By Chukwudumebi Norbert ATTA (Rev Fr)
There are seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by countries of the world and championed by the United Nations Organisation (UNO). The fourth of the sustainable Development Goals, popularly referred to as SDG 4 or Global Goal 4, is quality education. In detail, the SDG 4 aims ‘to ensure inclusive and equitable education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all’. What is clear or discernible is that the SDG 4 highlights, among other things, both the interest of world leaders (and the UN as a body) in the area of and thus the need for education, and the invaluable role of quality education to an individual and a community or society’s overall development. Therefore, SDG 4 is an objective (along with the other sixteen SDGs) meant to transform the world for the better.
Nevertheless, this essay contends, with examples, that despite the universal interest and intention to promote quality education around the world, especially in the light of the SDGs, that it is at best very contestable whether Nigeria has keyed into the global effort (at offering quality education to its populace!) for both individual and societal development.
THE SDGs: A BRIEF HISTORICAL REPORT
In what had been described as an ‘historic UN Summit’ held between 25-25 September 2015 (at the UN Headquarters in New York), world leaders had adopted the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The driving force behind the development and adoption of the SDGs is aspiration or efforts by the crafters, to better the world, including bringing about holistic and integral development that makes for a more prosperous and peaceful world. The SDGs emphasize a development that is all-round, thus involving environmental, social, and economic sustainability, with particular emphasis on action, and a desire to pull along communities or states that are lagging behind. Hence, the then UN Secretary General had among other things described the SDGs as a ‘roadmap to ending poverty, building a life of dignity for all, and leaving no one behind’.
Although the SDGs are seventeen, they are linked in some way, with efforts or progress in one area rubbing off positively on other areas. Overall, the SDGs (and not just SDG 4!) are geared towards bring progress to humanity, including the stoppage of such disturbing societal ills like discrimination against persons (especially women, the otherwise-abled etc.,) poverty and illiteracy, and calls for actions from all towards its realization, including committing resources, expertise, and technology towards achieving them. Again, the SDGs thus center around the people and how to better their lot as it calls for actions towards advancing the world and its inhabitants. In all, the SDGs is aimed at transforming the world (for good), through an integrated approach that is global in nature. The inclusion of education simply shows how vital it is to a rounded development of the individual and the society.
NIGERIA AND ITS QUALITY EDUCATION CHALLENGE
As already insinuated above, the critical nature of education to national (and individual’s development too), underpinned the selection or choice of SDG 4 by the world bod. The subject of quality education as seen and articulated by the UN in its SDGs, is a demonstration of its belief in the transformation that education brings to a society, as well as a concern of the adverse impact of its (education) neglect. The need of quality education in any country goes to highlight, obviously or tacitly, how the pursuit and provision of sound education would arm the children and youths to develop the requisite skills for being valuable members of the society or country. Hence, education empowers, as well as enriches, the citizens to productive and that way contribute to the development or advancement of their communities or society.
Yet, in spite of the laudable intent of the UN (which Nigeria is a member of) in supporting and agitating for the SDG 4 and other SDGs (of which Nigeria is a signatory to), quality education remains a nagging problem in Nigeria. Hence Nigeria has a long road ahead in addressing the quality education needs of its citizens (and therefore, the country).
For instance, while inclusive education, according to UNICEF implies an education that offers all children equal opportunity to go to school and learn, including providing same classrooms, such is greatly lacking in Nigeria. There are few schools with facilities – including personnel, to cater for mixed classes of otherwise-abled (or disabled) and non-disabled at the same time. Most schools, especially the old ones do not have access for wheelchairs, including universities. Again, the communication systems are not available in all schools, particularly in the tertiary ones, for teaching large classes, and thus those who have hearing problems are often excluded from the teaching-learning encounter. It is time that Nigeria’s public education sector cater for all citizens in the provision of education, such as those living in the rural areas as well as the physically challenged, as it would arrest the ugly incidence of growing number of Nigerian school-aged children that are out school.
Another factor advanced by SDG 4, and where Nigeria lags, is on the issue of equitable education. Suffice to say that equitable education, also referred to sometimes as equity in education, remains a major challenge that Nigeria is facing in the area of education. The emphasis here (on equitable education) is on treating every school child (pupil or students) fairly and equally[i]. While related to inclusiveness, this aspect of quality education is different. The stress is on being fair in the provision of education, hence taking cognizance giving providing equal or same opportunities, notwithstanding socio-cultural background or financial standing, to the school child. Equitable education would include also making effort to balance apparent inequalities in addressing learning needs, students background, and in the provision competent personnel – teachers who are experts (in different subjects) or areas, to teach children.
Lifelong learning is another point that is imperative for the attainment of the SDG 4 and the other SDGs, as enunciated by the world leaders in 2015. In highlighting lifelong learning, the world leaders underscore the fact that education is a lifelong process – from the cradle to the grave, and as such should be promoted and pursued vigorously by and for the citizens. In underscoring lifelong learning, stress is brought to bear ion the need to provide the populace with ongoing education at different levels. Hence, there is need for ongoing courses for citizens, including skilled persons in various fields, so as to update them or themselves and thus, advance, in their fields. In this context, a situation where education is thought of and promoted mainly as something done in normal school-setting needs to be reviewed. The need for adult-learning programs in normal school settings and non-normal settings, including in village squares and markets, should be emphasized, and promoted.
QUALITY EDUCATION IN NIGERIA: WHAT OUGHT BE DONE
In neglecting the promotion and provision of inclusive education, the gifts or skills of so many citizens are neglected or left unharnessed. For instance, in a situation where some hearing-impaired but intelligent children are not carried along via provision of personnel and infrastructures to take their needs into cognizance, whatever knowledge and skills they would have acquired are either delayed or left untapped completely. the idea of inclusive education, thus, challenges the country, its leaders, and the managers of the nation’s education sector to work assiduously to introduce and sustain changes that would profit all school aged pupils and students, and invariably advance the country.
Regrettably, the Nigerian government could be said to pay lip service, if any service at all, to the issue of equity in education. Hence, schools in rural communities remain perennially disadvantaged both in structures and personnel. In most stats, the bulk of good teacher/staff are posted to or left ion urban areas, while schools in the rural communities are often left with inadequate staffing, with negative consequences on the school children/citizens. As already hinted, the issue of inequity in education in Nigeria, is evident in the provision or absence of adequate facilities for the teaching-learning encounter. It seems that successive governments, and at different levels too (state and FG), invest more in schools in the urban areas in the provision of educational infrastructures and materials, including school building, provision of teaching and learning materials, with little or no care for equal schools in the rural areas. This has led to great educational disadvantages that affect both individual Nigerians, and the state at large. Correcting the prevailing anomaly cannot be gainsaid, as there is great sense in seeing that all citizens are provided equal opportunities (in terms of education!) to advance or make progress.
Furthermore, evidence points to the fact that lifelong learning is giving little or no attention in the country. The overall hardship in the country has made it difficult for many, who ordinarily would want to keep learning, to not meet up with such dreams, as they barely struggle to eke out living. Even worse is the fact that a situation where the government is doing little for regular school systems, in terms of the provision and motivation of the needed personnel and making the requisite facilities available, one would see that it is a tall dream its (government) encouraging and managing lifelong learning for the betterment of Nigerians and Nigeria.
That Nigeria is lagging behind in working towards the attainment of the SDG 4. This is not debatable, given the overall state of many public schools, then how it (Nigeria) has shamelessly allowed the strike-action by public university teachers to linger for more than five months already, and the other issues in the nation’s education sector. Such a situation as obtains in Nigeria is regrettable, and there is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria – its leaders, should key into the human development goals present in education, if the country is to compete with other nations in this twenty-first century. Nothing short of commitment to the provision of quality education for Nigerians, would lift the country from the throes of socio-economic and politico-religious malaise into which it is. This much the crafters of the SDG 4 had highlighted, and serious-minded countries are pursuing. Nigeria should not be left behind, nor allow itself to be left out (of a peaceful and prosperous) world envisioned by world leaders in pursuing an inclusive, integrated sustainable development goals.
[i] See Stamans, C., Sheskin, M & Bloom, P (2017). Why People Prefer Unequal Societies. Nature Human Behaviou, Vol 1, Article No. 82