International Day of Education: Prioritising Education for Peace, Development
As the world marked the International Day of Education on January 24 with the theme ‘To invest in people, prioritise education’, UNESCO has reiterated that education must be prioritised to accelerate progress towards all the Sustainable Development Goals against the backdrop of a global recession, growing inequalities and the climate crisis. Uchechukwu Nnaike writes that the Nigerian education sector could use more funding and a safe environment to attain its objectives
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed January 24 as the International Day of Education to celebrate the role of education in peace and development. It noted that without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries would not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that leaves millions of children, youth and adults behind.
Recent UNESCO statistics indicate that 244 million children and youths are out of school, and 771 million adults are illiterate.
In a message to mark the day, the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay, regretted that despite the importance of the assertion “everyone has the right to education,” the fundamental right to education is still far from being a reality for all the girls and boys in the world.
In particular, she said UNESCO would like to dedicate the fifth edition of this International Day to all the girls and women in Afghanistan who have been denied their right to learn, study and teach.
It condemned the “serious attack on human dignity” and the fundamental “right to education.” According to Azoulay, UNESCO has been “tirelessly calling for the immediate restoration of the right to education for all girls and young women in Afghanistan.”
She said the organisation, in close liaison with the country’s communities, continues to work in Afghanistan to secure the continuity of education, whether using literacy courses or by mobilizing the power of radio, a medium able to reach people directly in their homes.
“UNESCO also remains the primary source for the monitoring of education data in Afghanistan, particularly data related to higher education. We will continue to mobilize the international community in order to uphold Afghan girls’ and women’s right to education,” stated Azoulay.
“We must not forget, however, that throughout the world, even for those fortunate enough to be in school, grave concerns persist. For example, in low- and middle-income countries, seven out of ten children are still unable to read and understand a simple text at the age of 10 years. This is why, in recent months, UNESCO has been working to strengthen international mobilisation to ensure the quality of education.”
She also stressed the need for countries to adapt education to the challenges of our times, particularly by acting on the conclusions stemming from the Futures of Education initiative, which calls for a new social contract through education.
“At the World Conference on Higher Education held in Barcelona last May, the International Conference on Adult Education held in Marrakech last June, and the World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education held in Tashkent last November, UNESCO and its member states together made new commitments to transforming education for every age,” the UN official explained.
Last September, the international mobilisation culminated with the Transforming Education Summit (TES), convened by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. The TES led more than 130 states to make firm commitments. Azoulay said UNESCO would continue coordinating the international community’s efforts to ensure quality education for all, urging the world “to defend – everywhere and always – a universal and fundamental right which is the best lever for ensuring development: education.”
Though this year’s event has been dedicated to Afghan girls and women, investment in education and equal access to quality education should be a priority among nations. For instance, education is said to be neglected in Nigeria, as the average annual budgetary allocation to the sector has hovered around 8 per cent over the last decade. Facilities in many public institutions have remained in a state of disrepair owing to poor funding and mismanagement of available funds.
Also, the disruption of academic activities through the incessant strikes by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other unions resulted from poor funding and a lack of commitment by the government.
Other consequences of poor funding include unmotivated staff, declining interest in education among the younger generation, and poor quality of research. The rising number of out-of-school children in the country is also of concern to stakeholders. According to UNICEF, there are now 18.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria. It stated that 60 per cent of the out-of-school children are girls.
Apart from poverty and cultural practices in some parts of the country, the rising cases of insecurity and natural disasters have denied many children access to education. Also, the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 and the attendant lockdown and school closure worsened the situation because some children did not return to school after the pandemic.
To attract more children, most state governments have launched a series of sensitisation programmes and campaigns. But beyond these, the government needs to allocate more funds to the sectors.
Some experts have urged Nigerians to pressure the government to take education seriously and fund it properly. There is also a need to make schools and communities safe so that children can go to school without fear of being abducted or killed. The government and all the agencies responsible for the security of schools should redouble their efforts to make schools safe to enable Nigerian children to fulfil their obligations to themselves and the nation and for the country’s all-round development.