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This article is originated curated from SEVICS BLOG

Many people believe that education will save the world and guarantee a sustainable future for all. For nearly twenty million Nigerian students, there was no school for most of the year 2020. Up to thirty per cent of these students are yet to return to school due to insecurity and increasing incidents of school drop-out. What this implies is that the overall quality of education is nosediving. The worrisome question is; how well will educational systems recover and what does the future hold for the student and education in Nigeria?

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The Nigerian educational system is unique as everything Nigerian is wont to be. Post-2020, educational systems around the world are struggling to get back to business and win back lost time. However, winning back lost time is the least of the problems bedevilling the sector in Nigeria. By no means am I suggesting that educational outcomes everywhere in the country are at the same level. While there are similarities especially due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the gaps existing between quality and access to education are widening and affect communities differently. Let us look at the main issues, one at a time.

First, Schools were unable to leverage educational technologies to keep classes ongoing through the lockdowns. Educational technologies have existed for decades and have been used in educational settings to improve learning. These technologies proved most useful during the COVID-19 lockdowns when schools closed down temporarily. Students world-over studied from the comfort of their homes, even though the effectiveness of this style of learning is debatable. Whatever the case may be, teleconferencing platforms became the basic classroom. For the first time, the whole world seemed to apply the same processes to classroom learning. But in Nigeria, the story was different and for a good number of reasons. Most Nigerian children stayed home and did not have access to education. The technical know-how was lacking among educational leaders and as such, most schools across levels were unable to make that transition from traditional classrooms to digital classrooms. When teachers are ignorant in matters of tech, what would be the fate of the students? Again, schools did not have the infrastructure to make the necessary transition to tech. Computers, internet facilities and electricity supply are luxuries you are not sure to find in many urban schools.

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Urban schools make up nearly thirty per cent of all the schools that exist in the country. Leaving a gaping majority of the students without hopes of attending school. Eventually, some proactive local governments found a solution that would be introduced but one which could be considered as, well, you be the judge. In many communities, classes were delivered through radio programs which lasted an hour a day. This seemed like a great idea because most people could afford a radio. But the poor quality of delivery, inability to playback or provide feedback and the midday airplay converted these radio schools to a horrible stretch of rambling nonsense. I figure the government realized this too because they eventually pulled the plug on the program. And sincerely, an hour and two subjects a day did not meet the learning needs of students in all classes from nursery to post-secondary schools. Maybe it could have been structured better and we shall see how later.

Second, the Nigerian school curriculum lacks local context and only facilitates brain drain and a dearth of local content. Curriculum refers to an interactive system of instruction and learning with specific goals, contents, strategies, measurement, and resources. The desired outcome of the curriculum is successful transfer and/or development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The Nigerian Schools curriculum has remained majorly unchanged since the Nigerian Independence in 1960. It received slight adjustments from time to time, however, a major boost was given to the curriculum in 2015 when the emphasis on technical education was introduced. It was expected that the change boosts skills development, spurs entrepreneurship, creates jobs and reduces the strain on government job agencies. The Nigerian government through the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) instituted the nine-year Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) in schools. The new curriculum is also intended to contribute to the key targets of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) program. This was also coming off the back of calls to create a more relevant and practical curriculum that will spur the interests of the youth. This new curriculum embodied some of the international good practices and was bandied as an end to poor educational outcomes in the country. Years later, the schools have not improved and there is no indication that there are better learning outcomes. To overcome this challenge, many school leaders proactively work towards improving the learning in their schools. This they achieve by infusing elements of other curricula into their schools’ programs. In some cases, school owners adopt whole curricula from other countries and create special schools such as British Schools, American Schools as the most popular.

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It is, therefore, safe to assert that Nigerian schools are operating curricula and educational programs adapted from colonial times or imported from foreign climes. These curricula may not have taken into account the context of the particular schools. Anyways, schools in Nigeria are not alone in this situation and similar trends have been reported in Kenya which still operates a dominant Eurocentric educational program. It is argued that authentic meaningful change in learning outcomes cannot be experienced in communities that have a colonial past since, any efforts to improve educational systems without considering local context is sure to fail. That kind of describes the current situation of our schools.

Third, the Nigerian government lacks the political will to develop the education sector. What used to be vibrant learning centres fifty years ago are mostly ruins. While knowledge-based economies are helping countries develop at a fast and sustainable pace, Nigeria has stayed stagnant, lackadaisically moving alongside other developing countries and losing steam consistently. From 2012 till 2015 education had an average of ten per cent of the national budget. Since 2016 and under the administration of President Mohammadu Buhari, the education budget has reduced significantly from 7.9 per cent in 2016 to 5.6 per cent in 2021. Despite the low proportion of the budget going to education, there are indications that most of these funds will not be fully applied to supporting educational programs in Nigeria. Budgit shared a heartbreaking story of how a budget line is misappropriated and only a fraction of the total budgeted sum will be applied to the project planned. In their Education Fund: Leaving No Child Behind, 2021 Education Budget Analysis, they reported that;

“Most people showed excitement when the National Institute of Construction Technology, Uromi got a capital allocation of N3.42 billion for the 41 capital projects in 2021 approved budget. Only ten (10) out of the 41 projects are projects related to the school or projects that will be implemented in the school. These 10 projects in total, have a sum of N187.08 million” The 31 remaining projects will be implemented in 10 other states worth N3.2billion which are constituency projects as it involves the distribution of tricycles, solar street lights and skills acquisition etc.

To reverse the declining quality of education in Nigeria it is recommended that the country must devote at least 15 per cent of the national budget to education. Despite being aware of this recommendation, there are no indications that the government has the intent or commitment to improving education in the country.

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Fourth, Insecurity is obscuring the future of education in many Nigerian regions. The rates of attacks targeting the students and schools are at an all-time high. Schools in two of Nigeria’s six regions are overrun by terror groups such as the dreaded Boko Haram, the Islamic State of West Africa and organized criminals known as ‘bandits’. These groups have bombed schools, kidnapped thousands of students and are responsible for the closure of thousands of schools. It is estimated that some 10.3 million students are out of school in Nigeria with most of these coming from North-East and North-West Nigeria where it is becoming nearly impossible to attend school. Girls are disproportionately affected as they tend to leave schools early either because of access problems or due to early marriages. The security situation worsens over time and is quickly spreading to other regions. All issues previously discussed vanish in the presence of insecurity because this is the one issue that ends education instantly and honestly, it feels like this is imminent. It feels this way partly because the government is not doing enough to end insecurity in the country and partly because there are no alternative learning systems outside the traditional classrooms.

At this point, I am biting my nails and wondering what the future holds and if there is anything that can be done to reverse the state of education in Nigeria. Honestly, while it is easy to assert that things can get better, the truth remains that purposive efforts, guided by the right strategies and concerted stakeholder action would only be the first step. In my opinion, any meaningful intervention must be multi-sectoral and complementary. But my focus will be on what nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and the donor community can do differently to contribute to a better future for education in Nigeria. For clarity, I do not dwell on what the government should do because the government has its strategies that are tokenistic in approach, but because I believe that for true change to happen, the people must take the lead and make demands of the government. This is currently not happening enough!

Education benefits individuals and communities and can lift them above poverty. Therefore, everyone must do all that is within their powers to ensure that the next generation of Nigerians is well educated. First, there has to be Schools Without Borders. When it becomes hard to conduct learning within formal settings such as physical schools, new ways must be found to disseminate learning and produce the right results. This must begin with the redefinition of what used to constitute the curriculum to embody an outcome-based framework and one which shifts the centre of learning from the teacher to the student. This is a very important step towards creating schools without borders, especially as the Nigerian educational system still perceives the teacher as the central figure in the learning environment. Once this shift is made, the role of learning facilitation is split between learning resources including books, audio-visuals, peers and teachers. And where one resource suffices to achieve the learning outcome, the others may not be needed. This can be facilitated by non-governmental organizations working in regions where physical schooling can no longer happen. In my organization SEVICS, our strategies have centred down on education and we will be working on creating interventions that will improve educational outcomes in Nigeria. This shift in strategy is pertinent at a time like this. It can provide the much-needed grounds for more concerted action and advocacy to duty-bearers to do more. More non-governmental organizations can also key into creating and testing innovations to find what works best in their communities. A top global organization that is leading the recognition and scaling of educational innovations in HundrED and they have Ambassadors in numerous countries including Nigeria. With the right support, they can contribute to an improved educational system in Nigeria. Similarly, funding priorities of donor agencies in the country can support these innovations in their ideation, incubation and scaling.

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Lessons learned from the pandemic must be taken into account in creating future educational programs. For instance, a radio program, one hour a day is quite useless. But what if the government or the private sector created a radio station that facilitated learning and students can tune in to participate and interact with teachers? That might have been more beneficial. It would have solved some of the problems of access that disproportionately affect girls and students in rural areas and urban slums. In addition to free lessons, learning resources delivered to students using affordable and socially acceptable means will be invaluable to the learning process. One such resource that can be adapted to the needs of students in Nigeria is the Learncloud, a product of the Rumie Initiative whose work has helped thousands of children in conflict-ridden communities to stay in school.

Can education in Nigeria have a flawless future? Maybe! It is possible but it will not come on a platter of gold. It will take years of deliberate and painstaking efforts to achieve.

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