An initiative led by Nigerian Global Youth Ambassadors, called “Dreams from the Slum,” is making it possible for children in the slums of Lagos to attend school. June 16th was the Day of the African Child, and the Global Youth Ambassadors are emphasizing the importance of starting now to work towards a better future for African children by creating equal opportunities and access to education.
Established in 2013, the “Dreams from the Slum” initiative helps children that are out of school and provides extra support to those with special needs, with the aim to transform marginalized children’s lives through literacy. At the same time, the initiative tries to raise awareness with government and stakeholders about the problems of underprivileged children that are not in school. This initiative is rapidly growing, not only in Nigeria but beyond the borders in some of the neighbouring countries as well. Through education campaigns, thousands of poor children are now able to attend school.
The quality of education should be one of the top priorities in terms of a country’s development, but in Nigeria, education is failing. In Northern Nigeria alone, two-thirds of students are functionally illiterate. Despite progress in economy and technology, Nigeria is not making any major improvements to its inadequate educational policies. Mass failures in secondary school examinations and poor quality of graduates are among the indicators that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Nigerian education system.
There are many reasons for this. In recent years, Nigeria’s enormous growth, with children under 15 years of age accounting for 45% of the population, has created huge problems for infrastructure and public services, including education. There are simply not enough schools, facilities and teachers available to provide a basic education for the growing number of school-age children and youths, especially in urban areas with higher population density, not to mention education for girls, or orphaned or disabled children.
According to UNICEF, 40% of children between the ages of 6 to 11 in Nigeria are not in school. Despite the UBE (Universal Basic Education) Act 2004 and increased enrolment numbers, an estimated 4.7 million primary school-aged children are not attending any school.
In Nigeria, public schools are supervised by the federal government, whereas state schools are controlled at regional levels, leading to differing quality of education depending on what standard each state can deliver. Poor governance and management are major obstacles in the education system. The government does not appear to prioritize the quality of education at any level. Achieving basic universal education is the biggest issue because neither federal nor state or local governments have full control over primary schooling.
Another problem is poor education funding. The UNESCO would like to see at least a quarter of Nigeria’s budget invested in the education system as a contribution to the country’s development. But the Daily Trust calculated that Nigeria allocated only just over 8% of their total annual budget to education.
A report by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) confirms that corruption is common practice at all levels of the Nigerian government, and the education system is no exception. Politicians, school authorities and teachers alike are accepting bribes, and money meant to cover the cost of running schools and providing children with much-needed quality education instead ends up in someone else’s pocket.
The welfare of teaching staff is also a concern and directly linked to insufficient funding and corruption. Not only are teachers underpaid but their salaries are irregular, which is contributing to a lack of motivation. Since teaching is generally not regarded as a profitable occupation, few people want to be teachers. Many teachers in Nigeria have another business on the side that sustains them and their family but takes away time from teaching. Teachers often lack qualifications, and there is a high incidence of exam malpractice, aggravating the general decline of the school system.
Although the growing enrolment rate after introduction of free, compulsory basic education is a positive development, it also makes it difficult to deliver quality education and achieve satisfactory learning outcomes, as resources cannot cope with the increasing number of students. There are classes of 100 students to one teacher, and a lack of classrooms means they sit outside the school house.
Since passing of the Universal Basic Education Act, there has been some improvement in the rebuild of dilapidated school facilities and provision of furniture and toilets, but UNICEF’s child-friendly school concept has not been fully implemented by all Nigerian states. Many primary schools, particularly rural ones, have no access to water, electricity or toilets, whereas in some schools, there is only one toilet for several hundreds of children.
Education infrastructure and facilities this inadequate are not conducive to learning. Materials and equipment are mostly outdated or lacking, which makes it near impossible to teach research and practical components. The majority of students are unable to turn knowledge gained in the classroom into solutions for everyday life in the real world. Students should be equipped with practical skills and knowledge including technology, critical thinking, leadership and financial literacy, so they are able to sustain themselves in the real world and to face the challenges of their developing country.
Adeolu Akande, a professor in the department of political science and public administration at Igbinedion University, stated that only 54% of students attending primary school go on to secondary school, and only 20% of the 1.3 million students who applied for university or college admission were accepted. Akande further said that “education as presently implemented in the country does not guarantee the nation’s development because no country can develop faster than its educational programme can afford.”
The Nigerian education crisis must be addressed urgently, and the government needs to come up with solutions for a complete restructuration of the education system to achieve quality education nationwide. What is needed is sufficient funding and proper management. Emeka Okoye, CEO of Cymantiks, has said that “It is the duty of the government to define the aspiration of the nation and educational policies should focus on these aspirations, the Nigerian government is yet to do this.”
Corruption must be effectively dealt with and exam malpractice stopped by an agreement between the government and examination regulatory bodies. A new curriculum should be created, with greater emphasis on practical applications. The government needs to carry out thorough research and learn from other, more advanced countries with a successful education system before attempting any reforms.
Teachers must receive better pay so they will be more dedicated to their work without having to worry about sustaining themselves and their families. An improvement of teachers’ welfare will make a teaching position more desirable for adequately qualified teachers and will also motivate young people to become teachers. It is important to support quality teacher training with up to date materials and modern technology, and vet candidates to ensure appropriate staffing of teaching positions.
University entrance should follow achievements, not bribes or status. Nigeria needs to create a conducive learning environment in which to raise the next generation of responsible leaders. In addition, the private sector, which directly benefits from a well-educated workforce, should also put pressure on the government to make this happen.
If improvements in all these areas are made, including equal opportunity, the Nigerian education system can be transformed and give thousands of children the chance to gain an education that will help them to thrive in today’s world.