Development would continue to elude a country that fails to educate its citizenry.
John Ifediora …Editorial Commentary.
A long-standing economic theory commonly known as “Economic Convergence” postulates that as world economies develop they would inexorably attain the same level of development through trade based on comparative advantage, technology transfer through direct investment and job out-sourcing. Countries in East Asia benefited from this concept in crafting the trajectory of their respective economies; but this was possible because they had a ready and well-educated work force lying in wait for Western economies to out-source jobs to them. Their investment in educating their citizenry paid off. Now wages in East Asian countries are rising and firms in developed world are looking elsewhere for cost-effective labor force …but when they turn to Africa for requisite levels of human capital they find the labor force inadequate and remarkably wanting. The result is a shift away of direct investment and technology transfer to other areas of the world. The piece below by Helen O. Waziri takes the case of Nigeria’s state of education as an explanatory variable of inadequate levels of human capital in Africa.
Helen O. Waziri.
Education is one of the most important investments a country can make, and has the ability to advance a country from underdeveloped to developed status. Yet, Nigeria has consistently struggled with educating the masses. The country is currently working on outdated curriculum frameworks. The primary education system is based on content unrelated to development trends and is failing in areas such as gender parity, teacher quality and response, and student learning. Nigerian children are currently being deprived a fair chance to escape poverty, obtain decent jobs, and a future to ultimately develop their communities. This continues to be a challenge in the development of a comprehensive education reform. A large cause of the uneducated population is due to the differing social values and ethno-religious conflict in the country. Although the country has tried to develop new schools, change the system through initiatives such as Universal Primary Education (UPE), and modernize the curriculum to the current universal curriculum, the country has still struggled to stabilize school attendance and graduation success rates.
Nigeria’s Nigeria’s National Policy on Education (FRN 1998), states that the Federal Government, “adopted education as an instrument for effecting National Development in all areas of the nation.” (Ali, 1987). It was created to promote the teaching of social studies and demote the teachings of history, which consisted of ethno-religious socio-political tensions and an ethnic driven civil war. Thus, social studies was considered a practical subject to teach in order to create cohesion among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria. Shortly after the updated NPE came into effect, the state made the decision to begin teaching Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) in public schools in the northern state of Borno. The new policy required that Christianity be taught alongside Islamic Religious Knowledge. Consequently, a number of Muslims were in opposition to exclude Christian teachings in the school system which led to three churches being attacked in protest. This led the state to withdraw the order to teach CRK in the Borno school system. The aforementioned is a primary example of the type of ethno- religious tensions that led toward the emergence of a militant Islamic group like Boko Haram.
Almost twenty years later, the situation has not changed and the Nigerian system, which encourages a confessional approach to matters such as religion has contributed to further marginalization in the country. Issues within the system include poor funding and thus poor educational infrastructures, inadequate classrooms, libraries, and lack of teaching aids (projectors, computers, and laboratories). The government has failed to allocate the proper funds towards the education system. One cause is that the Nigerian Army has needed to reallocate funds to combat the terror of Boko Haram. For example, the military has acquired new equipment, such as the purchase of a substantial number of armored vehicles, attack helicopters and even Chinese armed drones to help increase the capabilities of the armed forces. Such spending has taken away from schools attaining adequate infrastructure, proper materials and teaching aids, materials such as suitable libraries and classrooms, quality books, furniture (e.g. desks and chairs), and laboratory equipment. The aforementioned are usually unsatisfactory if available at all, often run out, or used improperly, creating more problems than solutions.
With rapid population growth, poor governance, and internal conflict, education has severely suffered, leaving younger generations at a major disadvantage. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the education system had many flaws. Federal and State governments, Local Government Authorities (LGA), Parent Teacher Associations (PTA), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), and local communities provide funding for education at the primary school level (Olaniyan, 2008). Although the Ministry of Education is primarily responsibility for school funding, the amount actually allocated to education is still very low. There were issues all across the spectrum from unqualified teachers and lack of teacher pay, to a disproportionate amount of schools built to keep up with the booming population.
Challenges Primary School Teachers Currently Face
The quality of education outputs in Nigeria are very low, and there are little to no
incentives to put effort into teaching. Teachers hold a significant role in societies because they
facilitate the building of knowledge and skills necessary for future generations to grow. It is
important that teachers teaching in the Nigerian education system feel valued and safe,
particularly during times of conflict due to terrorism and ethnographic or ethno-religious differences. Unfortunately, the overall quality of the existing teacher education programs has been insufficient in providing teachers with the intellectual and professional backgrounds adequate for their assignment in the society. (Afe, 2006)
The lack of infrastructure to hold the rapidly growing population has been equally problematic for teachers in Nigeria. With the Nigerian government unable to keep up with the infrastructure needed to house the millions of eligible school aged-children and Boko Haram destroying schools – the supply and quality of teachers is becoming scarce. This has created an environment with class sizes that are much too large teach, a solid indicator for poor academic performance. In fact, many Nigerian schools have as many as eighty to one-hundred students per class, which is too large for optimum academic achievement of students. (Yusuf, 2016) This only contributes to the reality that teachers (who already feel mistreated by the system) have less time to focus on individual students needs in the classroom, which can negatively affect student growth.
While conflict has had many physical effects, it has also affected teachers from a psychological standpoint. The attacks teachers have experienced from Boko Haram has had psychological effects that are overcome by grief at the loss or maiming of their colleagues and students or are distracted by threats to colleagues. (UNESCO, 2015) Teachers have experienced issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which include symptoms of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and even avoidant behaviors. This has made it difficult for many teachers to support their students or perform their job well for communities in Yobe, Kaduna, Adamawa and Borno states. Similarly, Burundi’s teaching population showed that most teachers in the school system were deeply marked by their experiences with ethnic conflicts, and that they recognized the critical roles that they and the educational system must play to achieve lasting peace.
Attacks on schools by armed groups has not only put children and teachers’ lives at risk, has also deprived many children of an education. Due to the terrorist attacks against schools, many have resulted in closure and many children have dropped out entirely. Even if classes resume after an attack, it is hard to revert to normal as the quality of education can suffer when students and teachers are afraid to go back. Furthermore, many teachers have been forced to flee for their safety to neighboring states, which has attributed to a small percentage of the teacher shortage Nigeria is currently facing. Threats of more attacks have also forced other schools in proximity to close or parents to keep their children at home leaving teachers with no children to teach. With this in mind, it is not difficult to understand why some teachers in the Nigerian school system are already poorly motivated. Thus, creating more problems for the education system.
Current Student Enrollment Rates
According to a UNESCO report, the number of children enrolled in primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa rose by 75% to 144 million between 1999 and 2012. (UNESCO, 2015) Nigeria is leading, having the highest number of unenrolled students on the continent. An important factor behind the low enrollment rates is the current conflict the country is facing with Boko Haram. Other factors for low enrollment are less daunting – children in Nigeria lack both physical and material access to education. For example, a child may not have adequate transportation access to and from school, school is too far or unsafe to walk or the expense of school fees, transportation, books, and other school essentials are too expensive. If either form of access is in jeopardy, it can have a detrimental effect on a child’s education.
For advanced education for secondary school and higher, data shows a plummet in attendance rates. The secondary school attendance rate from the same year showed that only 53% of students were in school with 49% of females and 56% of males. (UNICEF, 2015) Although primary school enrollment has increased in recent years (post-201 data), the net attendance has been about the same. Empirical evidence has shown a missing link between the standard and quality of education. If the Nigerian Government invested better resources and more money on the education system, there may not be such large disparities in the value and access to education today.
Disparities of Children Schooling in Northern Nigeria
Sixty percent of the mentioned 10.5 million children that are out of school are in northern
Nigeria. (UNICEF, 2015) The majority of those not participating in school are girls. Of those
fortunate enough to enroll, less than two-thirds complete primary school and even fewer girls
finish secondary school. (UNICEF, 2015) A lot of that is due to the culture in Nigeria,
particularly in the North where females are second-class citizens. While females play pivotal
roles in Northern society in terms of fieldwork, homemaking, and watching after smaller
children, their place in the classroom is not valued. Therefore, only the males are encouraged to
stay in school. While Nigeria as a whole has reached gender parity for primary education (GPI
between 0.97 and 1.03), girls in secondary schools and girls in the north remained at a
disadvantage. (UNESCO, 2015) In the North particularly, the gender gap remains wide with the
ratio of boys to girls ranging from 2:1 or even 3:1 in some states. (UNESCO, 2015) The northern
population is still very traditional in their beliefs, believing that the only education necessary is
that of the Quran and Islamic teaching. Subsequently, many students in Quranic schools lack
basic reading and math skills. Furthermore, because northerners are generally anti-Western
education, northerners do not believe in the importance of female education, and often times
young girls who are of school age are married off to start families of their own. Since a bride
price and educational achievement, have little to no correlation according to northern tradition, many parents see no incentive in sending their girls to school and without regulation in the system. In contrast, male children – sometimes referred to as referred to as Almajiri – often leave their poverty-stricken families to attend school and are highly encouraged to beg on the streets to pay for their care and instruction. (USAID, 2015) Thus, the number of both boys and girls enrolled in northern schools has stayed significantly low.
As Boko Haram has perpetuated attacks and raids in small villages, particularly schools, girls who are privileged enough to attend school have often faced trauma. Instances of extreme violence, illness, and in many cases death have been side effects of the militant group’s terror. This has been proven in cases such as the missing girls taken from Chibok. As previously mentioned, there has been little progress in finding the remaining missing girls. However, the girls who were released by Boko Haram reported there were many girls (aside from their group) who had been taken.
The Chibok girls reported instances of rape, sexual slavery, exploitation in the militant group’s camps, and inadequate access to reproductive health services in the Boko Haram camp. They additionally reported unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS. The aforementioned is another contribution to low enrollment rates as parents are discouraged from sending their daughters to school because it is unsafe for them to leave home. Similarly, during the Somalian Civil War, girls dropped out of school when it became too dangerous to travel to school. In some cases, this accelerated their early marriage. Furthermore, school attendance is further discouraged when the absence of males means greater workloads for women and girls. (UNICEF, 2015)
Conflict Resolution:Eradicating BokoHaram’sTerror
Nigeria is currently in great need of political and social change. Being the most populous African nation with the lowest student enrollment rate on the continent is extremely regressive for the future of the country. With the international community paying more attention to Nigeria and willing to help, now is an ideal time for the leaders of the country to create a plan for unity and peace. Nigeria could create a model similar to South Africa’s using education to promote peace. The past miseducation of Nigerian children has only created more long-term disparities for the country as those children have grown up lacking the skills necessary to be self-sufficient, contributing their social and civil duties as Nigerian citizens.
The Nigerian government has experienced great corruption and long periods of military rule in the country have created problems of instability on many fronts. Irregular and sudden changes in the government leadership have resulted in good educational policies failing to be implemented or event started. (Nwagwu, 1997) There have been thirteen presidents since the country gained independence in 1960, of that amount, eight of those thirteen presidencies have been under military rule. Unstable national leadership has been destructive towards the education system because leaders have often governed by force rather than the wishes of the Nigerian people.
The government holds all the control to do something substantial in reducing conflict, yet
it has held the education system back by embezzling educational funds (e.g. scholarships and
grants). Currently, implementing free education in rural areas in the Northeast region – Boko
Haram’s most active areas – would make a great impact on the current education system.
Additionally, more efforts to strengthen the establishment of schools and involve courses like
peace education to re-orientate children and youths on the need to live in peace and harmony with each other.
Implementing Peace Education
Nigerians have been fighting each other since the colonial era, with little progress on the national level. The country now needs to unite using the tool of education to navigate by creating an environment for social and civic reconstruction. If Nigeria adopted new policies to tear down former barriers and unify old rivalries, the country would be able to move towards a more progressive state. In addition, reforming the curriculum of the general education system to make it more responsive to the socio-economic needs of the country would create a solid foundation. Countries such as Rwanda and South Africa have successfully put aside ethnic and racial differences, focusing on education to resolve decades of conflict. Both countries have rose to economic dominance on the continent, overcoming years of poverty and failing education systems. Nigeria is in the position to follow suite, yet the country keeps experiencing setbacks.
The first step Nigeria can take in conflict resolution is peace education. While focusing on the overall education system is important, alleviating ethnic tension and creating solidarity among the Nigerian people is essential. Peace education is a holistic approach to education, and includes the process of acquiring the values, the knowledge and developing the attitudes, skills, and behaviors to live in harmony with oneself, with others, and with the natural environment. (Reardon, 2000) Implementing peace education would allow children the opportunities to put peacemaking into practice in an education setting as well as their community, ultimately creating a more unified environment.
Unless there is sensitivity to peacebuilding, social reconstruction will continuously lead to failure. Thus the Nigerian government, local organizations, and NGO’s need to work with both groups to demobilize Boko Haram, which has begun to spread to other parts of West Africa. To create a more unified country, an initiative such as peace education through emergency in education could be implemented in areas most affected by Boko Haram’s terror. This concept is based on the notion that education is a basic requirement and cannot be delayed because of conflict. After all, waiting for the conflict to end is not ideal as wars can go on for years, and sometimes decades. Education is seen as an important intervention during times of conflict and has been viewed as a major life changing component for child protection. Empirical evidence shows that out-of-school children are at greater risk of violence, rape, and recruitment into fighting, prostitution, and other life-threatening, often criminal, activities (INEE, 2013).
UNESCO affirms that education provides a return to familiar routines and instills hope for the future, mitigating the psychosocial impact of violence and displacement. Good quality education provided during conflict can also counter the underlying causes of violence, and foster inclusion, tolerance, human rights awareness, and conflict resolution. (UNESCO, 2015) Thus emergency education can be executed through curriculum and a new discourse to create a more conflict-sensitive approach. Muslim and Christian students should learn together, in a healthy and inclusive way enforcing unification and diversity. With this approach, girls would also be completely integrated into the learning process, instead of taught a “gender-specific” curriculum leaving young girls at a disadvantage in the education system. Moreover, education should reach all classrooms in Nigeria, not just selected ones.
Boko Haram’s Role in the Peace Process
Integrating Boko Haram members in the peace education process would create a solid
unified environment. The use of religious and ethnic appeals as tools of political mobilization
would diminish during the peacebuilding process creating a climate of justice. Rwanda did this in the case of the traditional community court system called “Gacaca” where communities at the local level elected judges to hear the trials of genocide suspects accused of all crimes except planning of genocide. The Gacaca trials served to promote reconciliation among the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s by providing a means for victims to learn the truth about the death of their loved ones. Additionally, perpetrators were given the opportunity to confess their crimes, show remorse and ask for forgiveness in front of their community. It should be noted that Nigeria has never had any type of national reconciliation or healing process from the Civil War or from the effects of Boko Haram. However, a holistic approach such as this process may prove reasonable and effective in the peacebuilding process as many different groups have been marginalized and affected during conflict periods.
Boko Haram has undoubtedly affected the way Nigeria runs as a country. Many children who have been cheated out of an education, will be locked out of the economic sector creating a perpetual narrative that follow the intersections of poverty, gender, and their effects on opportunity. Nigeria implementing capacity building and peacebuilding are the few options it has left to end the conflict and move forward as a nation.
A new structure could change the education sector plan to create a better representation of what the system could be if properly executed. Students would be more apt to learn in an environment where they feel safe and understood regardless of what their ethno-religious background is. School should always be a safe place meant for ideas, similar or different, to be understood and challenged. Yet, many Nigerian children are not even given the opportunity to learn basic skills such as literacy and mathematics. These children will grow up to be adults who lack basic skills to attain a proper livelihood as the rest of the world is becoming more technologically advanced.
The current problems Nigeria is experiencing will continue to exist as long as the government remains weak. The implementation, equity, quality, learning outcomes, monitoring and evaluation all fall on whether the Nigerian government can successfully facilitate and govern the different Nigerian sectors to work together and improve the education system. Therefore, with proper care and governance, the education system has great unifying potential.