put another way, we have all the solutions, all we need is a generous dose of political will to implement them.”

He questioned, “Who does not know that to speedily correct the tardiness of Nigeria in achieving universal primary education and universal lower secondary education, you need to strictly implement the 2004 UBE Act? Who does not know that to achieve universal upper secondary education, you need to implement the provisions of section 3 of the 2013 National Policy on Education? We have been shouting ourselves hoarse that to attain these global targets, you need to enforce compulsory basic education, incentivise attendance and retention, provide learner friendly schools, provide better trained teachers in the right quantity and install a robust quality assurance system. Over arch all of these with improved funding for education and the pace for attaining the global education goals will quicken.

“In contrast, what we have is one step forward and two steps backwards. I recall being the chief technical adviser to the national education sector analysis (ESA) project and the joy of recording gradual improvement in most education indicators between 2000 and 2006. Now almost all our gains have been reversed. With a recession compounding our problem, we now need to be more ingenious and creative in getting funds to fuel the education ship.” 

On the dearth of learning materials in local languages, he said, “Our 2012-2014 studies (now widely cited) on mother tongue and learning of science confirm that reading materials in the mother tongue or language of the immediate environment are efficacious in promoting meaningful learning for lower primary classes. Professor Babs Fafunwa’s classic study on this theme provided empirical data for other school subjects. Indeed, Section 2 of the National Policy on Education is insistent on mother tongue education for lower basic classes. The impediments have been the weak local language base of the teachers, reluctance of parents to have their children taught in local languages and the non-availability of textual materials in the local languages.”
Okebukola lamented that, “We are severely endangered especially with a shamefully low overall national literacy rate of 68 per cent in 2016. It used to be slightly higher a few years back. The world of the 21st century is a world of knowledge where ability to read and write in any language will be the life jacket to keep one afloat. With the rural women who are poor and now burdened with inability to read, we have double jeopardy in our hands. We are endangered because since the bulk of the citizenry dwells in rural areas, illiteracy will inhibit meaningful contribution to national and global sustainable development agenda especially to agriculture and food security, health, environmental protection and cultural security. This assertion holds true because literacy rate is inextricably linked with all measures of development. Strong, positive correlation coefficients exist among these variables and literacy hence given our dismal performance in literacy rate our contribution to meeting current challenges facing humanity and the planet will be paltry.”

On the need for government to start taking inequality seriously, he said, “I believe we can since the rejuvenated National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has started bringing sectorial data in Nigeria gradually up to date. Aside from the NBS, numerous international agencies are engaged with collecting family-level survey data, which are quite reliable and from which you can extrapolate to the wider population. From such data, we can track inequalities. Whether or not government will take such inequalities seriously is another issue altogether. I want to speculate that government will be vigorous in the coming years to take such inequalities seriously especially through the activities of UBEC at the federal level and ministries of education at the state level. I have data to confirm that states such as Lagos, Ogun, Edo, Anambra and Kano are active in dissolving some of these inequalities.”

Former vice chancellor of Niger State-owned Ibrahim Babangida University, Prof. Ibrahim Kolo, is of the view that, “Nigeria was not able to meet key education target goals of EFA and the MDGs due largely to corruption and policy discontinuities. UNESCO is, therefore, just sounding a note of warning and a wake up call to Nigeria. What we need in the education sector urgently is to appraise previous policies and aggressively address the disconnects and somersaults that brought us to where we are today. We need innovative policies and implementation strategies to address gross funding deficits; dysfunctionality and poor quality; grossly constrained access; and poor professional teacher quality.”

He noted that the National Policy on Education (NPE) prescribes the teaching of lower basic education classes in the indigenous language of the child. We have not also been able to follow up with late Prof. Fafunwa’s Ife Six Year Experiment, which proofed the efficacy of the use of indigenous language (Yoruba was used in the Ife case) for proficiency for knowledge acquisition and mastery… Our teachers are also mostly unable to teach in young learners mother tongue. It is obvious that this is another wake up call for us to address a fundamental challenge hindering the attainment of knowledge economy in Nigeria. 

“In the face of a distraught education sector in all its ramifications, and with no innovative policies and “out of the box thinking” strategies in sight or jettisoned, the Nigerian people are an endangered specie as the level of domestication of illiteracy and miss-education that currently pervades the land will only fester crises upon crises. The time to act to heavily invest in education at all levels for the future of our children and youths is now, otherwise we all be consumed by the consequences.”

He continued, “We have misfired as a nation in achieving the ideals of the EFA through UBE and the Education targets of the MDGs. As Emeritus Prof. Obanya rightly pointed out, we were more fascinated with setting up structures as in the case of UBEC/SUBEBs, NMEC, NCNC, NCCE, TRCN, etc. than the expected deliverables of target goals. A fundamental policy shift in the operations of these agencies is imperative if the now touted Education Road Map for Change is to make any difference … The recent road map can at best make impact if it takes cognizance of previous policy reform initiatives and abandoned policies/strategies in the Federal Ministry of Education and consolidate on utilising them as way forward. 

The Inoyo Toro Foundation, set up nine years ago to reward outstanding teachers in public schools in Akwa Ibom State, especially in the core science subjects, is of the opinion that the data from the report, as it concerns the country were at best, appalling.

In a statement endorsed by its advisor, Udom Inoyo, it said, “As unfortunate as these statistics may be, this should not be news to any keen observer of activities in the education sector. Anyone who has interacted with our young ones closely, whether within our respective communities, youth groups or organisations (private or public) will not be surprised that there is so much decay in the sector. Most of our children cannot compete globally.”
The foundation maintains that, “Education needs to be run as a business and devoid of politics. When we talk about declaring a state of emergency in the sector, it goes beyond the official tokenism. And it’s not just about money, even though money helps. Neither is it about a few photo opportunities with high profile global leaders, spending few hours at a dinner and mouthing commitments as we have done in this country. It’s really about all parties – government, parents, civil society groups, people of conscience, etc., getting involved in a sustainable manner and learning from the mistakes of the past, for which there are multiple position papers/recommendations to glean from. Let’s just take one issue – effective leadership. Have we reflected on the quality of people that are responsible for primary and secondary schools at the local and state levels? Do we really believe that these are people capable of thinking out of the box and bringing about the necessary changes? Are these people that are even considered role models by the students? Moreover, are the schools properly equipped and the teachers motivated?