No country is able to make sustainable development advancements without having a well-structured education system and strategy. Education is important for development and growth at both the micro and macro level of a society. For instance at the micro level, the human mind is empowered to innovate and make technological advances in health, IT and agriculture when exposed to an education system or some system of learning. This leads to an increase in the income of a household. At the macro level, nations also benefit from having a structured and equitable education system as they are likely to experience a higher productivity rate and growth in the economy.
In Nigeria and the African continent in general, the best way to lift people out of poverty is through quality and equitable education. This would be the type of education that ensures that learning is taking place in schools. It is not enough for students and teachers to enrol in classes. Enrolment does not equal learning. There must be adequate monitoring and evaluation systems in place to ensure that students are learning the essential life and technical skills that are needed for them to be successful and competitive in the 21st century. Primary school education is the foundation of all learning. This is where children learn their basic reading, writing and arithmetic from which everyone of us springboards to learn other complex materials. Unfortunately, in Nigeria most children do not get quality universal primary education.
Scenes of overcrowded classrooms, inadequately paid and poorly trained teachers are far too common at the primary school level. For those that make it through primary school, many drop out before they complete secondary school. Most times this is due to the inability of parents to pay the school fees or the need to seek out a menial job in order to support the parents financially. As a result 35 percent of the countries adult population is illiterate (as of May 2020) according to the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC). There is a dire need to scale-up Adult Literacy programs so that they do not get left behind. This situation is worrisome especially for a country that has the youngest and largest workforce population (most under 35 years) in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The most foremost economies in the world view education as a critical investment in their human capital. Education helps to create revenue for the economy and income for individuals and households. Workers are able to increase their productive capacities and earn higher pay when they are equipped with in-demand skills. This is the way a country should be thinking about education and human capital development in the “Nigeria of our dreams.” Now the 6.7 per cent of the national budget allocated to education is not encouraging. The approved national budget for 2020 is 10.8 trillion Naira. The UNESCO benchmark for funding education is 26 per cent of the national budget or 6 percent of a country’s Gross Domestic Product.
The private sector as a major stakeholder needs to become fully involved in human capital development at the different levels. Collaboration with learning institutions at all levels should be frequent in order to bridge the school-to-work gap. Employers know the kind of skills and talent required of their industries. Hence, the need for them to work closely with trainers and teachers to make sure the appropriate skills are being taught. Essentially, Nigeria’s investment in education and human capital development must be demand-driven. Both global and local skill demands should be considered.
In addition to bridging the school-to-work gap, entrepreneurship development needs to be part and parcel of Nigeria’s education strategy. Small and medium-sized businesses are the bedrock of some of the most successful economies. They are also avenues for job creation. Therefore it is safe to say that entrepreneurs are catalysts for socio-economic development and poverty alleviation. Entrepreneurship training at the secondary and tertiary school levels can help to change the mind-set of Nigerian youths to become job creators when they are older rather than job seekers. As government takes steps to encourage our youth to adopt entrepreneurship, it is also important that they create an enabling environment for start-ups. Basic infrastructure such as constant power supply, good roads, and clean water supply would go a long way to encourage young entrepreneurs.