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Joking with Children’s Education

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

I’m an enthusiastic believer in the saying that the education of a girl means the education of an entire community. But that is not to say that the boy child isn’t relevant in the educational calculation.

Those who coupled together this aphorism are simply conveying the meaning that since a female gender is enormously gifted with the natural attribute of care, it makes a whole lot of sense to educationally empower a girl for the societal reason that as persons usually tasked with the providing care to the new borns, it is then of strategic essence that she would inevitably pass on her knowledge to her offsprings.

Sadly, in Nigeria of our time, education from the point of view of public policy formulation and implementation is a huge joke and indeed a child’s play.

Aside the perennial poor budgetary releases to fund the education sector especially as it relates to early childhood education, there is also this aspect of knowing exactly which level of government is charged with the education of the Nigerian child.

For a very longtime, there has been this deliberate deception sold to readers that primary and basic education is the primary responsibility of state governments.

But the debate has continued till date regarding the appropriate governmental arm that should be charged with the obligation of delivering qualitatively sound primary education.

The extant constitution of Nigeria known as the 1999 Constitution in part two article 30 seems to have established that the duty to educate Nigerians is captured within the concurrent legislative list implying that both the state and federal levels of government can provide education to the citizens.

That section states thus: “Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs of this item shall be construed so as to limit the powers of a House of Assembly to make Laws for the State with respect to technical, vocational post-primary, primary or other forms of education, including the establishment of institutions for the pursuit of such education”.

However, one constant fact is that both the state and federal governments seem to have endangered the educational future of Nigerian children by deliberately avoiding the monitoring of the implementation of how the Nigerian children are educated. There is obviously a deliberate lack of effective supervision of the kind of education that state governments deliver to our Children who are the leaders of tomorrow so to say.

This virus of neglecting the educational right of the Nigerian child is as old as independent Nigeria which goes to explain why majority of the educational facilities built for the members of the poor public by all levels of government for the education of the Nigerian children have become deteriorated in standards and indeed have substantially become dysfunctional.

Before committing these thoughts into writing, this writer took out over four hours to visit over 24 public primary schools in the Federal Capital Territory and nearly same number in Onu-Imo local government council of Imo state to see for myself how far the standards of facilities have declined.

My findings brought tears to my eyes because I saw derelict structures looking like war- time relics in which our children in their millions are dehumanized in the guise of being educated.

Again, I recall visiting nearly ten public primary schools in the United Kingdom two years ago from where Nigeria obtained political independence over half a century ago, and I can report that I saw functional and World’s standard school system for children in the United Kingdom. Any wonder then that the United Kingdom is classified as First World’s nation but Nigeria is perpetually classified as Third World’s country. It looks increasingly that the policy makers in Nigeria are proud to continuously identify Nigeria as Third World’s country so they can continue to deliberately underdevelope the nation but at the same time sending their Children to be educated in the Western World. This tendency to destroy Educational institutions in Nigeria and to educate Children of the political class in some of the best Western Europe’s or United States’ educational facilities should be viewed as a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.

This is because; an inevitable fall out of this spectacular collapse of the primary educational system in Nigeria is the large numbers of out-of-school children from millions of indigent homes especially since the spread of private schools became impressive.

But then again, the attendance to such private schools are limited to children whose parents are financially well-to-do. By some calculations, there are like 100 million poor house-holds in contemporary Nigerian society.

The fate of millions of children from about 100 million absolutely impoverished families therefore hangs precariously in the balance.

This pathetic demographical nightmare came alive when some few years back, the United Nations through her educational agency (UNICEF) conducted a research which came up with the frightening result that there were at least 10 million out -of -school Nigerian children.

About that time, the political leader of Nigeria Dr. Goodluck Jonathan rolled out a programme aimed at enrolling the 10 million out-of-school kids back to school but the measure was grossly insufficient because the then Federal Government concentrated her efforts towards addressing the cases of Northern boys known as Almajiris.

The then government built modern educational institutions for these boys but as soon as the government lost power to the current administration under President Muhammadu Buhari, that effort of educating Almajiris has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

In the current administration under President Muhammadu Buhari the person in charge of public Education is not a qualified Expert in the field of Education but a Writer and journalist who bagged the appointment only because he is of same Ethnic and Religious beliefs with the President. Ridiculously, his junior minister who is from Imo state is a Professor of Education and a former Vice Chancellor in a University. It is now left to imagination to contemplate how bad the shape of public early child education has become coupled with the political virus of lack of continuity of policy implementation by governments.

In Nigeria, policy inconsistency is deployed like a public policy framework by succeeding administrations all in their futile bid to have what they termed legacy projects.

Against the backdrops of heightened state of neglect of Children education, even the same UNICEF has earlier before her latest statistics on out-of-school children, had in the year 2005 sounded politically correct when it posted an article in 2005 whereby it even scored some positives in favour of the Universal Basic Education system of the government.

UNICEF may have passed her assessment too early in the day barely a year after UBEC law was passed which was precisely in 2004.

In the year 2005, UNICEF wrote that even when children enroll in schools, many do not complete the primary cycle.

According to that 2005 data, 30% of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54% transit to Junior Secondary Schools. Reasons for this low completion rate include child labour, economic hardship and early marriage for girls.

UNICEF in 2005 also observed that “In the last few years, especially since the launching of the Universal Basic Education Act, much has been achieved in the reconstruction of dilapidated school buildings and construction of new ones, supply of desks and other needed furniture as well as the provision of toilet facilities”.

“However, the child friendly school concept, which UNICEF is advocating for, is not comprehensively adopted by the various States in Nigeria. A majority of primary schools, especially in rural areas, lack water, electricity and toilet facilities. For example, on average, there is only one toilet for 600 pupils in the primary school system. Despite political commitment to trying to reverse years of neglect in the education sector and a significant increase of the Federal funding, investment in basic education is still low compared to other Sub-Saharan countries”.

As at the date of the publication aforementioned by UNICEF, it was not yet to public knowledge that most states lack the technical knowledge on how to access UNIBEC fund. This is because for States to benefit from the central fund dedicated for funding the Universal Basic education which is a constitutional right for all Children, it must demonstrate technical competence and readiness to also bring out her own counterpart fund. But because these governors have their Children in Europe and USA, they often fail to release these components that would facilitate gaining access to the UBEC fund. 

Amidst this disaster in public education for our Children, I think Nigerian policy makers should read the current edition of The Economist (January 6th/12th 2018) to see what a hitherto backward nation of Pakistan is doing to change the educational fortunes of their Children.

The Economist recall that when Pakistan’s schools attract global attention, it is often as a backdrop to violence.

It recalled that in October 2012 a masked gunman from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan boarded a school bus and shot Malala Yousafzai in the head, neck and shoulder. Two years later, and six days after Ms Yousafzai received the Nobel peace prize, terrorists from the same umbrella group killed 141 people, nearly all pupils, at an army-run school in Peshawar, one of the deadliest attacks on a school in any country.

According to the Global Terrorism Database kept by the University of Maryland, 867 educational institutions were attacked by Islamists between 2007 and 2015, often because these places had the temerity to teach science—or worse, educate girls.

Such attacks it says have added to problems that schools in Pakistan, the world’s sixth-most-populous country, share with those in other poor states—irrelevant curriculums, high rates of dropout as children (especially girls) get older, and woeful teaching.

These issues also afflict public Education system in Nigeria.

But The Economist states that the spectre of violence may have obscured another development: the emergence of Pakistan as perhaps the world’s largest laboratory for education reform.

It reports that Pakistan has long been home to a flourishing market of low-cost private schools, as parents have given up on a dysfunctional state sector and opted instead to pay for a better alternative.

In the province of Punjab alone the number of these schools has risen from 32,000 in 1990 to 60,000 by 2016. (England has just 24,000 schools, albeit much bigger ones.)

More recently, The Economist says, Pakistani policymakers have begun to use these private schools to provide state education.

“Today Pakistan has one of the largest school-voucher schemes in the world. It has outsourced the running of more government-funded schools than any other developing country. By the end of this year Punjab aims to have placed 10,000 public schools—about the number in all of California—in the hands of entrepreneurs or charities. Although other provinces cannot match the scope and pace of reforms in Punjab, which is home to 53% of Pakistanis, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are implementing some similar changes on a smaller scale.”

The news magazine also stated finally that results are promising—and they hold lessons for reformers in other countries.

“public-private partnerships” can improve children’s results while costing the state less than running schools itself.

A paper published in August by the World Bank found that a scheme to subsidize local entrepreneurs to open schools in 199 villages increased enrolment of six- to ten-year-olds by 30 percentage points and boosted test scores.

“Better schools also led parents to encourage their sons to become doctors not security guards, and their daughters to become teachers rather than housewives.”

Other new research suggests that policymakers can also take simple steps to fix failures in the market for low-cost private schools. For example, providing better information for parents through standardized report cards, and making it easier for entrepreneurs to obtain loans to expand schools, have both been found to lead to a higher quality of education.

Another, related lesson according to The Economist is that simply spending more public money is not going to transform classrooms in poor countries.

The bulk of spending on public education goes on teachers’ salaries, and if they cannot teach, the money is wasted. A revealing recent study looked at what happened between 2003 and 2007, when Punjab hired teachers on temporary contracts at 35% less pay. It found that the lower wages had no discernible impact on how well teachers taught.

“Such results reflect what happens when teachers are hired corruptly, rather than for their teaching skills. Yet the final and most important lesson from Pakistan is that politicians can break the link between political patronage and the classroom”.

Nigeria must stop joking with the education of our Children. To think that in many years, the central government has often voted less than 5 % for public Education, is to tell us how totally forgotten the public Education has become. Those who call the shots must live by example by ensuring that their Children are educated in the public school system. In 2019, Nigerian voters should demand the reports from aspirants about their educational history of their Children and the candidates to political offices should be made to obtain Court’s affidavits swearing upon legal oaths to train all their Children in public schools. Those with Children abroad should be rejected because they are predators.

* Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs@www.emmanuelonwubiko.comwww.huriwanigeria.comwww.huriwa@blogspot.com.

 

AmarSim Associations Development Consultants

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