(By Gordon Brown)
“Nigeria has more than 10 million children out of school, the worst record in the world. We cannot meet the millennium development goals for universal education by December 2015 unless we tackle the education gap in Nigeria. A failure to address historic under-provision and discrimination in the northern provinces has left 6 million girls without any chance of an education.“
When courageous Malala Yousafzai was shot, 5 million men, women and children signed petitions calling for every girl in Pakistan to have the chance to go school.
But this week the world remained silent when 40 schoolchildren were shot and then burnt to death in a school in north east Nigeria. The incident was nothing less than a massacre of the innocents.
This latest attack, perpetrated by Boko Haram, brings the number of people murdered in the last month by the terrorist group to 300. Many were children targeted simply for going to school.
President Jonathan called the attack “a callous and senseless murder by deranged terrorists and fanatics who have clearly lost all human morality and descended to bestiality.” US Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned “unspeakable acts of terror.” Malala herself has spoken out for Nigerian children murdered when they are at school.
But so far there has been scant global reaction. Militant terrorists from Boko Haram make a practice of burning down schools and murdering boys and girls and their very name, translated from the Hausa language, means “Western education is sinful.” Last month they razed a whole village to the ground, casually shooting panicked men, women and children as they fled for safety.
It is time the world came to the aid of Nigeria as they try to make schools safe for children and to address and tackle the discrimination that prevents millions of children getting an education.
Nigeria has more than 10 million children out of school, the worst record in the world. We cannot meet the millennium development goals for universal education by December 2015 unless we tackle the education gap in Nigeria. A failure to address historic under-provision and discrimination in the northern provinces has left 6 million girls without any chance of an education.
The education challenges in Nigeria are real and many. There is a teacher shortage of nearly 1.3 million, basic infrastructure is lacking and there is a shortfall of up to 1.2 million classrooms. There are fewer children in school each year due to child marriages and gender and religious biases and education is simply too costly for the poor.
For those that do find ways to get their children into school, learning is limited if it happens at all. The number of adults who cannot read or write has risen to 35 million, confirming that illiteracy is a huge barrier to the future success of the Nigerian economy. Shockingly, around 52 percent of young women who complete primary education remain illiterate.
Nigeria — which in 2025 will become the world’s fifth biggest country by population and could surpass South Africa in economic size — will continue to lag behind the rest of the world for decades in the provision of educational opportunity unless something is done.
If nothing is done, Nigeria cannot make the transition from low-income country to high-income country in the foreseeable future. The latest figures suggest that by 2025, 71 percent of 30- to 34-year-olds in Japan, 79 percent in South Korea and 87 percent in Singapore will have tertiary education. But in Nigeria, it will only be 24 percent — unless there is a sea shift in educational provision.
The mountain Nigeria has to climb will be the subject of a summit held by President Goodluck Jonathan in May. We want to offer help from the rest of the world with a $500 million package, made up of $250 million from the federal government, which was matched by international donors.
These funds will support state-led initiatives including school building programs, teacher recruitment and training and the implementation of new technologies in learning.
Donors including the USAID, the Global Partnership for Education, Qatar’s Educate a Child, the UK’s DFID and the business community (represented by the Global Business Coalition for Education) have shown their determination to give practical support to President Jonathan in the drive for education.
But in the midst of the education crisis, President Jonathan is prepared to take unprecedented action. He realizes that getting every child into school and learning is feasible and achievable and the key to Nigerian prosperity.
Learning from what works best, financial incentives must be fine-tuned to help the government deliver. This means teacher training and professional development must be undertaken by leveraging technology. The curriculum of Islamic schools must be strengthened to develop literacy and numeracy skills and families must be supported in their demand for education through conditional cash transfers that, having been pioneered in some states, can encourage enrollment and attendance.
Nigeria itself is calling for the education it needs. Despite the violence and attacks on education from extremist groups, many Nigerians have signed the petition to support President Jonathan’s commitment to education. They are calling for safe schools for all of Nigeria’s children and for state level implementation of plans for universal education.
The future for education in Nigeria will be built not just with its government’s commitment and international support but because it is the demand of girls and boys everywhere to make education a civil right.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”