There is urgent need to invest massively in education

Far too many children are not in school in Nigeria. But even for those who are, most can hardly read or write, particularly those in the North-east. According to theUnited Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) the region is experiencing a severe learning crisis as three out of four school children cannot read or solve simple maths before they get to Primary Six. The UNICEF Chief of Maiduguri Field Office, Phuong Nguyen, said recently that only 29 per cent of schools in the region had teachers with minimum qualifications. “The average pupil-teacher ratio is 124 to one,” she said. “Almost half of all schools need rehabilitation. Only 47 per cent of schools in Borno have furniture with lower proportions in Yobe and Adamawa.”

To be sure, the impact of the 13-year Boko Haram’s insurgency on education in the Northeast is harrowing. At the last count, more than 600 teachers have been killed while about 19,000 others were displaced during the protracted conflict. In addition, more than 900 schools have been damaged or destroyed, with the forced closure of 1,500 schools. An estimated 900,000 children have lost access to learning while 75 per cent of children in camps do not attend school.

Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States are pulling up the rear obviously because of the adverse effect of the prolonged Islamic insurgency. But they are by no means the only ones. The education crisis is affecting children across the country. At least 20.5 million children are reportedly out of school in Nigeria, many deliberately out of neglect. The number in other states in the north has also been on a steady rise for the past few years.

In March 2021, no fewer than 600 schools were shut down in Sokoto, Kano, Niger, Katsina, and Zamfara States over the fear of attack and abduction of pupils and members of staff. The effect of such closure on children in these states can only be imagined. In Zamfara, the deplorable learning conditions are worsened by lack of teachers in most of the primary schools. The education board chairman revealed a while ago that no fewer than 300 public primary schools in the state are manned by a single teacher each. Many more schools in the state’s rural communities have no teachers at all, leaving the children to their own devices with all the dire consequences for the future of our country.

Indeed, across the country, several studies and reports speak volumes about the abject neglect of infrastructure in schools. And to worsen matters, it does not appear as if the relevant authorities as well as critical stakeholders are paying attention. In many rural communities, classrooms are an essential commodity with the result that children study under trees. In the urban centres that have the luxury of being provided with classrooms, many of them are dilapidated with leaking roofs, cracked walls and without windows. In many of these states, especially across the northern region, children sit on the floor as there are no reading tables and chairs for them. Even the schools provided with teachers are not better off. In 2017, the Kaduna State Ministry of Education sacked over 20,000 unqualified teachers who failed a test conducted to determine their competency. 

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s falling standard of education can only be halted through adequate funding. It is an immediate imperative. The schools must be well equipped with basic infrastructure, learning tools and competent teachers to make learning attractive. And the classrooms must be safe. Ample evidence exists that the social miscreants and religious bigots, including the Boko Haram insurgents that have destroyed the North-east are largely recruited from the army of uneducated people who grew up without any hope for their future.

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