When governors neglect UBE at pupils’ peril
Imagine a school building with its tattered roof suspended mid-air, barely clinging to its support frames and classroom walls riddled with holes for lizards to hold a convention.
Imagine, a dozen children, with mucus running down their noses, squatting on the floor, writing in the exercise books delicately placed on their legs, or on the back of a classmate as a harried teacher prattles on about multiplication tables.
This imagination is the reality at Oshodi Nursery and Primary School, Oshodi, a suburb of Lagos. The walls reek of age and neglect, windows have long left their hinges, shards of zinc precariously clung to rotten woods pass as roofs over classrooms without seats as the scorching sun tans unwilling juvenile skins already scarred by deprivations.
However, some schools in northern Nigeria fare even worse. The structures that imagine themselves as schools would not be approved to house poultry in the southern region. Some students even learn under the shade of neem trees.
Meanwhile, Nigeria already has a fund aimed at preventing the acquisition of knowledge in an environment hostile to learning. It is called the Universal Basic Education, (UBE) and sanctioned by law, yet elusive at a time there is a desperate need.
The Universal Basic Education
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo flagged off the Universal Basic Education (UBE) on September 30, 1999 in Sokoto State, a strategy to achieve Education for All (EFA) and the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The Universal Basic Education programme is a nine-year basic educational programme to eradicate illiteracy, ignorance and poverty as well as stimulate and accelerate national development, political consciousness and national integration.
A lack of enabling law hampered progress on implementation of the programme until 2004 when Obasanjo signed the UBE Bill into law on May 26, 2004 following its passage by the National Assembly.
The UBE Act 2004 makes provision for basic education comprising of Early Childhood Care Education (ECCE), Primary and Junior Secondary Education. The financing of basic education is the responsibility of States and Local Governments but the Federal Government decided to pitch in with two per cent of its Consolidated Revenue Fund.
For states to fully benefit from the fund, a critical criterion was that it must provide matching grants or counterpart funding. This way, the states demonstrate commitment to projects, ensure funds are not misapplied through monitoring mechanisms included in the programme and contribute to the sustainability of the fund.
The Act also provides for the establishment of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to coordinate the implementation of the programme at state and local government levels through the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) of each state and the Local Government Education Authorities (LGEAs). The Universal Basic Education Commission was formally established on October 7, 2004.
Few states have been able to access the UBEC funds
Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwukah in November 2016 urged state governments across the country to step up efforts to access the funds in view of the deplorable conditions under which children learn in their states.
To many education analysts, it almost beggars belief that about N64 billion, according to figures released in August 2016; lie dormant with only a few states able to access the funds when there is a serious need for funds to develop education.
A communiqué issued at the 16th Quarterly Meeting of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) management with the executive chairmen of SUBEBs and the FCT-UBEB, held in Jos from October 4 to 7, 2016, held the states responsible for their inability to access the funds.
It stated that from January to September 2016, the sum of N28 billion as matching grant to states had accrued to the commission and would mature by the end of the year but only Borno and Nasarawa States had paid their counterpart contribution to access the fund.
According to experts in the education section, many states operating shoestring budgets and allocating scarce resources to projects like the construction of an airport in Ekiti State have been unable to provide their own counterpart funding which was reduced to 50 from 75 per cent during the administration of late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua.
The counterpart funding arrangement simply expects a state who aims to access N1 million to provide N500, 000 to the fund which qualifies it to receive a matching grant of N1.5 million.
Many states in Nigeria have poor internally generated revenues (IGR) and cannot apply fiscal measures to raise revenue through taxes, as many are largely civil service-oriented.Private investments to grow business are few and far between due to inability to harness endowed resources. States largely depend on allocations from the Federal Government and large chunk of the allocations go to paying salaries or are misappropriated.
State governors are now lobbying President Muhammadu Buhari to amend the Universal Basic Education Act 2004, specifically a clause in the law, which makes it compulsory for them to pay counterpart funds before accessing matching grants.
Should that seem farfetched, they are asking the President to persuade the National Assembly to reduce their counterpart funding to 10 per cent.
Experts in the education sector say such a move would spell further danger for education in Nigeria whose fortune continues to decline with each administration.
The 2016 Global Monitoring Report (GMR) by UNICEF revealed that Nigeria had the highest number of out-of school children in the world, which was estimated to be around 10.5 million. Sixty per cent of those children are in northern Nigeria
“About 60 per cent of out-of-school children are girls. Many of those who do enrol drop out early.Low perceptions of the value of education for girls and early marriages are among the reasons.Some northern states have laws requiring education of girls and prohibiting their withdrawal from school. Girls’ primary school attendance has been improving, but this has not been the case for girls from the poorest households,” UNICEF said.
The report also found that in Nigeria, reading materials were found for nine of the country’s 520 languages.Nigeria’s National Assessment of Learning Achievement in Basic Education (NALABE) has been administered four times since 2001 by the Universal Basic Education Commission.
In the most recent round, in 2015, students in primary grades four, five and six and lower secondary grade one were assessed in English, mathematics and life skills in more than 1,500 schools and the results show declines in meeting learning outcomes.
Unlike neighbouring countries, Nigeria is not involved in cross-national assessments. It participated in the UNESCO-UNICEF Monitoring Learning Achievement project in 1996 and 2003. To the extent that results were comparable across countries, they showed the performance of Nigerian pupils to be among the weakest in sub-Saharan Africa.
This worrisome trend remains a major challenge in the delivery of basic education in the country and was a key motivation for the UBE.
What the fund could have done
While not the stated intent, the UBEC could fill a role in conflict-ridden areas in the country through rebuilding schools, teacher training and security.
The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, a non-governmental organisation states that in the majority of countries with armed conflicts – including at least 26 between 2005 and 2015 – government armed forces and non-state armed groups have used schools and other education institutions for military purposes.
This risks students’ and teachers’ lives and safety, impedes access to education, decreases the quality of education and compromises efforts to create safe learning spaces.
According to Human Rights Watch, between 2009 and 2015, attacks in the North-East destroyed more than 910 schools and forced at least 1,500 to close. By early 2016, an estimated 952,029 school-age children had fled due to violence.
As of 2015, in the region, where Boko Haram has targeted education workers and students, at least 611 teachers had been deliberately killed and 19,000 forced to flee.
The proliferation of private schools in informal urban settlements and slums in Nigeria points to a strong demand for pre-primary education. A Lagos state government commissioned private school census for the state in 2011 revealed that over 85 per cent of pre-primary and 60 per cent of primary school-goers were enrolled in private schools.
This is true for most states in Nigeria showing policy makers that there is a critical need to apply UBEC funds in improving junior secondary schools in the country where basic laboratory, library, sports and technical materials are sorely lacking.