Improving primary education in Nigeria

HOPE EKELE examines the loopholes in education sector and reports that government should focus increased attention on basic school, which is the foundation of tertiary education.

Education is the bedrock of development of any nation. Developed countries of the world became so today because of the early recognition they accorded education.  But unfortunately, education in Nigeria is besieged with a lot of problems.  The worst hit is the primary education, which is the foundation for the attainment of a country’s growth and development aspiration. 

Some of the problems include poor funding and the consequent poor educational infrastructures; inadequate classrooms and teaching aids like projectors, computers, laboratories and libraries. Shortage of quality teachers and poor or enervating teaching/learning environment are part of the problems.

In addition to these inadequacies, our school system is plagued with numerous social vices such as examination malpractice, cultism, hooliganism and other forms of corruption.

An educationist, Mrs Olufunmilayo Da_Silva said for meaningful development to take place in the education sector, government needs to re-address the issue of funding. Private education investors, teachers, parents/guardians and children need to be  re-orientated towards achieving the goals of education. Also, education must be made affordable for all but not free, except under the scholarship schemes for disadvantaged children who are also brilliant.

The current casual approach to knowledge acquisition, she said, must be changed, if this nation must move out of this present technological and scientific dependence. She added that government and the organised private sector must as well fund research programmes, invention and mass production of inventions.

 We would want the government to take a decisive approach rather than paying lip-service to the outcome of this presidential retreat, when the communiqué is submitted and becomes a blueprint for the education sector, she stated.

“A quick fix of one week presidential summit or retreat would not solve our beleaguering  education system, rather a three-year plan would be ideal for a group of education practitioners, researchers, parents and NGOs from across the country to come together to examine the state of primary education in Nigeria,” she said.

The three years would allow thorough collection of evidence from research, interviews, focus groups, submissions and official data, interim reports to be followed by a final report with key findings and recommendations. This will call for quick political fixes and snap reforms to be replaced by a long-term, sustainable vision for primary schools grounded in secure evidence. The review then will move into dissemination mode, building a national network with regional centres and generating interest in all the states.

Child poverty

 Child poverty currently affects between 17  and 36 per cent of Nigerian children, depending on whether you use the relative or absolute poverty measure, and poverty and social disadvantage impact directly on children’s educational progress and attainment.

Despite a long succession of government initiatives aimed at tackling the problem, most recently through the Universal Basic Education (UBE), the challenges remain severe. There’s a great deal that expert and inspirational teachers and school leaders working against the odds can do, and have done and they must learn from them. But for their work to achieve its full impact, it must be supported by the country’s wider economic, social and educational policies. All too often, such policies pull in different directions.

Ways to improve primary education

To improve education, educators must give children real say in their learning. We must celebrate children’s voice and rights in school and the classroom. As the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child points out, children should “have a right to be involved in decisions about their own learning”. This influence should extend to pedagogy as well as school management boards, for the classroom is where citizenship starts, and we know that discussion, dialogue and argument are very powerful tools for learning.

Primary education should not just be about preparing children for secondary school; we need to sort out what primary education is for, and ensure that aims driving the curriculum are not merely cosmetic. To say, as the government does, that the main aim of primary education is to make children ‘secondary ready’ is to undervalue children’s huge potential for development and learning during the primary years.

Education is about the here and now as well as the future, but schools should also address the wider condition and needs of children and society in today’s complex world. Children leaving primary school, should of course, be ready for what follows, but what follows year six is life, not just year seven; make ‘breadth and balance’ more than a slogan. Take seriously the curriculum beyond the 3Rs; while primary schools must and do insist on the importance of literacy and numeracy, they should also lay foundations in other areas – in spoken language, science, the arts, the humanities, in physical, emotional and moral developments and lived experience. These are in their different ways no less important for children’s future learning, choices and lives; they might actually make children more “secondary ready” than the 3Rs alone. The three Rs refer to the foundations of a basic skills-oriented education programme in schools: reading, writing and arithmetic.

Educators argue against the old two-tier curriculum – where the basic subjects are covered in detail, while the rest of the curriculum in some schools, are treated seriously but in others, it is left to chance,  and where the idea of ‘standards’ is confined to the 3Rs. This approach undermines the cultural and economic worth of the non-core subjects and flies in the face of research that shows how learning in one area enhances learning in others. Without deflecting attention from the importance of literacy, education experts argue for a primary curriculum whose core includes essential knowledge, skills and experience drawn from all subjects, not just three of them; increase the focus on evidence-based pedagogy. It is only through teaching that the curriculum comes alive for children. And it is only through understanding the art, science and craft of teaching – from research, inspection and shared experience – that teachers can inform and refine their practice. Relying on habit or official pronouncements isn’t enough. A greater focus on what evidence tells us about effective teaching and learning will enable teachers to help every child achieve the highest possible standard in all aspects of their education.

Assessment

Assessment should be about more than just test results. Where assessment and standards are concerned we need a wider practical repertoire and a more sophisticated vocabulary. We must devise approaches that enhance learning as well as test that supports the curriculum rather than distort it, and that pursues high standards in all areas of learning, not just the core subjects.

      It is no longer acceptable that tests at a moment in time and in a narrow spectrum of learning are treated as measures of a child’s entire educational attainment or of everything that schools aim to provide. Tests have their place, but both assessment and accountability should be about much more than test results.

      Schools should connect with the community.

Nigeria has immense demographic, economic, cultural and linguistic diversity, which creates a vast array of educational circumstances and needs. The best of our schools don’t just work closely with their local communities but make the curriculum responsive to local needs and opportunities and live the very idea of community in their everyday work and relationships.

      Equipping schools, teachers and pupils with 21st century competencies is important. Today, much success lies in being able to communicate, share, and use information to solve complex problems, in being able to adapt and innovate in response to new demands and changing circumstances, in being able to command and expand the power of technology to create new knowledge. Hence, new standards for what students should be able to do are replacing the basic skill competencies and knowledge expectations of the past. To meet this challenge schools must be transformed in ways that will enable students to acquire the creative thinking, flexible problem solving, collaboration and innovative skills they will need to be successful in work and life.

      The discourse of educational policy must change radically. As recent events have shown, policymakers tend to be interested only in evidence that fits their ideology or prejudice, and they may ignore or even abuse those who provide evidence that doesn’t fit the political bill. Deep and lasting improvements in our education system will be achieved only when policymakers are even-handed rather than selective in their use of evidence and when they speak about education in a way that exemplifies the educated mind rather than demeans it. The government has to give urgent attention to the Nigeria educational system because if we don’t educate our citizens they will contribute to the social menace that has befallen our dear country because of the high level of illiteracy, Da Silva said.

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