Education – It’s Time to Put Up or Shut Up

Source: Kingsley Ewetuya, MBA (@damocleansword - Twitter)

“An investment in education pays the best interest” said Benjamin Franklin. Remarkable the changes that the world has experienced since the agrarian age when he uttered those words. Most Americans were farmers who toiled the earth for subsistence. Few were given the opportunity to be fundamentally literate and only the elite of society could afford the opportunity of a university education.

Societal evolution from an agrarian society in the eighteenth century, to an industrial one in the nineteenth and twentieth, to a digital information age in the twenty first has seen the democratization of education. We are far removed from the era when the Guttenberg press was proscribed, and today, just about anything can be learned online. That said, the role of formal education, and in particular, higher education in the development of a nation cannot be overemphasized.

A study by UNESCO and OECD in 2006 indicated that “for every single year for which the average level of schooling of the adult population in Word Education Index (WEI) countries is raised, there is a corresponding increase of 3.7 per cent in the long-term economic growth rate.” The same UNESCO recommends a 15-20 per cent budget allocation on education.

In the 2017 budget, the Buhari administration allocated 448 billion out of the 7.3 trillion Naira budget. This is barely 6% to the education sector and a reduction from 11% and 8% in 2015 and 2016 respectively. What is more, from that total amount, only 50 billion Naira of the education budget will be spent on capital expenditure such as the building of new schools and funding stellar educational facilities. Let us not even mention funding for critical research programmes which are the hallmark of any university worth its salt. By comparison, Ghana spent 30% of its budget on education in 2015 and 15% in 2016.

It is no wonder that among the top 800 universities in the world as ranked by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, not ONE Nigerian university is to be found. Nigeria is simply not investing enough in its future and the consequences are visible to the blind. Nigeria’s youth unemployment rate rose to 42% in 2016 according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. We are on an unsustainable collision course if Nigerian graduates cannot gain marketable skills from its institutions of learning. That is to say nothing of the 10.5 million children who according to UNICEF are out of school entirely.

The burgeoning Nigerian tech industry has come to form “ripples of hope”, equipping Nigerians with the skills to better their future. One such is ScholarX which is co-founded by a friend of mine Bola Lawal, with Maxwell Ogunfuyi and Abayomi Johnson. ScholarX is an app which aims to connect Nigerian university students home and abroad to both exclusive and public scholarship opportunities on its platform. In less than a year since it was founded and went live, six thousand students have already been exposed to scholarship opportunities. Last year, we also saw Mark Zuckerberg visit Nigeria and highlight the efforts of Andela which provides skills in programming to young Nigerians.

Government must prioritize educational development and amplify the efforts of private organizations such as the aforementioned and non-governmental organizations tackling this crisis. In a country where each Senator “earns” a salary and allowance package of approximately 12 million naira a year and a Representative takes home 9 million – more than their counterparts in more developed nations, we must have a reckoning on what we truly value as a country. Joe Biden, the outgoing Vice-President of the United States often says, “don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I will tell you what you value”. Let us put our money where our mouth is.