World leaders gathered in New York last September to develop a new agenda for the future. At that summit, they set 17 sustainable development goals to be achieved by 2030. One of the goals is to ensure quality and inclusive education for every child in the world.

Here in Nigeria, education has improved significantly in the past 25 years. We have more schools and better facilities. Only 25% of children aged between 6 and 11 were in school 25 years ago, but that has changed over the years. Enrolment has risen steadily and more children finish school today than ever before.

It has helped that state governments have programs that address this problem. Tuition is free or subsidised to secondary level in most Nigerian states. States are building new schools and renovating old ones to facilitate learning. In the Northern Nigeria, the federal government has also made efforts to absorb children in the Almajiri system so they can get a formal education alongside their religious studies. These programs have helped get more children in school and have them finish secondary at least.

Even at that, over 10 million children are still out of school in Nigeria today. Children in rural parts of the country are less likely to enroll in primary school – currently 39% of primary school aged children in rural areas are presently out of school and 19% of this number will enter late and 76% will never enroll in any form of school. The statistic becomes grimmer for the most disadvantaged of us: children living in homes that survive on less than a dollar per day. 66% of children from poor families are currently out of school compared to a mere 6% in richer families, 11% out of the 66% of the poor families will enter school very late, while a whooping 87% will never see the four walls of a classroom.

In 2012, the North East and North West were the regions with the lowest per capita income in the country and this collates with having the highest number of out of school children at 67% and the lowest primary school completion rate in the country. In Yobe for instance, a Millennium Development Goals report shows only 10% of the pupils finished primary school compared to 83% in Ogun.

Moreover, there are many parts of the country where people do not see the connection between formal education and economic advancement; therefore they do not see the need to prioritise education. This is why many young people from these areas are either not supported to go to school or are actively blocked from doing so. So even though tuition is free or subsidised, many drop out due to the unseen cost of getting basic education or do not go to begin with, as they are responsible for taking care of the growing family through their extra income. They are busy working on the farm, doing some trade or taking religious lessons. Tuition is free in Ebonyi for example. Yet every year lots of young boys in the state drop out of school and migrate to cities to learn a trade or run a business.

The Boko Haram insurgency has also disrupted schooling in some states. As of December 2015, Boko haram had forced over one million children out of school. Many children have been killed or kidnapped since the crisis began. A lot of school-aged children have had to flee their homes with their parents and now live in camps with hardly any formal schooling system. The insurgency has certainly hampered access to education in Boko Haram strongholds, which include Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.

The truth is, things could be so much better if state governments had better policies on education—like training and monitoring teachers through technology, prioritising high quality education for all especially girls and creating structures in conflict areas to ensure the continuity of education during conflict. Teachers in government schools often lack the proficiency to do their work; teachers need adequate preparation through access to learning resources and technological tools that will highly motivate them to provide a productive classroom-learning environment for their pupils.

In fact, many parents have had to withdraw their children from state-funded schools because their teachers would teach them nothing all day. In conflict areas, parents are scared to send their children to schools because of the many horror stories due to the insurgency. Girls in certain part of the country are made to leave school much earlier due to early marriages. Government cannot deliver quality education and achieve the seven educational target for education if it does not make better decisions which lead to increased access to the most disadvantaged, high quality training for teachers, paying better wages to attract the very best talents to teaching in the primary schools and setting up make-shift schools to accommodate education in conflict areas.

It has been proven over and over again that most of the social and economic problems that hinder education can actually be solved long term by making sure every child completes fee, equitable and quality basic education. Education is key to achieving any form of socioeconomic development.

Education enlightens people. People who keep their children from going to school do so because they’re not enlightened about the importance of schooling, and that’s usually because they did not have access to high quality education themselves. But we can change that by getting young people into school so they’ll grow up to think differently, educate their own children, and therefore turn things around in their community.

We often have the wrong politicians in government because a lot of people, who vote these politicians, do not have the skills to make wise voting choices. An educated person can function more effectively as a citizen and vote smarter than a person who has had no access to education. This is due to limited knowledge in devising the truth from propaganda. So when we educate young people, we are empowering them to make the right choices as citizens. This will strengthen our democracy and then we can begin to prepare the nation for development.

Poverty and income inequality are prevalent in our country today chiefly because of the educational challenges. The same areas where people mostly do not go to school are the same areas where most poor people reside. But education gives people the opportunity to turn things around for themselves and earn a better living. There are statistic everywhere that show this; for every additional year a girl in a developing country pass primary three, this leads to a 20% higher wages; by not offering girls the same education as boys, developing countries like Nigeria, losses averagely 90 billion dollars yearly. So if we’re going to end poverty and close the gap between the rich and the poor, we have to do more to make sure every Nigerian child has equal access to quality education regardless of gender and socioeconomic background

With education, people especially women make better decisions and live healthy lives. If we ensure every girl has equal access to basic education, we can reduce child mortality rate by 2%; have 50% of children under 5 live past their fifth birthday; increase immunization rate by 50%; reduce maternal mortality by 66%, reduce early marriages by 64% and cut down earlier pregnancy by 59%. The government can reach most of the sustainable development goals targets by prioritising equal access to education for all especially the girl child through better-informed policies.

It’s encouraging to know that Nigeria made some progress in the MDGs which ended in 2015; achieving universal primary education (74% in primary six completion rate, increased literacy rate (66.7%) for women between 15-24) and promoting of gender equality and empowering women (1.01% increase in girls to boys ration in primary school). There is so much the government can do with the seven educational targets set to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education) by 2030.

To start with, the Nigerian Government need to choose which of the seven educational goals will be prirotised by the Ministry of Education and communicate that to all agencies working on education, so there is a joint effort in attaining the set goal before the end of the year.

At the Orderly Society Trust, we have started the conversation on all of our social media platform to get the public to vote for three educational targets that ought to be prioritised by the Nigerian Government. The results will form part of our advocacy drive to ensure every Nigerian child has access to high quality education for a chance to live a meaningful and better life.

 

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