I would like to thank the conveners of the recent Global Education Summit in London GPE 2021-2025, themed, “Raise Your Hand” financing campaign, co-hosted by the United Kingdom Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, President Muhammadu Buhari and Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, who agreed to increase education funding at all levels. The Summit promised to raise at least $5bn over five years to support education systems. At least, $5bn investment in GPE over five years will help – 175 million girls and boys to learn; reach 140 million students with professionally trained teachers; get 88 million more children, including 46 million more girls, in school; and save $16 billion through more efficient education spending.
I would like to express my special thanks of gratitude to President Buhari and the Ministers for Education (Mallam Adamu Adamu and Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba) for taking the bold initiative to champion increasing education financing at all levels and the policy of raising the national budget for education by 50 per cent. These initiatives will go down well closing the financial gap in the education system. While these initiatives by the current regime are commendable, it needs to explore ways of ending the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies that characterise past government policies and spending. There is a need to find a solution to the failure of connectivity of policies with funding and implementations in the past. The huge differences between the standard of primary and secondary education in the rural, urban and cities are worrisome. Differences in digital and physical infrastructure between rural and urban schools on the one hand and public and private institutions on the other pose greater concerns.
There is a need to invest more in digital infrastructure and developing emerging skills. Digital and emerging skills will be Nigeria’s catalysts for a New Era of human capital transformation and socio-economic prosperity. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the long-standing digital vulnerability of the Nigerian primary, secondary and tertiary education systems.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis has triggered shifts and responses that open up prospects for enhancing digital innovations, digital resilience and the development of emerging skills.
During a recent engagement with the Managing Directors of Certified System Group (ICT Integrated Solution provider), Emmanuel Ochie, Dr Oyekale Oyeniran Waliu of Commit Technology & Consult Ltd (Consultant on Digital Skills and Information Technology) and Professor Afam Icha-Ituma (Vice-Chancellor, Coal City University), these executives acknowledged that as Nigeria begins rebuilding from the COVID-19 crisis, education stakeholders and policymakers have an opportunity to reposition the education system, especially, digital infrastructure and skills vulnerability of the labour force and population.
During another discussion with Nigerian Diaspora academics (Professor Nnamdi Madichie of Bloomsbury Institute, London and Professor Ikenna Uzuegbunam of Howard University, Washington DC, United States), they highlighted the gaps in the education system. There is a consensus that increased funding in digital infrastructure and the development of emerging digital skills in the education system will promote inclusive human capital development – including digital innovation and the emergence of business and employability opportunities linked to the digital economy. Both Diaspora university teachers called for innovative ways to deliver education that addresses the lack of power, technological infrastructure and broadband system in the education system, especially in the rural and urban locations.
These voices point that provision of digital skills will increase youth capabilities to pursue paid employment or entrepreneurial innovations. Also, they called for inclusion policies that address the gaps between genders and promote female participation in education. It is important to solve these problems because it will go a long way in addressing the problems of youth unemployment in the country. If the youths are not adequately educated and equipped to seek paid employment or start new businesses or help to grow existing businesses, there will be an increase in unemployment, a high rate of crime and insecurity in the country.
I am delighted and honoured to be a member of a panel during the Nigerian Television Authority Live session on education funding in Nigeria with Cyril Stober on Tuesday, August 3, 2021 that featured Nwajiuba, Minister for State for Education; Mallam Bello Kagara, Director, Social Mobilisation, Universal Basic Education; Professor Peter Okebukola, President, Global University Network for Innovation-Africa and Commissioner of Education, Kaduna State, Dr. Shehu Usman Muhammad. I emphasised that the education system depends heavily on the government for funding, and the differences in funding between public and private institutions, availability and the long-term sustainability of the policies are of great concern.
There have been several debates about the sustainability of the funding system of public tertiary education. There are opposing voices regarding “free education policy” and “no such thing as free education.” These calls lend to debates on whether public schools should increase their tuition fees to be in line with private institutions or “not” and “should students pay the tuition fees while studying” or “when they start working”.
Many developing countries like Nigeria operate a policy of tuition fees with a loan system, for instance, China and South Africa. In 1995, China reformed its education system by introducing higher education policy anchored on socio-economic development agenda with a tuition fee with a loan scheme. The scheme has enabled Chinese universities to become competitive and effective such that in the 2020-2021 ranking of universities, China has 15 universities ranked in the top 100 world universities. In South Africa, students and parents apply for a loan that will be assigned to the student, where the parent is required to pay the interest portion of the loan on a month-to-month basis while the student is studying. The capital loan remains in the student’s name, and the student repays the loan through monthly instalments upon graduating and starting a job.
While these debates range, there is a consensus that the right interventions in the Nigerian education system will open the door for the competitiveness of tertiary institutions and reduce the market failures of the tertiary sector. Such policies can be better focused on expanding access (with financial support), equity (aligned with social and gender balance) and promotion of economic development (alleviating economic and financial hardship). Overall, there is an urgent need for investment in baseline assessments, a review of the curriculum, e-books and computing, broadband infrastructure, teachers/lecturers’ digital skills training and improvement in teachers’ working conditions. These will go a long way to improving the country’s young and dynamic population and help build linkages between education, employability skills and innovation.