At a time of protracted crises in the country’s higher education system, the Nigerian Society of Engineers has issued a timely warning of the dangers of continued relegation from basic education. Unveiling three blocks of classrooms built by its branch in Bwari, Abuja, for a public primary school in the Federal Capital Territory, the engineers lamented the dilapidated conditions of the public primary schools and called for adequate investment to rehabilitate them . Their warning that the future of an individual and a country depended on the quality of learning received at this level should serve as a reminder to the various governments to give the highest priority to the primary education level. .
Notably, the primary school which was being upgraded lacked basic facilities and children were taught in soggy structures with poor sanitation. It was evident that the classrooms and the whole school environment were far from conducive to meaningful teaching and learning. It also exposes children to disease. It is certainly not the type of establishment expected in the 21st century, especially in the FCT, where the highest standards of facilities and human resources are expected. But that’s the story across all 36 states and the FCT. Many public schools are an eyesore, the very antithesis of a supportive learning environment.
It is therefore urgent to review and refocus the entire education system of the country. This should be guided by universal education goals and specific national goals. Adopted as a fundamental right by the United Nations, UNESCO considers it a service that transforms lives and a tool “to build peace, eradicate poverty and promote sustainable development”.
Nigeria misses the point by neglecting primary education. UNICEF emphasizes that “primary education is the foundation of development. It is in primary school that children acquire fundamental skills that prepare them for life, work and active citizenship.
Governments should therefore rise to the challenge of the NSE, especially state and local governments, to reconnect with their oath of office and uphold the constitution and laws of the land, which define their statutory responsibilities. Access to primary education has been the subject of legislation and is highlighted in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The Child Rights Act 2003, for example, states in Section 15(1): “Every child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education and it is the responsibility of the Nigerian government to provide such education”. There is also the Universal Basic Education Act 2004, which makes education free and compulsory from primary to lower secondary.
The states and LGs have been negligent in this area of responsibility, just as the federal government has been negligent at the tertiary level. The latest figures indicate that 20.2 million children are currently out of school in the country. Across the country, the most common characteristics of primary schools are dilapidated school buildings and facilities, poor sanitation, insufficient desks, chairs and teaching materials, and many unqualified and unmotivated teachers. Teacher absenteeism is widespread as the routine school inspection system is broken.
Primary education is the starting point for formal education and basic skills are acquired by children. The very foundations of literacy and numeracy, the cornerstones of standard education, are the key elements of the curriculum at this level. During the colonial era and a decade later, when teachers with the required professional training, orientation and qualifications occupied the education system, those who obtained the certificate of primary education could take up employment. They could study at home for the General Certificate of Education or the Cambridge Examination and, if successful, proceed to vocational preparation and qualifications.
The foundation is essential to any business, including education. Most students currently attending Nigerian secondary schools are ill-prepared for academic work at this level. Given the mismanagement of the educational system and the resulting weaknesses, many of those who cheat in the various exams can still enter universities and even obtain diplomas.
The incessant production of semi-illiterate graduates from educational institutions has been Nigeria’s lot for decades, with severe negative consequences on human capital development. Quacks now dominate in many professions, including teaching, engineering, and medical practice. Employers have long complained that Nigerian graduates are ill-equipped for the corporate world, forcing many companies to invest in retraining their new recruits.
Planning and adequate investment in primary education is imperative for states to reverse the drift in workforce development. Planning, starting with needs assessment, is a scientific exercise that requires the best minds, given the quality of teachers required in primary schools.
Some state governments that have tested elementary and secondary school teachers have found thousands of them unfit; with the exception of Kaduna, most states did not have the will to remove them. Obtaining the right caliber of teaching staff must be complemented by the provision of standard facilities, teaching materials and better conditions of service, especially salaries and pension benefits.
According to the World Population Review’s ranking of countries with the best education systems in 2021, consistent investments in primary education by, subnational and local governments featured in producing the best results. The first four, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada were given autonomy and complementary support and funding from their central governments.
There must be a deliberate effort by the states and LGs of Nigeria to ensure a solid foundation for individuals and society at large. The Federal Department of Education’s recommendation that states allocate at least 15% of their budgets to education is to be welcomed.
Instead of oDue to the excessive creation of ill-funded, ill-equipped and ill-staffed higher education institutions by the federal and state governments, there should be a vigorous overhaul of the basic education sector, with attendance mandatory, better funding, better equipment and better staffing. The five states that have not domesticated CRA should do so without delay; all 36 states should enforce it strictly.