Tackling learning crisis in Nigeria’s basic education

The declining quality of education at all levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary) is one of the most frequently debated topic among stakeholders in education and the general public in Nigeria today.

To support the preceding discussion, a 2018 World Bank Report warned of a learning crisis in Nigeria and other developing countries, which are facing moral and economic problems as a result of primary and secondary schools failing to provide students with the necessary education to succeed in life.

Despite the establishment of Universal Basic Education (UBE) in 1999, which is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring the acquisition of the appropriate levels of literacy, manipulative and life skills as well as the ethical, moral and civic values needed for laying the foundation for lifelong learning for children, have continued to be a mirage.

The major concern of the Federal Government and other stakeholders in the education sector in the country had been on how to ensure that the more than 10.5 million out-of-school children are enrolled in schools.

However, the new global report has shown that the actualisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, especially Goal 4, is being threatened by the learning crisis.

Experts had warned that this phenomenon posed a serious threat to the country and a dark future for Nigerian children, and that it would necessitate concerted efforts from all stakeholders.

In this context, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) organized a two-day media dialogue on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kano, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture’s Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB), with a focus on ‘Foundational Literacy and Numeracy,’ where experts x-rayed some of the underlying issues to be brought to the front burner.

UNICEF’s Chief of Field Office, Kano, Rahama Mohammed Farah, while speaking at the event, reiterated that Nigeria is faced with a learning crisis, whereby adequate learning is not taking place in schools.

Farah, who was represented by Elhadji Issakha Diop, Officer-in-Charge (OIC), UNICEF Field Office Kano, cited the World Bank as stating that Nigeria is facing learning poverty, with 70% of 10-year-old learners unable to understand a simple sentence or execute basic arithmetic tasks.

“When it comes to children’s rights, education is one of them. Education is a vital human right, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child outlines it clearly.

“It is clear that to improve learning outcomes in Nigeria, achieving basic foundational skills at that level of learning cannot be overemphasised,” he said.

Speaking on the importance of child rights, UNICEF Communication Specialist, Geoffrey Njoku, said that there was no way the SDGs could be achieved by 2030 without focusing on children’s rights.

The Federal Government also affirmed this as clearly stated in the ‘Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan (2018-2022),’ that inadequate funding, poor quality of teachers, who in general lack the ability to implement the national curriculum were some of the key factors impeding the attainment of the national targets and the full achievement of SDGs target goals.

Goal 4 of the 2030 global agenda is meant to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

In her virtual presentation, UNICEF Education Specialist, Manar Ahmed, lamented that there was a huge learning crisis in Nigeria which had led to over 70 percent of children not achieving basic foundational skills.

She decried poor funding and low public spending on education as reflected in budgetary allocation to the education sector in Nigeria, where about 7 percent of the national budget was allocated to education in 2022, and also about 1.7 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was allocated to education.

She listed other challenges of basic education in Nigeria including a shortage of qualified teachers, disclosing that about 27 percent of the teaching staff are unqualified, with insufficient physical resources, and a high teacher-pupil ratio of 1 to 55 in primary schools.

She noted that Nigeria does not lack the right policies to address the learning crisis but political will to implement the policies to improve on the quality basic education delivery.

“Nigeria is facing a staggering learning crisis with learning outcomes being one of the lowest globally,” she said.

“When you look at public expenditure on education, the World Bank said that it was at 5.6 percent. This year, 2022, President Buhari had already approved 7 percent to the education sector budget, which is a great move to address the learning crisis.

She disclosed that UNICEF has been supporting Nigeria in addressing some of these challenges through evidence-base learning programmes.

Also, Dr Chidiebere Ezinwa of Department of Mass Communication, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu, told journalists in an interview that relevant legal instruments provided framework for the realisation of child rights and SDGs, including International Convention on the rights of the child (CRC), 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria among others.

He said: “The Sustainable Development Goals will remain a mirage until the rights of children are fulfilled. If you look at the situation in the education sector, we are already in a learning crisis, a situation where we are not just talking about millions of our children being out of school; we are also being faced with the challenge of those in school not being able to learn.

“It is important that we raise awareness about this situation and also make people to realise that without the fulfilment of the rights of children to education, the SDGs will remain a mirage. With education, a child is given necessary skills he or she needs for tomorrow,” Ezinwa said.

Speaking on Goal 4 of SDGs, on access to quality education, he quoted a global report that about 258 million children and youth were still out of school in 2018, nearly one fifth of the global population in that age group.

Ezinwa added that 144 million children under age 5 were affected by stunting globally in 2019, with three quarters living in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, maintaining that malnutrition infringes on the child right to life, proper nutrition, health and quality education.

Reacting to report by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), that Nigeria is faced with staggering learning crisis with about 70 per cent of children in schools cannot read and write or perform basic numeracy task by age 10, the Executive Secretary of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Dr Hamid Bobboyi, said the Commission is worried by the poor learning outcomes in basic education despite huge intervention by the Federal Government.

He, however, blamed this on a number of factors including, the recruitment of unqualified teachers by some state governments, lack of regular professional training programmes for teachers, and low remuneration among others.

Bobboyi spoke while declaring open a one-day workshop for Council for Regulation of Engineers in Nigeria (COREN) inspectors for monitoring of UBEC/SUBEBS Matching Grant intervention projects in 36 states and FCT.

The UBEC boss said that even though the figures being bandied were not scientific, the Commission was working with UNICEF to have a large-scale assessment of learning achievements in the country, going into the details of what the problems are and to improve learning outcomes in Nigeria.

He said there was a need to invest more on teachers that would teach children at the basic level of education, especially in public schools across the country.

“There is no justification for all the investment if the child in the classroom is not learning,” he said


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