Lois Isemede, Program Manager, Education for Pistis Foundation.
24th January is celebrated across the world as the International Day for Education. It is a day that aims to celebrate the role education plays in peace and development. This date was adopted in 2018 at the United Nations General Assembly.
International days are celebrated to ‘educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity’ (UN, 2022).
Issues of concern
Education is at the heart of individual, national and global development. Quality education, one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is also the pathway towards achieving all the other goals (poverty eradication, gender equality, innovation and infrastructure and many more).
The right to education is a universal right of every child, however, ‘today, 258 million children and youth still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school. Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable.’ (UNESCO, 2022).
In Nigeria, only 61% of primary school aged children attend schools and the percentage is lower in the north. It is worse for the female child in the North of the country where only about 40% are registered in school. Education is technically compulsory in the country but close to half of the primary school aged children in Nigeria are not being educated. The number of unschooled children increase at Secondary and Tertiary levels (UNICEF, 2022)
The first area of concern relates to the number of out of school children but it does not end there. The quality of education available is another issue and it spans across a number of areas including but not limited to:
- The infrastructure and learning environment,
- The relevance and adaptability of the curriculum
- The quality of educators and the teacher training process
Mobilize Political Will
Many of the issues raised need to be worked on from a political strategy level. Government has a major role to play in the allocation of resources that are earmarked for the Ministry of Education. There is also the need for government to address issues surrounding the current curriculum being used in schools at all levels. How relevant are they? Do they allow for the average Nigerian graduate to compete internationally? Can they adequately prepare and equip these students for solving the problems of the future? These are pertinent questions that need to be addressed.
The quality of our teacher training colleges and the entry requirements of student teachers need to be carefully evaluated. The cut-off point to study education in the University ought to be reviewed as well.
Are education courses a dumping ground for students who could not study their preferred course, or is it a course that attracts the brightest and the best?
While infrastructure is important, if the issues above are not first addressed, a wonderfully set up computer lab or library will be redundant and will not be used to its fullest capacity.
Finally, the standardization of the educational industry is of concern. Schools can be set up overnight in people’s backyards, unlicensed teachers are often employed to teach and each school may determine which curriculum they prefer to implement. While this allows for the bar to be set high in some instances, in others, it also allows for the bar to be set very low. The role of implementation of policies and standardization of procedures need to be implemented across board.
Looking towards the 2023 elections, it stands to reason that these discussions need to hold between key stakeholders and players in the education space. Political aspirants also need to be interrogated on their roadmap/plans to uplift education in Nigeria and eventually held accountable. If education is not a key driving force in any campaign, it is already evident that other aspects of nation building will be short-lived.
Celebration of achievements
There are however a number of individuals and organizations that are involved in making a difference in the education space in Nigeria. They recognize that Government cannot do it alone and are investing in the best possible way to address some of the aforementioned issues.
For example, there are a number of schools that provide 21st century infrastructure that is at par with international standards and institutions. Some schools also adapt their curriculum to ensure sustained relevance, which can prepare their students for future career paths. It is however safe to say that despite the issues of concerns, quality education can be achieved in Nigeria, howbeit at a cost.
There are schools that also offer quotas for scholarship students, high achieving students whose parents may be unable to afford the fees at these private institutions. By offering scholarships and discounts, these institutions are playing a small part in reducing the number of unschooled children and also mitigating the issue of poor quality in education.
Individuals are not left out in their contributions to improving education in the country. It is a known fact that the impact of the individual may not be as noticeable but it should be celebrated. Many families adopt children of relatives, domestic staff or partner with organizations to cover the fees of one or two children. Each little drop adds up to build the ocean we so desire.
Finally, there are organizations like Pistis Foundation (PF), that aim to serve as a hub to allow all these parties come together to do their part whilst also contributing their quota. Many NGOs provide scholarship programs, paying fees and placing students in schools. At PF, we do this in partnership with schools who also want to make an impact in the lives of these children. We are particular about the choice of schools where students are placed, to ensure they are places where they will achieve quality education. We currently have 50 beneficiaries across 14 private schools, (7 of which are key partner schools), where we have ensured that the facilities, curriculum and teaching standards give the students a good platform to soar.
Pistis Foundation also runs a program called Teachers Excelling Network (TEN) which aims to provide quality teacher training and support the teachers in this network. 103 teachers were in attendance at the first training and about 155 teachers were supported with airtime in 2021. We recognize the needs of the average teacher and efforts are being made to strategically address them holistically.
We also understand that formal and informal education are both valid options for children depending on their abilities and interests. Skills acquisition classes are being provided to train young students/ children who will learn some musical instruments, chess, creative writing, robotics, et al. This year, plans are underway to extend skill acquisition opportunities to mothers with at least two children who genuinely need economic empowerment. All programs provided by Pistis Foundation are to support the economically challenged and to provide empowerment opportunities for them.
Call to action
In celebration of International Day of Education, we can all play a part towards improving the state of education in our country. Here are a few ways this can be done.
Educators can create a few slots in their schools that are reserved for out of school children. Many of these children are around us if we look more carefully. If there is one slot per class in a school, the parents in that class can be encouraged to partner with the school by contributing to cover the books and uniforms for the child while the school covers the tuition. This partnership can help everyone pay it forward.
Individuals can look in their circles. Your domestic staff have kids who aren’t’ able to attend standard/ good schools. Can you help? What we often forget is that these uneducated children around us pose as potential threats to our children in the future if we do nothing. By saving them, we are also saving our children.
Everyone can partner with organizations like Pistis Foundation to support the work being done, donating or volunteering to help the work go further. The plan is to double the number of students being educated this year. Please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.