The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has raised a fresh concern over the learning crisis Nigeria is currently grappling with, urging stakeholders, particularly the government at all levels to, as a matter of priority, take stronger actions and commitments towards addressing the challenge.
The global agency noted that the crisis, particularly at the basic education level is stalling meaningful development in the country and globally by extension.
The Education Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria, Yetunde Oluwatosin, raised the concern at a two-day media dialogue organised by UNICEF Nigeria in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency, Lagos State, and the Edo State Universal Basic Education Board, recently.
The workshop with newsmen from print, broadcast and online media from the South-West region as participants, has “Turning the Tide on Nigeria’s Learning Crisis” as its theme.
Making a presentation and quoting from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), Oluwatosin disclosed that 73 per cent of Nigeria’s children, aged 10 years below, with the majority in the North and from the poorest families and in rural communities, were struggling to read or comprehend simple text, while an alarming nine out of every 10 children (90%) in sub-Saharan Africa generally were also confronting with learning difficulty.
She also noted that while only one out of 14 children between ages seven and 14 years could demonstrate fundamental skills, only 25 per cent have numeracy skills capable of solving simple mathematical problems.
Oluwatosin equally pointed out that although up to 73 per cent of Nigeria’s youths were literate, only seven per cent possessed the necessary ICT skills required for the digital economy while just eight per cent of children from the poorest families attend school compared to 78 per cent of their peers from the richest homes.
She said all these conditions, among others, are widening the inequality gaps between the children from the poorest homes and those from the richest families and also between those living in urban and rural communities.
She therefore recommended that the trend would need to be reversed otherwise it would be difficult to lift many children and young adults in the country out of extreme poverty and also out of criminal activities.
She, however, attributed the crises to a number of factors including limited infrastructure, inadequate funding, gender parity, shortage of qualified teachers, poor delivery system, and insufficient learning data and materials, among others.
She emphasised UNICEF’s efforts in filling the gap in a way it can including provision of learning materials for over 1.8 million children between 2018 and 2022 and further plans to reach another 4.8 million children primarily in the North, by 2027.
She urged all the stakeholders, particularly the government at all levels to wake up and take concrete actions towards tackling the crisis.
In his own presentation, another UNICEF Education Specialist, Aminu Babagana, emphasised the role of digital learning in bridging the gaps both in schools and at home.
He said that was why UNICEF created a digital learning platform, known as Nigeria Learning Platform (NLP) with content for primary and secondary education.
He explained that the platform, which can be assessed both digitally and offline, is not only for learners, as teachers, parents, caregivers, as well as community members can also explore it.
He noted that the platform had already enrolled up to 501,117 active users just within 15 months of its introduction and with no fewer than 3,500 devices given to schools, especially located in hard-to-reach and under-served communities in many states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory as of September 4, 2023.
Noting that the platform offers over 15,000 learning materials in video, pictorial, and textual formats, covering various subjects and written in English, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo languages, Aminu encouraged parents to allow their children to utilize their phones and laptops for learning and development while guiding them in accessing appropriate contents.
In her remark, the Edo State Commissioner for Education, Dr. Joan Oviawe, highlighted some of the initiatives taken by the current administration in the state to cause positive change in teaching and learning in both the formal and informal school settings.
She said for example, the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation project, popularly known as EdoBest, has really improved pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills, as well as their learning outcomes.
According to her, Edo State is no longer keen on students acquiring academic certificates but to ensure students are well equipped with requisite skills and knowledge that will enable them to compete favourably with their peers globally.
“So, we don’t just build new schools or renovate the existing ones, or provide equipment, or recruit or deploy teachers, our moves are driven by data and needs assessment across schools in both the urban and rural communities, and these have been working well for us,” she stressed.
Shedding light on this, the chairperson of the state’s SUBEB, Mrs Eyitayo Salami, explained that the deployment of digital learning with teachers given tablets loaded with prepared lesson notes and other materials and students given free textbooks across subjects is one of the major booster to learning in the state.
According to her, with the digital platform, teachers’ activities can be monitored and evaluated and we also ensure that our data guides us to know for example, the number of community schools in need of one thing or the other and also how many neighbouring schools are available.
She noted that the initiative has not only helped students in their studies and extra-curricular activities but also increased enrollment of new students including the out-of-schools.
She, however, commended UNICEF for its intervention in giving quality education to Nigeria’s children including those in Edo State, saying the efforts are unquantifiable.
Confirming this claim, Mrs Akintunde Osahi, one of the teachers at Samuel Ogbemudia Girls’ College, Benin, which is one of the schools that have taken advantage of digital learning initiatives, stated that the platform has made her more effective and committed.
According to her, aside that teachers are being monitored, the platform helps teachers to deliver their lessons well and within a time frame.
She added that parents are also allowed to assess and monitor their children’s academic performance with ease.
She, however, appealed to the government to convert teachers on casual appointments to permanent jobs so as to further boost their morale for improved service delivery.
A 13-year-old JSS 2 student in the school, Jecinta Onyiloha, said she realised that she is doing better in her studies since the students were introduced to digital learning two years ago.
She said the method has really made the class more interactive and engaging between the teachers and students.
In her own remark earlier, UNICEF Communication Officer, Blessing Ejiofor, urged the media being the critical stakeholders, to use their reportage to cause stronger action and commitment, particularly from the policy makers.
She said the essence is to make learning in Nigeria more result-oriented and for the progress of the country.
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