Nigeria has an estimated 13 million children out of school.
Education (human capital) is the best way for any society to escape poverty and build for a better future, so being the pole bearer in such a statistic is not a good look for Nigeria.
At first glance, one may chalk this reality up as a result of a high drop out rate of students from educational institutions, I mean that makes sense. But the truth is, this number is due to a lack of government funding for proper education systems. A lot of these 13 million children have never had an opportunity to step foot into a classroom of any kind.
This trend will continue if the Nigerian government keeps doing the same things they have been doing, which has produced shambolic results so far.
The 'million dollar' question now would be: How can the Nigerian Government do better?
Before we delve into suggesting solutions, let's track back a bit for some context.
The Education Budgets in Nigeria so far
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO recommend for the education sector in developed countries to perform at optimum,the allocated budget should be between 15% - 20% of the entire budget.
This figure is a far cry for the reality of what has been allocated to education in recent years in Nigeria.
The highest allocation in the past 10 years has been 10.78% which was made in 2014. In 2010 it was 7.19%, 2011 was 9.32%, in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016, it was 9.86%, 10.15%, 10.78% and 7.92% respectively. For 2017 and 2018, the figure was 7.4% and 7.04%.
For 2019, the budget estimate was N8.83tn and the education budget allocation was 7.05%.
These figures are not encouraging and its easy to see why.
Comparing these numbers to that of other African countries they pale in comparison and it further highlights the inadequacies in Nigeria's budget.
The Education Budget in other African Countries
In 2019, South Africa's finance minister, Tito Mboweni, presenting the budget to parliament said, 'Education and culture will continue to receive the largest share of South Africa's Budget'. The Budget allocation was R262.4 bn. That budget in Naira is about N6.5 tr.
In Kenya, the education sector has been allocated Sh473 bn probably the highest among other sectors in the 2019/2020 year's budget. In naira, Sh473 billion in Naira is N1.7 billion.
With the paltry sums allocated to education in Nigeria, it comes as no wonder why they rank high on the 'out of school children' list . Nigeria's education system still functions with outdated curriculums, the teaching profession is a shambles for want of a better word. The entire sector needs a thorough makeover.
Some countries have had similar realities as Nigeria with their educational sector(s), but have turned their fortunes around with conscious, well timed and deliberate actions, creating evidence based solutions to make their educational system better.
The Importance of Data in Education
Two countries that would be a case study would be Afghanistan and Finland. We can look at their footprints, study their methods and apply as see fit. It is a proven method, it is worth looking into.
Solving the education problem in this day and age has gone beyond spending blanket sums of money on methods and techniques which are to be honest, outdated.
Focus rather needs to be made on evidence based solutions.
Education Specialists at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) carried out an educational benchmarking exercise of a country's educational system to better understand what was a critical factor regardless the country's context. Results showed that greater financing was not a predictor of improved skills. Countries where parents had access to quality information and data about student learning outcomes and school quality fared a lot better.
With this, the importance of data and information when trying to improve education has been established.
Countries need to improve collection and usage of data and information and understand how to use it effectively to make better policies. With accurate information at hand, resources can be better allocated , better investment descisions are made and the infrastructure is handled better.
The Case of Afghanistan
Afghanistan adopted the EMIS ( Education Management Information System) at a time when the economy needed to grow. This system provided accurate and relevant data for the central ministry to use. This improved accountability and transparency.
This system collects these data and gives stakeholders accurate information to work with and make conscious decisions to foster change.
The system comprises:
Student Management System : This is for tracking down and documenting every single information about a child.
Teacher Management System: This tracks the employment and training of teachers, giving the job opportunities to those who are best suited to teach.
School Mangement System
Infrastructure Management System
Asset Management System
The Case of Finland
Finland is another valuable case study. With a system that ranks heads and shoulders above a lot of first world countries, their methods of operation is worth looking into.
Unique qualities of their education system worth considering are:
Accountability for their Teachers: Teaching programs are the most rigorous and selective professional schools in the country. Teachers that make the cut are vetted as individuals (not as a group) and they have to be worth their salt before they are considered.
Providing professional options past just having a traditional college degree. Many students don't need to go to college, get a 'worthless' degree or flounder about wasting time trying to find their purpose and waste a lot of time incurring massive debts.
In Finland, Basic Education is a fundamental right for every child.
What can Nigeria do?
There should be a central core of information for the ministry of education.A central core that reports straight to the key stakeholders who implement change that influences the sector. What exists now is not central enough, hence why there cannot be appropriate checks and balances, it is why some things fly over heads.
Nigeria needs to go beyond just throwing money at the same things that have been yielding the same results. Investment in data and information needs to be priotised. Compiling data of every child, knowing their details, their perfomance, their skill set and any other important personal information that affect the child. Data of teachers ,management of the schools, tracking usage of infrastructure are all valuable. With these data, focused and well targeted changes can be implemented. These changes move the needle because they are based on facts and not just bogus assumptions.
Laser focusing on the teachers and their development should be a top priority. Substancial investements must be made into the teaching sector. Teachers in schools currently need to be vetted rigorously with the bar for qualification set very high. When this is done, the quality of teachers improve, this quality rubs off on the children.
Higher education needs to be made more flexible. University education should not be the pnly option for students. Vocational centers that train students in voactional skills, skills that are not taught within the four walls of a classroom and so on. This produces well rounded students. It also gives a voice to students who feel out of place or who parents can't afford tertiary education.