By Gina Bella
Lack of political will to invest in Nigeria’s basic education is denying millions of children their right to education, affecting learning outcomes, plunging the sector into deeper crisis and putting the country’s future at risk. GINA ABELLA reports that meeting the SDG goal on Education through increased budgetary allocation is critical to attainment of the other SDGs.
Access to quality education is one of the Goals of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the United Nations in September 2015 to specifically ensure equitable, inclusive education that promotes lifelong learning for all. It has 10 targets with 11 indicators aimed at providing amongst other opportunities, universal literacy and numeracy easily attainable in a safe, inclusive, comfortable and effective learning environment for all children by 2030.
This maybe a mirage for Nigeria; the country is not only confronted with over 10 million Out of School Children, but 70 percent of children under the age of 10 who are already in school, are unable to learn basic foundational literacy and numeracy skills as stated in data derived from the 2017 National Learning Assessment conducted by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) specialist, Manar Ahmed, this is as a result of low public spending, inadequate and unprepared workforce, insufficient physical resources and low school readiness which unfortunately threw the country into a staggering learning crisis with one of the lowest learning outcomes globally.
With poor budgetary allocation leading the pack, it shows that if sufficient resources are allocated to the sector rather than the 1.7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it will automatically address every other challenge affecting the learning outcomes of students in basic schools, as the current budget on education makes it difficult to meet the overwhelming demands in the sector.
Such demands includes; adequate physical infrastructure such as desks, current teaching and learning materials, befitting teachers remuneration and consistent structural teachers development training in line with global best practices.
For instance, Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Prof. Hamid Bobboyi, recently revealed that pupils in over 50 percent of schools in Nigeria take lessons on the floor. This percentage does not include the many dilapidated classrooms without ceilings, doors and windows, or with the ceilings and roofs hanging down.
Although he failed to state reasons for this abuse on Children’s rights to a conducive environment for learning, it can not be far from the stark reality of inadequate school furniture, overcrowded classes and inadequate teachers.
While this cuts across each state and the FCT, quite a number of children do not even have the opportunity of learning in a constructed building; they receive lessons under makeshift classrooms or at the foot of trees with majority sitting on the floor.
A report from DATAPHYTE quoting ‘Compendium of Public School’s Basic Education Profile Indicators 2018’ states that out of 570,188 classrooms for 31,2 million students in 76,827 schools, only 300,892 classrooms are in good condition and conducive for learning. Worse still, there are 442,686 teachers meaning on the average, there are 55 learners to a classroom and 71 students to a teacher in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the 2018/2019 UBEC National Personnel Audit states a shortage of 67% classrooms at the national. It further states that out of the over 400,000 classrooms in Nigeria, 197,000 classrooms are bad classrooms.
As a result of this worrisome trend induced by poor funding, there are indications that students in some schools at different locations nationwide, walk into the class room either with wrappers, mats and polythene bags as they scramble to find the least uncomfortable sitting position in an uncomfortable class.
The torture such students pass through especially under the scorching sun, when the rains are falling and other harsh weather conditions is better left imagined however, the chances of effective learning under such conditions is very slim.
Considering learner furniture, adequate teachers, teaching and learning materials as essential components on effective learning and school performance, Prof. Bobboyi appealed to the Executive and Legislative Arms of government to consider an upward review of the Consolidated Revenue Funds (CRF) from the current two percent to four percent if the enormous challenges in basic education must be addressed.
While advocating for the increase to fix the “issues” which according to him were arising from the expansion of schools and rising students population which poses urgent need for teaching facilities, he argued that, “while the children of the rich who are merely 20 percent of the population can afford to garner resources for private schools, the less privileged constituting 80 percent are stuck with the public institutions.”
At a media dialogue on ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as Child Rights’ in Kano State, UNICEF Education specialist, Manar Ahmed, advised that an increased budgetary allocation inline with UNESCO’s benchmark of 15 to 20 percent of countries’ annual budget, will help address the staggering learning crisis and low learning outcomes in Nigeria.
She said: “Nigeria is facing a staggering learning crisis with learning outcomes being one of the lowest globally. 70 percent of children under the age of 10 are not achieving basic foundational literacy and numeracy. We will like to see the education budget doubled even though we know that there are challenges but so many of the SDGs are dependent on the SDG 4, which is access to quality education.
’When you look into why our children are not able to acquire foundational literacy and numeracy the core reasons are low budgetary spending on education, 1.7% of GDP allocated to education. If you look into the budget expenditure on education, in 2020 the World Bank said it was at 5.6% but this year the president approved an allocation of 7% to the education sector in Nigeria.
“This is actually a great move, we thank the government of Nigeria for this recognition of the learning crisis and the push for education however, we also need to put this in context, the global recommendation is that between 15 to 20% of public finance allocation should be directed to education. We still need to double the percentage that we have in public financing in education if we want to see Nigeria shift when it comes to the quality of the learning outputs.”
Expressing concern over the learning poverty in the country, UNICEF Chief of Field office Kano, Rahama Rohood Mohd Farah urged the Nigerian government to focus its increased funding on the pre-primary and primary level of education.
Represented by Elhadji Issakha Diop, he explained that UNICEF was supporting the government of Nigeria to improve foundational literacy and numeracy through Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) and Reading and Numeracy Activities (RANA) but noted that more needed to be done to address the situation despite the progress being made.
”Education is one of such rights. Education is a fundamental human right, and that right is well-articulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the (CRC) which guides the work of UNICEF, and of course, in other legal instruments, including the Nigerian Constitution.
“In executing its mandate of promoting, protecting, advocating, and collaborating with partners for the realisation of the rights of children, UNICEF has been collaborating with the Government of Nigeria to improve outcomes in the education sector.”
But achieving the desired outcomes in the basic education sub sector requires collective efforts both from the Federal and state governments however, despite the deplorable state of some basic schools and their negative impact on learning, majority of the state governors have failed to make the development of basic education a priority as shown in their inconsistency in accessing UBEC matching grant for several years.
As at February, 2022, the unaccessed funds with the Commission was N33.6billion, following the failure of 17 states to pay their 2021 counterpart funds. The breakdown revealed that a total of N528,678,768,160.60 was paid as counterpart funds by the 36 states and the FCT from 2005 to 2021. The commission noted that between 2005 and 2017, the 36 states and the FCT paid all the counterpart funds. It was, however, noted that in 2018, 35 states and the FCT paid the counterpart funds up to the fourth quarter, amounting to N1,473,832,845.20 each
UBEC boss, Prof. Bobboyi, explained that while each state received an average of N1.5 billion for funding of basic education from UBEC every year which could amount to N3 billion with payment of matching grant, the funds have not adequately rubbed off on learning achievements in schools.
Disturbed over the attitude of the state governments towards promoting learning outcomes in Nigeria, the Chairman, Governing Board of UBEC, Prof Adamu Usman, had accused state governments of abdicating their responsibility of funding basic education in their states to the commission.
“Primary and junior secondary education is the primary responsibility of local and state governments. Unfortunately, a good number of the states do not appear enthusiastic about funding basic education. As such, they do not always access their matching grants from the UBEC, and when they do, they fail to utilize the accessed funds expeditiously.”
But Ahmed, UNICEF Education Specialist insists that proper management of funds remains key towards ensuring quality education, improve learning outcomes to all children if the foundational literacy and numeracy crisis must be solved.
“If Nigeria will increase the budget, we will see a lot of improvement. We need infrastructural resources and human capacity but without enough funding there is little that can be done. We are happy to work with the Nigerian government to ensure there will be progress as we approach 2030 because if children are not able to read at an early age they will never be able to learn and that is why foundational literacy and numeracy is core for all children.”