Social, economic cost of Nigeria’s learning crisis outlined

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In future, Nigeria may be filled with a crop of intellectually unfit adults who are not capable of social and economic contributions to society if it does not check the learning crisis currently rocking the education sector, experts have warned.

Recent research has placed Nigeria in first place among countries with the lowest learning outcomes, especially among children in basic school.

A World Bank report indicates that in sub-Saharan Africa, 87% of children are in learning poverty and are unable to perform basic literacy and numeracy tasks.

This deficiency in learning is estimated to be most severe in Nigeria, as data from a 2017 National Learning Assessment by the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, shows about 70% of 10-year-olds have difficulty attaining basic foundational skills.

Already Nigeria is grappling with the challenge of poor enrolment, where over 10.5 million children are said to be out of school and are not learning.

What this portends for Nigeria is that in future, the country will lack professionals in various fields, cerebral adults, and technocrats, leaving its social and economic development on the shoulders of intellectually poor leaders, says Economist, Dr. Chinedu Zephaniah.

In his analysis, any form of a learning crisis in the country at the moment will boomerang in the nearest future, when children who did not receive the kind of education they need to financially contribute to the economy, will become adults and further burden the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

He explains that the worth of every country is dependent on its human capital, the reason why the United Nations mostly focuses on the human development index of nations.

Also emphasising the nexus between social and economic deprivation, and social unrest, Dr Zephaniah insisted that quality education remains the best way to shape the minds of young people for constructive development.

‘‘If you check the societies with a lot of social problems, you will notice that they are usually where people don’t have skills so they can’t get jobs. And because they don’t have skills and can’t get jobs, they turn out to be the poorest in society. Now what happens is that when we don’t raise children who have proper education, those children will in turn not get the kinds of jobs that will pay them.

‘‘And then we are preparing children who would snowball into things like Boko Haram, ISWAP and the rest of it. In clear terms, when Northeast Nigeria fell under the pressure of Boko Haram, it was something that we all knew was going to happen. At that time, the financial exclusion rates in that region were the worst in Nigeria. So it was like a time bomb that we all saw clicking towards zero until it exploded’.

‘‘What we can glean from this is that if we don’t make conscious efforts to give people not just literacy, but education that is relevant for the 21st century, they will not be able to compete in the environment and the global space,” he said.

Recently, Manar Ahmed, an Education Specialist at UNICEF had warned that the poor literacy milestones in basic schools are mostly, the result of poor funding of the sector, an unqualified workforce, a lack of resources like infrastructure and poor teaching and learning materials.

Describing the situation as dire, Manar had worried that despite efforts to tackle the challenge using a 2018- 2021 ministerial strategic plan; learning outcomes continue to deteriorate, pegging Nigeria as one of the worst globally.

Meanwhile, data shows that Nigeria only allocates 1.7% of its GDP to education, falling behind UN recommended 50% to 20% of public finance to the sector.

Also, figures from a 2018 personnel audit by UBEC show that at least 27% of teachers are unqualified, while a 37% classroom shortage accounts for the insufficient physical resources needed for quality education in schools.

But the education specialist says it is not only about the budget but how available resources are deployed effectively and the right teaching workforce engaged.

‘‘We know qualified teachers are in short supply at all educational levels but it is more at the stage where you expect your child should learn how to read and write.

On the suggestion that poorly educated children will eventually become adults and aspire to political positions thereby leaving the country in the hands of unfit leaders, Dr Zephaniah disagrees insisting they will rather become nuisances to society.

He argues that there is no way someone without proper education and cerebral competence can aspire to such heights of human fulfilment.

He said, ”In today’s world, everything is online, the person needs to get the kind of education to enable him to understand the simplest of complex situations. So it is a boundary line. It is the divider, it is a rubicon of human development. You either get an education or you will not be able to live the barest of human life and you will not be able to attain the most basic of the desires of an average human being in contemporary society.

”So, the problem is, you know, a huge gap in future where Nigeria will not be a nation to reckon with because the bulk of the population will be people without requisite skills.”

”But the fact is that we are not even thinking enough at that time when this huge number is not able to contribute economically or socially, the nation automatically, will not also be a country to reckon with. 

“So, asking about the future the gap, the gap starts now, the skills are required now, what will happen in future is when this comes to full maturity, where the nation will implode and not be reckoned with, among the committee of nations,” he maintained.

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