The atmosphere was tense on the afternoon of 5th September 2023, as Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State gave his assessment of the basic education sector in the state. The event was the gathering of stakeholders including the management of the Bauchi State Universal Basic Education Board (Bauchi SUBEB), Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) Secretaries and a handful of others.

“I am highly disappointed with all managers in this sector,” the visibly disturbed governor said as he identified major gaps in school infrastructure, quality control, teacher and school level management.

“My attention was drawn to some areas where SUBEB is not doing anything after spending so many years there and bragging that we have renovated over 5,000 classrooms,” the governor said, his voice raised to show his displeasure with the state of the system.

“There are mega schools that have been left untouched; they were not even brought forward by the agency for renovation. I think the quality of our work is not something to go home with because I have visited those schools myself, the roofs are leaking or blown off.

“The quality of supervision by SUBEB is appalling; so you have the opportunity to change. I have done my best but, certainly there is no supervision, no quality control, it has been business as usual. I am highly disappointed with all managers in this sector, from my humble self, the SSG that is supervising SUBEB, the Ministry of Education and the LGAs. We have not done well in that sector,” he said.

Governor Mohammed’s assessment of the basic education landscape in his state is perhaps accurate for many states in Nigeria.

Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory in Nigeria, about 10.5 million children aged 5-14 years are not in school, according to UNICEF. “Only 61 percent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education,” the organisation whose focus is on the growth and development of children said.

The data is even more grim when viewed from the lens of UNESCO which suggested in September 2022 that about 20 million children are out of school in Nigeria.

But Nigeria faces an even more troubling issue-learning poverty. There are indications that a high percentage of children, especially those in the public school system, are in school but not learning.

Early this year, UNICEF indicated that 75 percent of children aged seven to 14 years in Nigeria cannot read simple sentences or solve basic maths problems. This calls to question the fate of millions of Nigeria’s children who are supposed to be on the path to lifelong learning.

Several reasons have been adduced for the poor state of learning in public schools including low quality of teachers, poor school management, infrastructure gaps, high teacher attrition, poor funding of schools and the quality of learning materials at the disposal of school administrators.

Some states in Nigeria have adopted measures to address these gaps. Notably Bayelsa, Edo, Lagos and Kwara have done their bit in putting measures that address both the out-of-school children’s phenomena and learning poverty.

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For instance, Bayelsa State launched a signature programme, Bayelsa Promoting Reform to Improve and Modernise Education (BayelsaPRIME) aimed at causing drastic improvement in learning outcomes in schools, irrespective of their location. On its part, Edo State launched the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EdoBEST) reform programme.

Bayelsa’s basic education transformation programme is at the core of the issues that aid most of the State Universal Basic Education Boards. Other states can learn from Bayelsa and others who have put in measures to stop the basic education sector decline.

Reports from schools in Bayelsa indicate that teachers in the system are already referring to the reform as “monitoring spirit” because it has put them in check. No longer can teachers claim they are in school while they are in the market because the tech-based programme reports teachers who are not in school to basic education managers.

Additionally, teachers are being monitored using technology as they teach. Those who do not complete their classes can be identified and cautioned to do better.

But before all of these measures are introduced in schools, each teacher is trained at the BayelsaPRIME Induction training, which is a 10-day training which brings together teachers and head teachers to a specific location where they are inducted in new thinking in basic education.

Such important topics as the role of technology in the modern classroom, new techniques in pupil motivation, modern methods of classroom management and child protection are taught to teachers ahead of their commencement of BayelsaPRIME introduction in school.

Afterwards, the teachers continue to receive weekly, and in some cases, daily support from a new crop of supervisors and school inspection officers.

Surely, a system that provides real time data on what is happening in schools, improves the way schools and classrooms are managed and strengthens the interaction between schools and their host communities should be domesticated by all Nigerian states. There is clear evidence that the existing quality assurance management system set up by the Universal Basic Education Board should give way for a system that is powered by modern technology and thinking.

The reform introduced by Governor Douye Diri has been hailed as a step in the right direction by teachers, parents, Bayelsa State Universal Basic Education Board, the Bayelsa State Ministry of Education and several external stakeholders.

In Edo as well, there have been accolades for Governor Godwin Obaseki from education sector thought leaders and most notably, the World Bank. As the world marks International Literacy Day on 8 September, Governor Bala Mohammed is right in his concerns. The situation of basic education cannot continue the way it is currently.

Tega Obukohwo, an education enthusiast, writes from Lagos.