School enrolment has gone up in recent times, largely reducing the number of out-of-school children the world over. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) believes that the number of children enrolled in developing countries, including Nigeria, has reached 91%, It would seem that we are succeeding in putting more children in school.
However, over 51 million children still remain out of school, and little can be said for the quality of education received by the ones in school when basic literacy and numeracy skills are still lacking in over 100 million youth across the globe. There is indeed a problem with the quality of education the world over, with particular problematic areas located within sub-Saharan Africa.
A core issue affecting access to quality education is not location of schools, but rather affordability. Quality education continues to remain a scarce commodity in Nigeria. With scarcity comes an increase in demand that can be exploited. And many providers of quality education have resorted to profiteering from the quality they are able to provide.
Many schools in Nigeria today that provide quality education are only affordable to only about 17% of Nigerians. The only affordable option for the others is the underfunded, unstructured, and low-quality government-owned schools. In the last ten years, the Nigerian education sector has never received up to the United Nations' recommended 26% of the total yearly budget. This means that what actually reaches down to the true development of education in the country is far lesser than normal, with the numbers fluctuating between 4% and 7% in recent years.
The many strikes by academic unions, continuing decay of public academic institutions, and the quality of school leavers bear testament to this lack of funding.
In the absence of quality, stakeholders continue to look for ways to alleviate the many problems associated with large numbers of children not having access to basic education. Very clearly, an improvement in budgetary allocations may see better development for schools, particularly as states may be able to provide focused developments for primary and secondary school infrastructure within their boundaries. Implementing the Universal Basic Education Scheme should become a core priority for government.
Children keep getting forced out of even the cheapest schools because underfunded schools have to keep setting levies and fees to help sustain the most basic operations. This trend means that children will return to the streets as education costs are becoming above means. The better alternative for most families is for children to become co-labourers, winning part of the bread to sustain the family.
But can parents, and communities begin to take more definitive approaches to schooling Nigeria's children? It is no longer news that children of the privileged who attend better, high-paying schools, perform better intellectually that their public school counterparts. One suggestion is that home-schooling must become a new norm for households and communities.
Homes can leverage on the crashing prices of data in the country to provide remote access to learning materials that can teach basic numeracy and literacy to primary school children especially. This will be more important in the long run, as Nigeria really needs to begin a paradigm shift from the conventional schooling system. With good use
Communities need to come together in pursuit of providing quality education, whether or not government increases the budgetary allocation. In realising that the end benefits reside with the people, and that quality education helps create a better society, the time is now for communities to significantly invest in the new ways that help to provide access to quality education.
Volunteers can do simple things like upload tutorial videos that are free, particularly regarding basic literacy and numeracy, and even skills, and these videos are made available to out-of-school children meeting at set places and at particular times.
Innovative ways to bring the basics to homes must be the next step for Nigeria. The endless wait for improved infrastructure may only serve to perpetuate existing paradigms of learning that are proving daily to be inadequate. Stakeholders - NGOs, concerned educators, parents, corporate bodies - should channel resources into more unconventional ways to grant children direct access to basic education.
Over time, Nigeria will clearly be moving towards a more and better educated society. It begins with the realisation that every one has a part to play in achieving goal four of the sustainable development goals.