As much as education has been declared vital, up to 70million children in the world still do not enjoy this basic right that it is supposed to be; and most of these children are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Such organisations include the United Nations (through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization “UNESCO” (through the Convention Against Discrimination in Education), Organisation of African Unity “OAU” (through the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights).
While this list is not exhaustive, many other non-profit organisations and smaller humanitarian groups have been established for the sole purpose of addressing what has now become a critical global issue. Today, the popular notion is that a nation that is not educated should be concerned about its future. Many recent studies and literature have linked education or the lack thereof to economic prosperity or crisis respectively.
Due the gravity of this matter today, we could forget that before the eighteenth century in Europe and not very long ago in Africa (post-slave trade era), education was actually the responsibility of the church and families. It was a matter of choice or culture and was a private arrangement. It did not become a public service until after the French and American Revolutions in the late eighteenth century.
Before this period, while fathers were away at war, women and children went to the factories to work in order to make ends meet. But after child labour laws were put in place, thereby reducing and eventually eliminating the number of hours children spent working; the focus began to shift towards educating children and keeping their minds busy with some form of productivity which would benefit their future outside a factory.
As much as education has been declared vital, up to 70million children in the world still do not enjoy this basic right that it is supposed to be; and most of these children are in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is some sense to this imbalance by virtue of the way the world has developed and some historical factors such as the Western world having always been ahead in such advancement, as well as colonisation and slave trade.
Which on one hand could be viewed as a set back for Africa but on another could be viewed as the means of introducing such western phenomena as religion and education which may never have been a part of our culture in the first place.
While the world is where it is today, we have to take a critical look at what education as a basic human right actually means. According to the Right to Education Project, the right to education should fulfil the 4 A’s Framework i.e. Availability, Accessibility, Acceptability and Adaptability.
Availability – The platform, infrastructure, materials and curriculum
Accessibility – The removal of any discrimination that would prevent a person from enjoying their right to education i.e. gender, religion, disability, socio-economic status
Acceptability – Ensuring that educational objectives are met, unbiased and to an acceptable standard
Adaptability – Flexibility to the needs of the community as well as societal and global changes in the grand scheme of things
Bearing all this in mind and bringing it to the Nigerian context, can we confidently say that we have the public platform available to exercise our basic right to education? This is a difficult question that we need to ask our leaders and ourselves. While the government plays its role in providing this public service, there are observable gaps in these four areas; and this is evident in our educational outcomes (results from examinations and teachers’ literacy skills etc).
Almost inevitably, this is where the private sector comes in. Throughout my experience in the education sector, I have come to observe that a good number of private schools were established out of the passion and care for children, as well as great concern over our dwindling educational standards and as a result, our future as a nation.
Through private education, there is increased availability to higher standards of learning opportunities (some of which are international standards). However, the concept of private education has a few setbacks. The first is accessibility, as those who cannot afford it cannot access it and are left behind. Others include inadequate monitoring, poor quality assurance and uncontrollable school fees.
Another situation peculiar to Nigeria is the establishment of substandard private schools, which do not fully address educational needs but are viewed to have better offerings than public schools – schools that lower income earners who cannot afford the high fees of the average private school may choose over public schools.
It is quite disconcerting that people have to sacrifice large sums of money to access what should be their basic right, but there is hope in what seems to be a shift in focus to education, evident through some initiatives that the government, private sector and non-profit organisations are taking. Some general examples include sponsorships, mentoring and training teachers, donation of facilities and focus group discussions.
Also bearing in mind the large and growing youth population in Nigeria, there is still a lot of work required to bring us to that place where our educational standards will meet the requirements of our future economy and the global environment at a small fee.
Written by Oyin Egbeyemi