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Education Sector and FG’s Promises

JEROME-MARIO UTOMI

JEROME-MARIO UTOMI

There are two recent exciting events in the country that provided side light to this particular piece. Fortunately also, both are education sector-specific. First, the recent in Abuja while receiving members of the Nigeria In­ter-Religious Council (NIREC) led by the Co-Chairs, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, and the Pres­ident of the Christian Asso­ciation of Nigeria, Revd. (Dr.) Samson Olasupo Ayokunle.In that meeting,Mr President Muhammadu Bu­hari among other things stated that that the Federal Gov­ernment remains committed to honouring promises made to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to prevent disruptive strikes, engender uninterrupted academic pro­grammes and improve funding of educational institutions.

The second has to do with another similar decision/pledge by the Federal Government of Nigeria, during the world celebrates the International Day of Education, to increase Nigeria’s annual domestic expenditure on education by 50 per cent over the next two years, and by 100 per cent by 2025.

Interestingly, this piece is not the only one that viewed the comments particularly the second development as a right step taken in the right direction.

Take as an illustration, a statement issued and signed on Monday by Geoffrey Njoku, UNICEF Communication Specialist in Maiduguri, among other things sated; “The Nigerian Government has committed to increasing funding for education, which is a very important step. Far too many Nigerian children today are not in the classroom and for those who are; far too many are not getting a solid education that can translate into good prospects for their futures. This is a step forward, an increase from 5.7 per cent allocated for 2021, though there is still a long way to go to reach the internationally recommended benchmark that countries spend 15-20 per cent of their national budgets on education”. The statement added that at least 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, the highest rate in the world. A full one-third of Nigerian children are not in school, and one in five out-of-school children in the world are Nigerian. ,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

Essentially, aside from what UNESCO said, there are of course in my views other intrinsic reasons why the latest moves by the Federal Government, if implemented, deserve the commendations of Nigerians.

Chronic perennial underfunding visited on the sector by the past and present administrations have as a consequence impeded public universities lecturers from carrying out scholarly researches, truncates academic calendar with strike actions, lace Nigerian universities with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with the universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector.. Most pathetically, this age long challenge have in some public institutions of higher learning led to a  thoughtless demand for fees of varying amounts/ proposed by the school authorities-a development that  financially squeezed life out of the innocent students and their parents while stripping our education process and outcome fairness.

Take as an illustration of underfunding, The Nigerian government’s initial budget for 2020, going by reports, was N10.5 trillion (US$25.6 billion), of which N686.8 billion ($1.7 billion) was for education. But because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this was amended. The overall budget was increased slightly to N10.8 trillion, but that for education fell to N607.7 billion. The allocation to education of N686.8 billion worked out to 6.5% of the initial 2020 budget.  The revised budget of N10.8 trillion meant that education’s share of N607.7 billion then accounted for 5.6% of the total.

According to the country’s budget office, the funding allocated to the basic education commission in 2020, in the initial and amended budgets, are as follows;  the initial budget, N137.97 billion ($336.5 million) was allocated to the commission. In the amended budget, the allocation dropped to N79.9 billion ($194.8 million).

Despite these efforts, the budgetary allocation to the education sector for the said year did not scratch the surface of the UNESCO budgetary recommendation to nations –which currently stands at between 20/26%.

The above failure and failing coupled with other mirage of challenges within the sector have rendered the present move by, and celebration of the Federal Government present effort/promise as a new invention which usually comes with opportunities and challenges.

This assertion is predicated on the fact that the challenges confronting the education sector in Nigeria are hydra-headed and goes beyond perennial under funding to include dilapidated learning facilities, overcrowded classes and obsolete policies among others.  A case that calls for more work, reforms holistic approach in ways that demands from the Federal Government the urgent need to go beyond this present promise.

Take as another illustration, the Institute for Statistics (UIS), the official statistics agency for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), have till, when it discontinued publishing these indicators in September 2020., because it had since adopted other indicators, recommended about 58 pupils to every qualified teacher.  But that is not the situation in most schools in Nigeria particularly the state/Federal government owned primary and secondary schools.

More specifically, a visit to the public schools (both primary and secondary) in some Northern and Southern parts of the country not only supports this belief but says something ‘new and different. Even in other Southern states, the situation is not different. In Lagos for example, where there is a huge demand for learning opportunities, the number of students per teacher/per class is far above the UNESCO recommendation.  The facts are there and speak for it.

It is also of a truth, says a research report, that there are still a huge number of those who are in these schools, but are learning nothing-as schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, it is finally becoming evident that there are more non-learners in school than out of school.

Presently also, the world is in agreement that it has not been an easy road for Nigerian education sector. Since May 1999, when democracy re-emerged on the political surface called Nigeria, it has been a tough and tumble ride. Even the practice of democracy in the country, contrary to earlier beliefs, have not helped to stop the pangs of challenges experienced by Nigerians in the sector.

Both the Federal and state Governments in Nigeria continue to allow the rate of out of school children, especially in the northern part of Nigeria, to swell in number, even when it is obvious that the streets are known for breeding all forms of criminals and other social misfits who constitutes the real threat in the forms of armed robbers; thugs, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to the society, Nigerians are beginning to view Government’s approach to the challenge as not yielding the targeted result.

Just very recently, it was reported that out of the seventeen states in the country with the highest number of out of school Children, fourteen of the states are in the North. The commentary also noted that if the rate of out of school children can be curtailed, it would help check the insecurity that is currently bedeviling parts of the country, and would to a large extent signal goodbye to insecurity threats across the country.

For the recent promises by Federal Government to bear the target fruit, one point we must all bear in mind is that the major problem standing in the way/preventing Nigerians from enjoying piece in the education sector is government’s progressive non recognition of the right to education as a human right despite their membership of a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights where the right is respected.

 

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), A Lagos-Based Non Governmental Organization (NGO).And could be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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