Nigeria and the transforming education summit
When President Muhammadu Buhari stood on the floor of the United Nations to speak at the Transforming Education Summit (TE Summit) on 19, September he was fully aware of the import and gravity of the issues at stake.
The TE Summit was convened in response to a global crisis in education, a situation in which Nigeria is familiar and enmeshed.
Experts have pointed out that the crisis is one of equity and inclusion, quality and relevance. Their position is supported by available data which suggests that the country has circa 18.5-20 million out-of-school children with a third of those in school, not learning according to UNESCO and UNICEF.
The data is grim. At least 70% of children under the age of 10 in Nigeria cannot read or understand a simple text, according to UNICEF. On the African continent, the situation is worse with 90% of children unable to read or understand a simple text. This situation is aptly described as learning poverty.
But this is not just a problem in low-income countries. Middle and high-income countries face the same challenge, albeit to a lesser degree.
Leaders at the TE Summit had a rare and unique opportunity to elevate education to the top of the global political agenda and to mobilise action, ambition, solidarity and solutions to recover pandemic-related learning losses and sow the seeds to transform education in a rapidly changing world.
President Buhari stood to the occasion and demonstrated his grasp of the issues. Speaking about the need for global collaboration in addressing the learning crisis, the importance of technology in addressing learning poverty, the all-important role of teachers and the need to protect schools and marginalised groups, he re-emphasized Nigeria’s commitment to education.
Ironically, Edo state has systematically addressed the issues highlighted by President Buhari for almost half a decade under the Governor Godwin Obaseki-led administration. For four years, the EdoBEST programme has been at the forefront of pushing the frontier of providing quality basic education to over 300,000 children in Edo state in urban and hard-to-reach areas.
Last November, State Universal Basic Education Board Chairmen from Nigeria’s 36 states and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja gathered in Benin City to understudy the EdoBEST programme. The conclusion reached by the visiting Chairmen was that EdoBEST is a robust response to the many challenges facing the delivery of basic education services in Nigeria.
“EdoBEST came up with very specific objectives in terms of how you first ensure that you have the content that could be used in the classroom — given that one of the key issues with the basic education sector is with instructional materials,” Dr. Hamid Bobboyi, Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) said in an interview in Benin City in 2021. “EdoBEST developed a system whereby the teacher is trained, given a tablet, and that tablet has all the materials required through EdoBEST. It’s a revolution,” he concluded.
In June 2022, a study conducted by Nobel Prize Winner and development economist, Prof. Michael Kremer (over a two-year period) in Kenya confirmed that the methodology used by Bridge Kenya Schools (and EdoBEST in Edo state) delivered learning outcomes that supersede traditional methods.
The study suggests that children living in underserved communities in Kenya and attending Bridge Kenya Schools receive 53% more learning throughout their early childhood and primary school careers than children taught with traditional methodologies.
Adopting models similar to EdoBEST could significantly improve educational indices in Nigeria, tackle learning poverty and set the country on a sustainable education trajectory. However, barriers including poor political will and funding continue to inhibit the adoption of bold moves and reform.
President Buhari has to be at the forefront of implementing the necessary changes to further lift Nigeria’s educational indices by inspiring states to implement necessary changes. Additionally, multilateral institutions with the necessary funding should step forward to support state governments in Nigeria’s educationally disadvantaged states.
Abubakar is a social analyst with an interest in development.