Forty-hours from now, Nigeria will stand still to celebrate childhood, which inspired the launch of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, three decades ago as part of efforts to achieve Education for All (EFA) and the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
So much has changed in the world making the programme to flounder putting over 43 million children at risk. To put this in perspective, two factors driving the knowledge economy and digital age are internet usage and broadband penetration. These factors equally inform education policies in forward-looking economies. Nigeria has changed in many ways in this respect but its UBE programme is not keeping pace.
For instance, in 2000 the number of internet users in Nigeria was 200, 000 with a population of 143 million people, according the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). In 2006, these figures jumped to five million internet users with a population of 149 million, in 2009 the number of internet users increased to 24 million with a population of 159 million. In 2011 there were 45 million internet users and a population of 160 million. This more than doubled in 2015 with 93 million internet users and over 180 million people. The UBE’s key objectives could not capture these rapid changes in technology and its application to education.
The key objectives of the UBE as stated on Universal Basic Education Commission’s (UBEC’s) website are to ensure unfettered access to nine years of formal basic education, provide free, Universal Basic Education for every Nigerian child of school going age, reduce drastically the incidence of drop-out from the formal school system, through improved relevance, quality and efficiency and to ensuring the acquisition of appropriate levels of literacy, numeracy, manipulative, communicative and life skills as well as the ethical, moral and civic values needed for laying a solid foundation for life-long learning.
These objectives have been strained for reasons bordering on demographics, infrastructure and human resources. In demographic terms, Nigeria’s population has risen by 43 million in the last ten years; figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show. The figures captured in a report, “Demographic Statistics Report 2015” available on the website of the NBS, show that the country’s population which stood at about 140 million in 2006, had swelled to 183 million by 2015.
The data mean Africa’s largest economy and most populous country has 43 million children between ages zero and ten to cater for. In another ten years, these children are going to be the country’s labour force in an age that will be dominated by technology in a knowledge driven economy and the UBE is supposed to take care at least 80 percent of these children through the public education system.
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 one 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 it 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 essentially 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.
Figures from the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) show that 40 per cent of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend any primary school, with the Northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate, particularly for girls.
“Despite a significant increase in net enrollment rates in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school” according to UNICEF on its website. This means these children who are out of school are not being given a chance to compete in the future.
“Even when children enrol in schools, many do not complete the primary cycle. According to current data, 30 percent of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54 percent transit to Junior Secondary Schools. Reasons for this low completion rate include child labour, economic hardship and early marriage for girls” says UNICEF.