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Fixing education system is key to solving Nigeria’s problems

These economic migrants are putting a strain on Europe’s already stretched budget. A logical solution would therefore appear to be greater policing of the borders. Such efforts appear effective at face value. However, they are at best sticking plasters seeking to cover deep lacerations.

They do not contemplate why adults would risk their lives (and those of their children) to embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara desert and across the Mediterranean. In Nigeria, 1.8m students applied for admission into the country’s institutions of higher education this year, but there were only about 850,000 places available.

Consequently, most Nigerians will not be able to obtain a university degree, which is a prerequisite for the year-long National Youth Service Corps scheme. Without a NYSC certificate, job seekers cannot be formally employed in government service or most corporate jobs in Nigeria. Most Nigerians are likely to remain trapped in the informal sector, performing low-skill/low-wage jobs.

According to UNICEF, over 10.5m children are not enrolled in school, and that figure is growing. We also know that the public education system is fraught with challenges. These range from insufficient, dilapidated infrastructure to outdated and limited teaching aids, as well as insufficient numbers of teachers (many of whom are not qualified to teach).

This system therefore produces large numbers of people who are unemployable. Employers continue to express their frustration at being unable to fill positions because the local talent pool is too shallow. Many jobs remain vacant for this avoidable reason.

Without access to jobs, millions face destitution. In Western countries people can turn to the state for social safety nets. In Nigeria, they turn to their extended families, whose own financial obligations are already overwhelming.

Certain well-intentioned solutions to this conundrum involve private-sector-led initiatives to provide students with better quality teaching using technology (through online learning, for instance). This approach is welcome, as it bypasses the shortcomings in the public system.

However, it is still largely inaccessible to the majority. Online learning cannot be a broadly impactful option when, according to Freedom House, internet penetration still stands at only 47% in the country. Building more private schools will also not fix the problem because most will be unable to afford the fees. It is a vicious cycle.

To truly address Nigeria’s problems, citizens must hold the government to its core function of providing them with adequate public services (including a decent education). Funding for basic education must be increased to significantly improve the infrastructure of public schools, modernise the curriculum while emphasising instruction in science, technology, engineering and maths, and ensure that the best teachers are deployed en masse.

Public funds must also be better deployed to ensure that they are invested in projects that benefit the majority. Short of fixing the educational system for everyone, Nigeria’s aspiration to industrialise will remain unrealised.

Ladé Araba is cofounder and president of the Visiola Foundation and a 2014 Tutu Fellow.

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