By Iveren Winifred Nyinoh
Title: More Learning to More People: How can Nigeria be more innovative in bridging its literacy and skills gap?
Before I discuss the topic, it is pertinent in the first instance to define the terms literacy and skills. According to the free dictionary, literacy has been defined as the quality or state of being literate, especially the ability to read and write. It could also be viewed as a person’s knowledge of a particular subject or field. On the other hand, skill has been defined as proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience. Furthermore, skills could also be looked at as an art, trade, or technique, particularly one requiring use of the hands or body, a developed talent or ability (The Free dictionary, online edition 2013).
Having defined the terms I would give a brief overview of Nigeria. The Federal Republic of Nigeria commonly referred to as ‘the Giant of Africa’ is a country in West Africa. With a population of 174,507,539 people as at July 2013, it is regarded as the 7th most populous country in the world (CIA World fact book, 2012; Library of Congress, 2008). Like every other country in the world, Nigeria is plagued by a myriad of problems notable among which are; ethnic violence in oil production in the Niger delta, corruption, insecurity, lack of electricity, lack of portable drinking water, political instability, religious crisis, fake drugs, drug trafficking, educational and health issues to mention but few. For the purpose of this essay, I would focus on education and the educational sector in Nigeria.
Briefly, the system of education in Nigeria consists of six years of primary school, three years of junior secondary school, three years of senior secondary school, and four years of university education leading to a bachelor’s degree.
Education has been described as been in a state of neglect. There was an oil boom that occurred in the 1970’s after which tertiary education in Nigeria was improved upon with the aim of reaching every sub region of the country. In order to attract more students to take up education instead of farming, trade and other occupations, education was provided free by the government, but the attendance rate for secondary education was only 29% (32% for males, 27% for females). Nowadays, the educational system has been described as “dysfunctional” mainly because of decay of institutional infrastructure and ill-prepared graduates (Nigerian National Planning Commission, 2004). Having said this it has been ascertained that 68% of the population is literate, and the rate for men (75.7%) is higher than that for women (60.6%) (US Library of congress, 2008). In some regions in Nigeria, free government-supported education (especially at the primary level) is provided for free, but attendance is not compulsory at any level, and certain groups, such as nomads and the handicapped, are under-served.
Education has been acknowledged as a fundamental human right since the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is a positive association between enrolling girls in primary school and gross national product (GNP) and life expectancy (The World Bank, 2012). Because of this positive association, enrolling girls in schools signifies the largest part of societal investment into human capital (Schultz, 2002). Hence Rapid socio-economic development of a nation has been perceived to be influenced by the caliber of women and their education in that country (Nussbaum, 2003). Education presents women a personality for a lifelong acquisition of knowledge, values, attitudes, competence and skills (Aliu, 2001).
Problems and challenges of education in Nigeria
The following problems and challenges can be associated with the Nigerian educational system;
- The student population applying for tertiary admission especially is enormous. With the huge number of students seeking admission to tertiary institutions each year, very many students are offered admission for the corresponding few spaces. Hence at the university level more students are admitted than can be catered for.
- Lack of well-equipped libraries. In order not to graduate half-baked graduates, libraries which are an integral part of the learning process must be put in place to enhance learning.
- Inadequate and poorly constructed lecture theatres. In some schools in Nigeria especially at the primary school level, classrooms consist of thatched huts without doors, learning materials, desks and other essential materials. Students who have books are not able to write properly because they lack the desk and seats to sit comfortably. Furthermore, some schools are not equipped with learning materials like crayons, pencils and pens; hence students are unable to take down notes and therefore cannot remember what they have been taught. At the tertiary level, lecture theatres are full to capacity with little or no ventilation. It is not surprising that some lecturers and students alike slum and die in the course of lecturers probably due to suffocation. We have gone from the era of black chalk board to white board and power point presentations, but in Nigeria we are far from achieving this. Many schools and tertiary institutions still rely on chalk board. The consequence of this is that teachers/lecturers constantly inhale chalk dust which could affect their health.
- Student accommodation. Students’ accommodation is very vital to students learning especially for those students who live far away from the university. But more often than not university accommodation does not go round and students have to rely on landlords that provide accommodation at exorbitant rates and these landlords are not regulated by any kind of regulation. Some of these so-called off campus accommodation are also not secure thus exposing students to danger.
- Laboratories to cater for the students are not put in place. For students studying science based, engineering and technical courses, laboratories are essential to learning. Hence it is not surprising that some students study computer engineering and never touched a computer. The same goes for students who study biological and medical sciences courses. Science is taught theoretically in Nigeria such that when you are given the opportunity to study abroad, it is common that PhD students attend lectures with undergraduate students to compensate for what they never learnt or what was taught in theory.
- Lecturers are often over loaded with more work and less pay. The ratio of lecturers to students is very low; hence lecturers are overloaded because too many students have been admitted.
- Shortage of human resource means that individuals try to teach subjects they don’t know well- a problem of the blind leading the blind. Furthermore some schools have the equipment’s, facilities and laboratories but the teachers/lecturers/technicians are not trained and hence cannot be efficient in teaching/demonstrating to the students. It is now common knowledge that if you know someone in Nigeria you get a job even if you do not have the requisite qualification.
- All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Lack of sporting and recreational facilities also mean that students are made to study all the time without recreational facilities. They thus learn less as they forget most of what they are taught.
- The problem of education in Nigeria also stems from the fact that a lot of emphasis is attached to qualifications even though they are not properly matched with the requisite work experience, hence it not uncommon to find a sales person at a pharmacy assuming the role of a pharmacist and treating patients with prescription medicine, which should be done by a pharmacist. The end result is that most people go extra mile to get a degree. Those that cannot pass exams themselves resort to cheating and examination malpractice. Individuals should be encouraged in whatever field or career they choose to follow. In developed countries, a plumber or lock smith for instance earns more money hourly than some professional people working in the office.
- Lack of infrastructural resources. This could be in the form of building, desks and chairs, whiteboard and books. This lack or shortage of infrastructural resources has two effects. One, proprietors have to make tough decisions regarding their priorities—what project do they prioritise. This could be in the form of building a new school or renovate an old school or an old block. It could also extend to making a choice between employing a teacher or buying books or building sports facilities. It is difficult to come to a compromise on these decisions and many administrators end up robbing Peter to pay Paul- solving one problem in a way that makes another problem worse, and producing no net gain.
- Style of teaching. How does a teacher teach children to read if they don’t have any books to give them? Furthermore, if the students have no notebooks and pencils, could they take notes? This is especially in schools where education is supposed to be free and students are not supposed to pay to learn. Can they study at home if they’re not allowed to take their textbooks with them? Teachers may have to do more narration and memorization just to get basic ideas across in which time they lose time to do really interesting activities, and students learn less.
- Another problem centres on socio-cultural resources, and these are very difficult to fix. The end result is even if you throw money at people and bring in teachers from abroad, socio-cultural resources can still be a problem. Like getting kids into schools, and keeping them there regularly. In some countries, kids may be expected to start working very young, whether there are child-labour laws in place or not. Kids might be expected to help with planting and harvesting, in farming communities, and the local climate might not meet very well as during the rains in April, children are expected to help with tilling the soil and planting and in June and July, these same children are expected to weed farms, and harvest the fields in December. There are still nomads in the world, people who move around with their herds or to pick crops- they can’t just hop from one school to another easily. Girls in particular may be kept at home to babysit younger kids and help with chores. On the other end, girls might get married young- or at least get pregnant young. And I think every country faces the problem of how to keep students motivated through high school. In developed countries like USA, individuals are motivated to be educated because they are surrounded by examples of successful people with college degrees. The situation is different in Nigeria where people who struggle to make it through school are not handsomely rewarded and people. Hence students who pass degrees with a pass degree or third class degree seem to make it in life quicker than someone who studies to make a first class. Imagine how much harder it is to keep students from dropping out when everybody they know is a farmer a factory worker or unemployed.
- There’s also a school culture that we take for granted- we were raised to expect it, by parents who were raised to expect it, and back and back. We all went to school more or less understanding how to follow a schedule, and listen to the teacher, and when we go home our parents make us do our homework and maybe even help us with it. That isn’t necessarily part of other cultures, and parents who never went to school or never finished it can’t really help their kids learn it. Just as an example, in Israel in the fifties some teachers did a study on why their Arab students had so much trouble learning to read when their Jewish students were learning so well. They found it was all about parents- the Jewish parents were helping their kids, reading to them, that sort of thing. Most of the Arab parents were illiterate themselves, so they couldn’t help their kids with homework at all. How do we socialize kids to a school culture that’s not familiar for them? Or, from the other side, how do we change a school culture to work for the local conditions?
- Other, general issues centre on language. There are several languages in Nigeria and you cannot print books or write software in all of them. Literacy does not necessarily imply studying in English. In Northern Nigeria for instance, people speak Hausa, which is related to Arabic but grammatically very different. Do you teach them in Hausa or Arabic, when there are no books?
- Problems of transportation. Many students travel long distances by foot to get to school. Some of these students cannot afford to take a bus and in some towns, there are no good roads for buses to ply or the roads could be flooded for weeks. In extreme situations, the transportation infrastructure may not even be there, and students in remote areas may not be able to get to a school in a neighbouring town and because of material and human constraints, the schools may never get to them.
Innovative problem solving
The problems highlighted above do not involve one sector and hence cannot be tackled by one sector alone. For profound success to be achieved, all hands must be on deck in trying to tackle corruption, provisions of electricity, good roads and so on.
In my opinion everyone must not go to school to be able to make a living if only we can reward all the other areas of society like plumbing, blacksmithing, farming etc., with a fair share of what they should earn then the educational system will not be overcrowded and we will find fewer people wanting to cheat at Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board examinations, West African Examinations Council, to be able to gain access to the universities.
We can make schools of agriculture and technology more attractive and more practically oriented. In the real sense of it not everyone have the brain to make it at universities so people that won’t make it can find other trade. If we also improve on our economy as a whole, people who do not make it through school can be involved in other areas such as producing and exporting products to other countries. This will increase our gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign countries will then find us attractive. In addition, people doing these kinds of jobs will also find it rewarding as they will be reaping the fruits of their labour.
Nigeria has a very bad name abroad. We are best known for bribery, corruption, fraud, terrorism, drug scandal, fake marriages abroad, and dishonesty. Hardly does any scholarship say it is for Nigerians but the like of other countries like the United States of America, Germany, Canada who are wealthier seem to have more opportunities than poorer nations. Not very many universities have scholarships for international students even if Nigerian students decide to want to study abroad and for those for students from Africa, the likes of Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa are highly favoured leaving Nigerian students with Department For International Development (DFID) and commonwealth scholarships to compete with, where the chances of obtaining a scholarship are 1 in 1000 applications. In Nigeria also most scholarships are offered by Exxonmobil (ESSO), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) and they are mostly for engineering students screening many other Nigerian students out of applying. More scholarships should be available for various subjects for students to be able to compete for.
I would also suggest free education at primary level. At least every child deserves to know how to communicate in English or even Arabic or French even if they will not further their education to the universities. This will assist them to interact with their business or social partners if they were to be involved in trade. Also secondary fees should be minimal to enable poor families to be able to afford the cost. The real education people should pay for should be the university level. When children at educated at primary and secondary level, they are able to learn things related to sexual infections, birth control, etc. government will have to increase more funding for primary and secondary schools. More primary and secondary schools should be built and existing facilities and buildings should be maintained. Schools to be more equipped with books, electricity, science laboratories, sporting facilities, play grounds etc. Incentives to teachers should be made because they are poorly paid and hence most people do not find teaching attractive. More teachers should be trained with specialist knowledge. Electricity supply should be improved in the country and roads linking schools should be built. It seems a lot to do but free school meals should also be provided at primary school level with buses available to pick children up before and after close of school except in situations where wealthy parents can afford to give their children meals to take to school and have someone pick them up from school at the close of the day.
The teaching of science should be emphasized at all levels. Laboratories should be built and furnished accordingly. Technicians and teachers/lecturers should be trained to be able to impact students. More innovative approach to teaching should be embraced by teachers to make studying interesting. These could be through videos, power point, simulations, drama, fame lab and many more.
Ideally libraries should be well stocked with electronic journal, monographs, publications, articles, maps, textbooks and assorted literature. Libraries should also be built in such a way as to make provision for all calibers of students (disabled, elderly etc.). Libraries should also have comfortable seating with helpful staff employed. Staff should be able to assist students with searching for literature, career development and workshops/seminars to enhance learning to enable graduates to measure up with our counterparts in other parts of the world.
Because Nigeria is very vast, I would suggest that these problems be tackled at the state level with generous support from the federal and foreign governments and non-governmental organizations. By this way every state would be responsible for the wellbeing and education of their citizens and I believe it will go a long way in developing the particular state, region and our dear country. Just like it is done in the USA, every state has its laws and operates within the confines of these.
I believe if we can get credible leaders who are not corrupt and can revive our educational system, more students from other African countries and the world over could come and study in Nigeria and increase our country’s income like Nigerian students presently do to the likes of Britain. Like the 2010 World Bank study argued that the development of post-primary education in Africa would require substantial amounts of external aid to plug current funding gaps. Government’s money alone cannot do the magic, and it will take a bit of time as well to change the general structure, system of education and attitudes of people. School administrators should be encouraged and thought how to write and apply for grants from foreign governments and organizations. The truth is these funds are available, administrators and proprietors need to apply and request for these funds. They also owe the funders the duty of reporting back to them and updating them on the progress they are making with the funds in that way they are able to sponsor more projects.
- The Free dictionary, online edition 2013. Available at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ (accessed 30th August 2013).
- CIA World Factbook (2012). Nigeria People 2012. Available online at http://www.immigration-usa.com/world_fact_book_2012/nigeria/nigeria_people.html(accessed 30th August 2013).
- United States Library of Congress – Federal Research Division. July 2008. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
- Nigerian National Planning Commission, Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004). National Policy on Education. Lagos: NERDC Press.
- Schultz, T.P. (2002). “Why Governments should Invest More to Educate Girls” World Development, Vol. 30 No.2 Pp 207 – 225.
- Nussbaum, Martha (2003) “Women’s Education: A Global Challenge” Sign:: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, vol. 29, no. 2 Pp 325 – 355.
- Aliu, S, (2001). “The Competitive Drive, New Technologies and Employment: The Human Capital Link”. A Paper presented at the Second Tripartite Conference of Manpower Planners. Chelsea Hotel, Abuja.
- Provost, C (2011). Developing countries face growing secondary education challenge. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/oct/25/developing-countries-secondary-education-challenge (accessed 30th August 2011).