Education gap: Turning information to action

Adamu is a 9-year-old boy from Agwandodo community, Gwagwalada Area Council, Abuja, who dreams of becoming a doctor. He had never missed a single day of school, until his father, the financial provider of the home passed away, taking with him Adamu’s chance of an education and his hopes and dreams for the future.

As sad as Adamu’s story is, it is not unique, it is a problem faced by many developing countries where the government lacks either the political will and/or financial resources required to meet their citizens’ education needs and where many parents are unable to fill the financial gap left by inadequate state-run infrastructure.

Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world – over 13 million basic education school-age children (6-14 years old) are currently out of school. Unsurprisingly, poverty plays a significant role. According to a 2017 World Bank report 72% of children from the poorest quintile are out of school, compared to 3% for the richest. Gender and region also play a part, with 60% of out-of-school children being girls. And children in the north—the most economically depressed region of the country and focal point of Boko Haram’s insurgency—are out-of-school at higher rates than the rest of the country. According to StatiSense, 60.7% of school-aged children in Bauchi are out of school; in Lagos, that number is 4.7%.

Education is a fundamental right, one every child should be able to exercise. According to the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004, Adamu and every other Nigerian child are legally entitled to nine years of uninterrupted basic education, including primary schooling and three years of junior secondary school. But Adamu and the millions of other children not in school are being denied not only their right to schooling, but a fair chance to get a good job, to support their families, and to be contributing members of society. There is a direct and indisputable link between access to quality education and economic and social development which means that a lack of education becomes a vicious cycle that makes it difficult for people to pull themselves out of poverty.

nigeria’s education ministry put forward a development framework and a 5 year road map (2015-2020) to improve access to education as well as the quality of that education and the systems that support it. Unfortunately, this programme has not yielded the desired effect due to a lack of accountability and resources. The national budget for education has been on a downward trend since 2015 when it accounted for 10.78% of the total budget to 2019 when it now accounts for only 7% (Takwimu 2019). It is clear that the education system needs systemic change to address some of these barriers which continue to hinder the implementation of an effective education strategy. It is also clear that we cannot rely on government interventions alone to bridge this gap.

Across Nigeria, development actors are working tirelessly to bridge the gap left by inadequate infrastructure and governance across critical areas like education, health, financial inclusion and beyond – one such organisation is Noble Missions for Change Initiative, a tech non-profit social enterprise leveraging data and technology to make education accessible to all children in Nigeria.

Organisations like Noble Missions work to advocate on behalf of vulnerable communities, but the work they do is impeded by the lack of high quality data and insights required to advocate effectively. From policymaking to revenue allocation decisions, to driving advocacy and aid, to showing citizens where and how public funds are being spent, access to data and evidence-based decision-making is crucial to furthering the development agenda in Nigeria and across the continent – as well as supporting these change-makers in the amazing work that they do to educate, influence and advocate for change in their communities.

Access to quality data is only the starting point – effective advocacy needs compelling stories that turn data into visual, written or auditory stories to capture attention and trigger action.  The Noble Missions team recently attended a workshop focused on data-driven storytelling and advocacy organised by Takwimu as part of a strategy to create partnerships and a community where African change-makers in the development space  can network, access expert analysis and l data as well as share data-driven advocacy best practices.

The team at Takwimu recognise the need to invest in the digital infrastructure and communications skills needed by development actors to access high quality data sources, mine these for locally relevant insights and package for optimum impact and influence. Takwimu is organising a series of workshops across the continent to champion the importance of visual, data-driven storytelling and advocacy and showing development actors how this data can be used to achieve development objectives.

Noble Missions is already making a difference in the lives of many children. They captured the attention of the public with Adamu’s story and created a crowd-funding initiative that raised enough money to send Adamu to school for five years, including school fees, uniforms, books and other necessary materials. This means that Adamu’s dream of becoming a doctor can still become a reality. But there are many more Adamus across Nigeria and the continent who desperately need and deserve a chance at a better quality of life. Organisations like Noble Mission can campaign with more influence and impact when they have access to high quality data and insights and the capacity to make full use of these assets in their campaigning activities.

As we strive to embody the SDGs’ mission to ‘leave no one behind’ and focus on plugging information gaps to empower change-makers across the continent, it is important to remember that access to data is not in itself a panacea to our current development issues. Investments in technology and situating the data within the local context are necessary if people are to use data effectively. Empowering local development actors, media and social media influencers to harness visual data and succinct analysis to sharpen and add weight to their advocacy and storytelling initiatives is a powerful way to improve evidence-based policymaking and decision-making. Adamu and many like him are counting on this.

 Ajufo is Group Head, Client Service, Africa Practice.

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