Basic Education as defined by the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) comprises primary education (first stage of basic education) and lower secondary education (second stage).
This is seen in the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme with six years of Primary Education and three years of Junior Secondary Education which is guided by the Universal Basic Education Act 2004. The program aims to ensure that basic education is free and accessible to all and this is in sync with UNESCO’s Education for All program which is still relevant towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education).
However, how close are we as a Nation towards achieving SDG 4 especially in the rural areas? We still have issues with access to quality education as some schools still lack basic facilities to function properly. This is in terms of infrastructure, quality of teachers, educational materials, etc. A lot is blamed on poor funding of the educational system but on the other hand, there is the issue of improper administration of funds. Are the limited funds put to good use or mismanaged thus causing solvable problems to persist?
The National Policy on Education (2013) states that different facilities are to be provided such as a school library, basic health scheme, educational resource center, etc. Unfortunately, very few schools, especially those in the rural areas, have these facilities. The policy also states that for effective teaching and learning, the teacher-student ratio should be 1:35. This ratio is adhered to mostly only in some private schools with attendant expensive fees.
The Universal Basic Education Act 2004 states that every Government of Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory, and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. Education is listed as part of the concurrent and residual lists in the Nigerian Constitution (as amended in 1999), so has a sharing of all levels of government in the Country. It, therefore, behooves on government at all levels to have a joint effort and ensure that quality education is delivered to every child of primary and junior secondary school age through the provision of basic educational resources including quality teachers.
The latter is key in the sense that it is the quality of knowledge as well as its presentation that determines the level of knowledge a child receives. It is important that as funding is being directed towards infrastructural and educational materials, training and re-training of teachers should be emphasized. Many retired principals and teachers refer to teacher training colleges that they attended which groomed them to be able to pass on knowledge to their students. The training institutes must therefore be revamped to improve the quality of the teachers as well as upgrade pedagogical skills including digital skills.
Some State Governments have initiated projects that revolve around infrastructural development as well as human capital development. An example is the #Edobest program (Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation) in Edo State where thousands of teachers were trained on digital pedagogical skills which have led to an increase in pupil enrolment and improved teachers’ performance in basic education. This program helped a lot during the partial shutdown in the state due to Covid-19 where teachers were able to engage directly with pupils using the teaching tablets provided by the Edo State Government. The State Government has also revamped the teacher college in Abudu to a model teacher training college to accommodate more persons and teaching models. This should be encouraged and scaled up across the country. Achieving SDG 4 is a holistic process and key stakeholders involved in implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the basic education sector must show commitment to tackling the highlighted issues. The teaching profession should be made attractive for young persons who have the zeal and zest to impart knowledge to the younger ones. They are also more inclined to digital processes and resources and will adapt more easily and faster when trained in digital pedagogical skills.
In conclusion, basic education in Nigeria is still crawling in the path of achieving quality education, therefore proper funding should be ensured to address issues of basic education in both urban and rural areas as basic education is the foundation of all levels of formal education. What is the strength of a building without its foundation? This is critical and the depth must not be trivialized so as to ensure the development of lifelong processes.