Temitope Mustapha

Education is of paramount importance basically because it improves the quality of life of people and enhances the progress of the society. This perhaps explains why successive governments in Nigeria have evolved deliberate policies to improve the country’s education system.

At the country’s return to democracy in 1999, a Universal Basic Education plan was designed by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, to address failures of the previous educational policies and programmes. The plan envisaged a boost to the education system in all its ramifications, from the primary to the tertiary levels, including providing the necessary resources to implement the education plans.

In line with this, the Universal Basic Education Bill was passed into law in 2004, as part of efforts by the Nigerian government to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in education. The pivot was the Universal Basic Education programme, with attention devoted specifically to the provisions of Education for All and which included unfettered access to nine years of formal basic education.

Prior to the introduction of the Universal Basic Education programme, the existing policies and programmes of government on education were said to have been distorted, leading to high rate of schools dropouts, narrow curriculum content and graduates who were unemployable.

The Universal Basic Education scheme therefore set out to address these outlined problems by providing free, universal and compulsory education for all children in both primary and junior secondary schools regardless of sex, age, ethnic or religious inclinations, language or status. The scheme also accommodated comprehensive adult literacy programme.

Over the years, however, successive governments have coped with various challenges in improving education. The primary constraints have been attributed to inadequate funding resulting in poor implementation of the Universal Basic Education Curriculum. Others are the dearth of competent teachers, poor remuneration for teachers, inaccurate data for planning, monitoring and evaluation as well as inadequate public enlightenment of stakeholders in the education sector, among others.

To address these challenges, the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari therefore outlined a three–pronged policy for education development which are: recruitment of five hundred thousand unemployed graduates and NCE holders as teachers, offer of free education to science and technology students and provision of one – meal – a – day to primary school pupils.

The one meal a day policy applies to primary school pupils and it has been proven that school based feeding increases enrolment, retention and completion with satisfactory learning outcomes. The present government only needs to scale up the school based feeding across the country to achieve its desired goals of improved basic education.

The government also recently announced its intention to provide free basic textbooks to all Nigerian children in basic schools before the end of 2018. This, the government says is key to achieving the quality desired for better foundation in the Nigerian education system.

As these initiatives begin to yield positive results in the education system, experts in the sector are now advocating for quality and effective teaching and learning environment in all basic public schools. They are of the view that improved education would be achieved with the right teacher to pupil ratio, increased availability of instructional materials and modern technologies that meet global competitiveness.

Education experts are also asking the government to make adequate budgetary allocation annually as well as encourage massive increase of public spending in education at all levels; federal, state and local government.

When all these are put in place alongside the current initiatives of the Nigerian government to improve education, the country would, in no distant future achieve the global objectives on the World Declaration on Education for All; which recommended that education be made both universally available and more relevant.