Nigeria’s education reforms and President Buhari’s GPE commitments

Nigeria’s education reforms and President Buhari’s GPE commitments

The Global Education Summit on Financing Global Partnership for Education (GPE) was successfully completed two weeks ago, and a letter signed by President Muhammadu Buhari calls for action which must not be ignored, writes Stephen Onyekwelu.

Two weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote and signed a commitment letter. If the commitments within this letter are fulfilled with the necessary expediency and political will, it will mark the beginning of a much-needed turnaround in the Nigerian education sector.

The letter starts with these words: “I join my brother, His Excellency, Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya to affirm commitment to improving learning outcomes in our respective countries by ensuring equitable access to quality education…,” he wrote from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Summit which had just commenced in London.

In the two sentences that would follow, the President penned what could be described as his overarching strategy for delivering on his promise of ensuring equitable access to quality education.

“We fully endorse the call for more efficient use of resources and to significantly increase investment in education by strengthening institutions, promising greater adoption of technology, building the capacities of our teachers, and mobilizing additional resources through legal frameworks and deliberate interventions on sustainable bases,” he wrote.

In concluding his 157-words letter, President Buhari pledged to “increase our annual domestic education expenditure by 50% over the next two years and up to 100% by 2025 beyond the 20% global benchmark.”

Certainly, even the most optimistic education advocates were surprised at the specificity of the President’s pledge in terms of timelines and amounts he is willing to stake in education.

But even equally more surprising was the fact that President Buhari specifically went to London for the Summit, was part of a panel session, and had a separate private meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom to further cement relevant issues, including education. This happened because of the growing profile of education globally.

Events in the 21 Century have underscored the role that education plays in global and national development. Over the years, it has been proven that poor (or no education) increases incidences of the poverty trap, promotes exploitation, increases unemployment, and dilutes the quality of political representation as those without education are more likely to make uninformed political choices during elections.

Therefore, in 2015 the United Nations adopted equitable delivery of Quality Education as one of its Sustainability Development goals to be achieved by 2030. On the scale of 17 Sustainability Development Goals which were set by the United Nations, Quality Education comes 4th, preceded only by Eradication of poverty, Achievement of Zero Hunger, and Achievement of Good Health and Wellbeing.

Research has shown that education enables upward socioeconomic mobility and is a key to escaping poverty. Smart governments around the world have come to terms with the fact that an uneducated population is a liability and recipe for unrest. Therefore, there is at present a relentless push to do more to bridge the education divide globally.

A tale of two interventions

In Nigeria, the work of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos state has taken the push for greater inclusivity of pupils in education and delivery of desired educational outcomes several steps forward.
Governor Obaseki through EdoBEST, which is managed by SUBEB board Chair, Mrs. Joan Oviawe, is already closing learning gaps between rural and urban pupils as well as delivering quality education to millions of children using technology.

In Lagos, the EKOEXCEL project has seen to it that teachers are better equipped with modern technology and proven modern teaching methods.

Lagos is driving excellence in learning for about 500,000 pupils across 1,016 primary schools through EKOEXCEL. EKOEXCEL is an education reform program that is successfully developing more highly skilled teachers; by training, supporting, and motivating existing government teachers to succeed in their classrooms. Over 14 thousand government teachers are being re-trained and upskilled through EKOEXCEL.

Before EdoBEST and EKOEXCEL, teacher absenteeism, poor lessons completion rates, poor lesson notes, and lackluster delivery of lessons were major drags to the primary school system, but the technology that powers both programs has ameliorated these problems.

As of today, Governor Sanwo-Olu can sit in his office and find out if a primary 2 teacher at Yaba Model Nursery and Primary School, Ojuelegba is at her duty post by 8.45 am on a Tuesday morning without recourse to calling any third party.

The technology also allows the governor to know if that teacher was in school the day before and the extent to which lesson notes have been completed. Powered by NewGlobe, a research-based education-focused social enterprise, this technology has been deployed in Lagos and Edo State and is available to all states in Nigeria.

In the past three years of EdoBEST and EKOEXCEL, the results have been clear. Pupils’ learning outcomes have improved, teachers have more time to deliver impactful lessons and there is an opportunity for peer review and upscaling. In particular, teachers have greater access to teaching and motivational methods that have helped nations in the western hemisphere.

Indeed, both states were ahead of President Buhari as they had already deployed technology, upskilled teachers, and committed more resources to education in order to deliver on the promise of quality education at the primary school level.

Progress despite Covid

Following the outbreak of Covid-19, there were fears that the moderate gains achieved since the commencement of work on the Sustainable Development Goals would be lost.

Before Covid, major progress was made towards increasing access to education and school enrolment rates at all levels, particularly for girls. Nevertheless, this progress was threatened as a majority of countries announced a temporary closure of schools, impacting more than 91 percent of students worldwide. By April 2020, close to 1.6 billion children and youth were out of school according to data provided by the United Nations.

But Lagos, Edo, and a handful of states in Nigeria were able to deliver lessons because of previous investment in education enabling technology. This is instructive to countries within Africa and states within Nigeria.

In 2006, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdallah Ahmad Al-Badawi in his address to the Association of Commonwealth Universities was blunt enough to declare that “I do believe that it is necessary to stress that for most countries today, human resource development and human capital formation are either extremely important, absolutely vital, or a matter of life and death. In the case of Malaysia …. It is a matter of life or death.” The task of educating the next generation of Nigerians cannot wait.

Like President Buhari affirmed in his letter, state governments and policymakers must more efficiently mobilize resources, increase investment, strengthen institutions, adopt technology, and build the capacity of teachers to meet the needs of the education system.

A successful summit

As the education summit ended in London on 28 July, there were early indications that it was a success.
A record $4billion was raised from donors for the Global Partnership for Education. This fundraising total puts GPE on the path to achieving its target of raising at least $5 billion over the next five years to transform education for millions of the world’s most vulnerable children.

It is expected that a fully-funded GPE would enable up to 175 million children to learn and help get 88 million more girls and boys in school by 2025.

While these targets exist at the global level, the Federal Government of Nigeria, other African governments, and Nigerian state governments must rise to the occasion and embrace partnerships that can deliver on Quality Education. Only then can our children be equipped for the future.

 

This article appeared originally on Business Day, August 09, 2021.