- Quality learning, not just school attendance, must be the objective of education policy.
- Education is about more than passing exams; tolerance and respect are also learned in the classroom.
- Mobile phones and TV learning are part of the IT solution to Africa’s education challenge.
In a session devoted to Nigeria, private sector educationalists and United Nations specialists warned that without concrete action to improve the quality of teaching in public schools, and serious efforts to address growing inequalities in access to learning, generations of young Nigerians are facing a bleak future.
Some 10.5 million school-age children currently fail to attend classes in Nigeria. That is a higher number than anywhere else in the world, according to Mark West, Associate Project Officer for Teacher Development and Education at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He said illiteracy is rampant, especially among poorer women and girls, while the majority of poor girls from rural areas never start school at all.
‘The world is going to have to get together to help Nigeria solve these issues,’ West said.
Raymond Dokpesi, Managing Director of Nigeria’s private sector DAAR Education Services (DES), said the biggest barrier to learning is a crisis in the teaching profession. Low pay and deplorable working conditions mean that graduates refuse to become teachers. In addition, many state authorities cannot afford to hire teachers with even the minimum qualification. As a result, many pupils end up being taught by unqualified staff who are unable to see them through end-of-school exams.
Taken together, these failings breed cynicism about education, with many poorer families preferring to see their children at work rather than wasting time in the classroom. As an example of the depth of the crisis, Dokpesi pointed to the results of the Education Sector Support Program in Nigeria, which in 2008 carried out a capacity and aptitude assessment test of public school teachers in Kwara state; 7 out of 19,125 teachers passed.
Speakers agreed the Nigerian government is taking the crisis in schools very seriously, with education now a budget priority. The challenge, however, is huge. In terms of physical infrastructure, Dokpesi said:
- 49 % of Nigerian classrooms need refurbishing;
- 70 % need access to electricity and clean water; and
- classroom capacity will have to double to meet population growth between 2015 and 2030.
In terms of raising teaching standards, he said the main requirements are better pay, teacher retraining and strengthening the law on qualifications.
Speakers agreed that IT and the private sector have a role to play in meeting these challenges. The DES, for example, is under contract with Nigeria’s federal education department to develop a curriculum of 12,000 lessons to be broadcast to schools via 25 TV channels. Some channels will be dedicated to primary and secondary programmes, while others will broadcast Islamic lessons and teacher training. However, the main problem is getting power to every school in the country so that TVs and other equipment will work.
West added that UNESCO is working with telecommunications company Nokia to deliver text messages to 10,000 Nigerian teachers. He said mobile phone apps can also deliver education texts to students, as even poor rural girls can usually access a mobile phone.
Philippe Cori, Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s Brussels office, said the challenge facing Nigeria’s education system goes beyond formal teaching. Children learn tolerance and respect in the classroom, including respect for girls. If the system fails young people, he said, and they leave education without acquiring the skills to make value judgments, then extremist groups such as the fundamentalist sect, Boko Haram, will seek to radicalise them.