ABUJA, Nigeria — President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari kicked the month of August off with a total overhaul of education in Nigeria.
Keeping only four Federal Ministry of Education (FME) execs in their current positions, the federal government appointed 17 new chief executive officers. They will go on to serve as heads of various organizations in Nigeria’s long-crippled education sector.
Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu cited an end to impunity as a pretext for the rearrangement. It’s the latest to come in a string of similarly conceived directives, ranging from the government-backed termination of an allegedly extortionate university screening to a proposed revamp of Nigerian polytechnics.
Back in 2012, a UNICEF study assessing the state of education in Nigeria centered its concluding recommendations on a call for system-wide coordination. Lack of communication and collaboration between political bodies held up past interventions — a chronic issue the new leadership is expected to address without delay.
Below are three reasons why inaction — or mismanaged and disorganized action — is not an option when it comes to education in Nigeria.
1. The current system is not safe. When Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls last year, the social media sphere resounded with the rallying cry of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. The surge of hashtag activism eventually tapered out, but the violence continues to this day.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) gathered a broader report in the incident’s wake that investigated the terrorist group’s legacy of targeting educators and their students. Since the occupation of northern states began in 2009, almost 1 million children have fled.
HRW also revealed the assassination toll for teachers amounts to 611. An additional 19,000 teachers have been displaced, leaving communities with scarce education and employment opportunities for their children.
The vacuum, a representative of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) remarked, leaves children vulnerable to a depraved child labor market beset with sex trafficking and child soldier schemes.
A silver lining comes in the form of the U.N-backed Safe Schools Initiative, a mission that is successfully saving hundreds from turmoil with its safe school pilot program. The FEM’s new leadership, if acting in sync, could potentially mobilize the large-scale implementation of a similar model, which assembles community security groups, trains on-site personnel in safety protocol and develops security plans and response strategies.
2. Instability keeps disparities alive and well. Education in Nigeria, as it currently stands, has neither the means nor the structure needed to confront its inequalities.
A pervasive gender gap, for instance, skews the ratio of girls to boys receiving an education. UNICEF states that only one girl is enrolled in school for every two or three boys.
The imbalance is especially prevalent in the North, where Boko Haram insurgents deliberately keep children out of the classroom to improve their recruiting prospects. A fact sheet compiled by the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria noted that in the northern state of Borno, 72 percent of children in the primary demographic have yet to attend school. In some southern states, that figure falls to just three percent.
Existing socio-economic barriers do much to allow instability to fester. For young girls, the setbacks are magnified — an issue that took center stage during this year’s World Population Day, themed “Investing in Teenage Girls”.
At a panel in Abuja commemorating the event, an attendee representing Nigerian NGOs appealed to the government to ban early marriage and intensify efforts to improve girls’ education.
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) recently set an example such efforts could follow. They pledged $100 million to the cause, setting in motion the four-year plan to fund scholarships for young women and make education in Nigeria more accessible to females.
3. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of out-of-school children. Over 10 million school-age children, according to UNICEF, are not receiving basic education.
Rates of retention widen the vacancy. Of those who manage to attend and complete primary school, only 54 percent continue on to the junior secondary level. The rate drops to 16 percent, the International Organization for Migration found, by the time students reach the senior secondary level.
In 1999, the Universal Basic Education (UBE) program made primary and junior secondary education both compulsory and free of charge. Due to a protracted absence of legislative backing, its road to realization has been long and largely unfruitful.
An assessment of UBE published in 2013 diagnosed and prescribed solutions for the delay in progress. Drawn up by Nigerian professors Uche S. Anaduaka and Chinyere F. Ofakor, the framework emphasizes funding, infrastructure, and teachers — all held to the same standard and shaped by forward-thinking ideals. That standard, not to mention its actionable offshoots, could very well be realized by a proactive FME.
The newly recast FME has an opportunity to remedy its bureaucratic disconnect, take cues from its precedents and give education the undivided attention it needs. Any given attention, however, must be followed up with action — and any action must be taken with care and urgency.
– Josephine Gurch