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Failed state: Nigerian Children Learning Under Trees

Failed state: Nigerian Children Learning Under Trees

By Ayo Oyoze Baje, a public affairs analyst, wrote in from Lagos

“It is very pathetic that in the 21st century, our pupils are still studying under trees and dilapidated buildings, especially in Northern Nigeria…The menace of banditry and Boko Haram in the North-East and North-West is being used by the state governments as excuses, which should not be”

— Dr. Mike Ene, NUT Secretary-General

First came the utter disbelief and disgust. Then, the wind of outrage took over yours truly. That was after reading through the in-depth investigative report with the title: ‘Unbelievable tales of states where learning takes place under trees’ as published in The PUNCH edition of Monday, November 18, 2019. As stated, both Tidi and Farin Kasa Primary schools, located in the Shongom Local Government Area of Gombe State “have been abandoned by government at all levels’. Each of the schools, which lack fences, boasts only four teachers that handle about 150 pupils!

The roads that lead to the schools have long been decrepit, even as some of the classrooms have collapsed. In fact, one of the overworked teachers at Tidi Primary School, by the name, Mr. Yunana Wuya, complained bitterly of having to combine pupils of primary two and three and teach them with only one textbook! But that is just part of the heart-rending story.

In a similar criminal neglect, the report found that some primary, secondary schools as well as some tertiary institutions in Niger State are also suffering from decrepit infrastructure, lack of learning materials in addition to inadequate staff and students. Specifically mentioned is the Suleiman Bara’ Science and Technical College, Kwamba in the Suleja area of the state, where students sleep on bare floors right there in the so-called hostels without doors or windows! Expectedly, mosquitoes feed fat on them at night and students carry out open defecation, in the absence of toilets!

Sadly, both state governments-Gombe and Niger- culpable in this regard are amongst the states yet to pay their counterpart funds for the Universal Basic Education Fund. There was a report that other states such as Borno, Jigawa, Rivers and the Federal Capital Authority, Abuja did not access the N67bn funds made available by the Federal Government, between 2005 and 2017. This disheartening scenario throws up some troubling questions, for the stakeholders to provide urgent answers to:

Why do several of our political leaders treat the critical issue of sound education development, especially at the foundation level of primary school with such levity? If they were victims of low-quality education, could they have risen to their current political positions? Why do our lawmakers, at the state and federal levels, find it difficult to propose bills to make it compulsory for the deployment of 26% of budgetary allocation by the executive to education, in line with the UNESCO recommendation but so easy to work on anti-people bills of both hate speech and the regulation of social media? What will it benefit them and the country at large, if we continue to churn out subservient, fear-filled and angry citizens in a so-called democratic dispensation, in the 21st century Nigeria?

Recall that the Universal Basic Education programme was introduced in 1999 and later backed up by the UBE Act of 2004. It is a special intervention of the Federal Government of Nigeria, which improved on the former National Primary Education which had been operated from the 70s till early 2000.

The mandate included achieving Education for All, reducing the rate of school dropouts and children out-of-school; improving quality and efficiency of basic education, as well as promoting the acquisition of literacy, numeracy, life skills and values for life-long education and useful living. But over the years, more have been said than done in reducing the challenges that bedevil the education sector.

Amongst them are the gross lack of quality teachers, abysmally poor infrastructure, high pupil-to-teacher ratio, the highest out-of-school pupils in the world (13.2 million), large figures of school dropouts, inadequate learning materials, with regard to well-equipped libraries and laboratories that facilitate sound education delivery. This is worrisome.

For instance, while the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of 34 member countries that discuss and develop economic and social policy and free market economies, recommend 13 students to one teacher, the pupil-teacher ratio, in primary school in Nigeria, was 37.55 as of 2010. Its highest value over the past 40 years was 46.09 in 2007, while its lowest value was 32.23 in 1978. The pupil or student-teacher of any school is frequently used to judge the quality of education. Yet, there are more troubling issues.

According to the Pro-V.C. and Dean Computing, Engineering and Media of De Montfort University, Prof. David Mba, a World Bank 2018 survey of 435 private and public primary schools in Nigeria, that covered 2,968 teachers, showed that a teacher was absent from class for approximately 25% of the scheduled teaching time.

The same survey showed that half of Nigerian primary school maths teachers couldn’t achieve 80% or more on the tests they assigned their own pupils in their classrooms. What’s worse was that 60% of maths teachers in grade four couldn’t subtract double digits. The same poor teacher quality is evident in the English language.

The time has come to declare a state of emergency in the education sector. The recent presidential directive by Muhammadu Buhari for the North to do away with the long-established Almaijiri system, and more significantly to get the millions of out-of-school children back to the classroom is one of the paths to tread. But action, rather than words, would do the magic.

How do we explain the fact that the education sector got N620.5bn (about 7.05 per cent) out of N8.6tn in the 2018 budget? Of the total N9.45tn budgeted for 2020 by the Federal Government, education is expected to receive N652.94bn (6.9 per cent). This is contrary to the promise the President made to the Nigerian Community during his visit to France in November 2018. The situation for the states is no better.

But countries such as Ghana, South Africa and Egypt have always budgeted over 20 % for education over the past decade. In the 2018 world ranking for education budgetary allocation of countries, Uganda, 4th (27.0%); Botswana, 10th (20.0%); Lesotho,14th (17.0%); and Burkina Faso, 15th (16.8%) were higher than Nigeria’s 20th (8.4%).

If Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then Premier of the Western Region, could budget 26% (as recommended by UNESCO) back in the sixties to catalyse the free education policy, why the current retrogression? The difference, as they say is crystal clear!

Education was so important to the ancient Athenians that they produced citizens who were physically fit in body and mentally fit in mind. To achieve this, the curriculum consisted of reading, writing, music, poetry, mathematics and gymnastics. This was in contrast to the Spartans whose focus was on developing mainly physically fit people.

While Socrates (469-399 B.C.) saw knowledge as virtue and ignorance as vice, both Plato and Aristotle ‘postulated that the state (government) should take up completely the education of its citizens’. Over the years, the products of such sound education showed.

The giant leap by the Asian Tigers, India becoming global health destination centre and Rwanda’s recent ICT-driven economy, all boil down to the focus on education, starting at the primary school level. The real change we all clamouring for begins with sound and qualitative education delivery. Nigerian leaders must now walk the talk.

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