One of my favourite stories this week in BusinessDay concerned Nigeria’s 43 million children under the age of 10 not being prepared for the digital age.
It was inspired by a publication by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) titled “Demographic Statistics Bulletin 2015” which shows that the country’s population grew from about 140 million to 183 million by the end of 2015, a period of 10 years. This basically means that the country received 43 million new Nigerians into its fold within the period and most importantly, the oldest of these new set of Nigerians is just 10 years old.
Nigeria’s 43 million children under the age of 10 represent an opportunity and also risk. These are children who normally should be living with parents or guardians at this age, though recent media reports shows that about seven million children have been displaced by the Boko Haram crisis in the North East with most of them out of school. These are children at an impressionable age in which they can be shaped into the type of adults that the country and their families want to see in the future. So, if we are targeting a corruption free society in future, this should be our best target audience.
According to www.child-encyclopedia.com “Children’s early experiences, the bonds they form with their parents and their first learning experiences, deeply affect their future physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. Optimizing the early years of children’s lives is the best investment we can make as a society in ensuring their future success”
Even without academic research saying so, we all know that the future of our children largely depends on the quality of physical and emotional support they can get from us in their early years. In another 20 years, the 43 million Nigerians that are all 10 and below today, would be the country’s young adults.
Some would have even started their own families, and given birth to the next generation of Nigerians.
There is no question that both formal and informal education will play a key role in the making of the adults that today’s children will become. So the big question is what type of education are these kids currently receiving, especially in the formal environment?
Education data report also published by the NBS in February 2016 shows that the country had 62,406 public primary schools in 2014 with a total enrolment of 23 million children. These schools have 574,579 teachers resulting in an average teacher to student ratio of 1 to 40 comparable to what is obtainable in most parts of Africa but twice higher than what is obtained in Europe and America and even most parts of Asia.
The high student teacher ratio basically means that most students in these classes are not getting enough attention from teachers since the classes are overcrowded. This poor attention is compounded by the fact that only 11 percent of teachers in public primary schools actually have an educational degree while 56 percent have the minimum National Certificate of Education (NCE). The remaining 33 percent of teachers have other undefined qualifications.
This shows that besides the fact that majority of Nigeria’s future generation are studying in overcrowded classrooms, many of the teachers impacting knowledge into them do not have the qualifications that will guarantee that they can get the best education on offer.
Years of under investment in the public education infrastructure also means that many of the schools in which Nigeria’s future Nigeria get their knowledge are in a very poor state. Visit the nearest public school near you and its is likely to have leaking roofs, no chairs and most significantly no library and even where there are libraries, there are no books or the books are very old editions that were written before the digital age came upon us. So while Europe and America is talking about broadband access in every classroom, we are yet to achieve a library in every school. The country is already falling on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Nigeria’s future generation is basically growing into the future without being prepared for the digital age. In 20 years, when today’s Nigeria’s children will be adults, the world will be totally different from the world we know today but sadly, they are not being given the tools to compete in that future. This has significant implication for Nigeria’s future as a country. Knowledge powered by technology is going to rule the world in 20 years but children brought up in overcrowded classrooms by poorly qualified teachers will be ill equipped to compete in such a world.
The abundance of a country’s natural wealth or the size of its population would not be the basis to compete in the world of the future. The dizzying development in technology means that some of the resources that look so valuable today may actually serve no purpose tomorrow. Breakthrough technologies are being targeted at making a lot of the resources we depend on today irrelevant to our future.
A popular quote from Thomas L. Friedman in his book “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” easily come to mind here. “The ideal country in a flat world is the one with no natural resources, because countries with no natural resources tend to dig inside themselves. They try to tap the energy, entrepreneurship, creativity, and intelligence of their own people-men and women-rather than drill an oil well.”
In this quote lies the key to Nigeria’s future. How do we develop the energy, creativity and intelligence of the 43 million Nigerian children today under 10 so that they become the innovators of tomorrow? If today’s oil wealth is not being invested in preparing our children for that future where oil and gas is irrelevant, then we are failing them and our own future. The children of today represent our greatest opportunity to change the future but sadly there is no indication that we realize the opportunity they offer to reinvent Nigeria’s future.