The world as we know it has shifted significantly since the turn of the 20th century. Nearly 22 years into the 21st century, we have experienced a worldwide economic shock in 2008 and, more recently, a global pandemic of epic proportions in 2019. The global economic system, as well as the health systems of many nations, have been put to the test. Over 5 million people have died worldwide as a result of the ongoing global pandemic, and the world of work has changed considerably from what it used to be. Remote work has exploded in popularity, and remarkable innovations are transforming our existence. The notions of Web 3.0, blockchain, and NFTs have become buzzwords that are sweeping over the developed world, particularly among those who have built the infrastructure to accommodate this type of revolutionary possibilities.
As the rest of the globe advances into the twenty-first century and capitalises on the prospects, the question is: where does Nigeria, the world’s most populous black nation, fit into this equation? Even though we acknowledge the range of opportunities that have come to the country via fintech and other sectors, what should Nigeria be doing to become more than a consumer in the twenty-first century, but an active stakeholder in creating opportunities? Asked differently, how can our nation become an important stakeholder in charting the way forward for Africa, and the rest of the global south?
We argue that the most critical factor in assisting Nigeria in becoming a significant player in the community of nations is its education system and its youthful population. Nigeria cannot afford to do otherwise, since young people account for almost 60% of the total population (Nigerians under the age of 25) and the national youth unemployment rate is 15.4 42.5%, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). With such a large youthful population and such a high unemployment rate among this group, it is essential to address the basic question of why such high indices exist in a country endowed with such natural resources.
Education and the critical nature of quality assurance across the education system are critical beginning points for this conversation. Both writers were educated in Nigeria, mostly in public schools from high school through university, and have had the chance to study outside the country. The quality assurance framework for an education system is predicated on quality teachers, curriculum review and change. Effective reform in a nation’s education system is only feasible when curriculum improvement is at its core. This is absolutely essential since all curricula should be highly responsive to societal developments. Nigeria’s curriculum, as taught throughout all education institutions, including universities, urgently requires a review that must be sustained, implemented, and assessed on a regular basis in order to remain current and responsive to twenty-first-century trends.
In Nigeria, we have always thrown money at problems without understanding how critical it is to engage in long-term strategic thinking and planning in order to fully grasp the basic challenges. Thus, the need for quality research into these issues will strongly assist to unpack these issues. While we recognise the significant contributions made by this and previous governments since the inception of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, it is an imperative for us to rethink education as a holistic and critical sector of the economy in order to begin approaching the sector with well-considered and sustainable solutions.
Curriculum reform demands the involvement of a key stakeholder to ensure that the process is successful and implementable. This is about the extent of teacher quality in Nigeria, from kindergarten to university. Much of the provision of schools and physical infrastructure for our institutions, including universities, has been seen as ‘hard issues’. However, of what value is investing in these capital projects if the education system lacks qualified and well-trained teachers capable of teaching a ‘living curriculum’ capable of instilling the necessary skills, knowledge, and competencies in the Nigerian child capable of becoming a key player in the twenty-first century nationally and globally?
An average Nigerian child should be able to access a quality education as a fundamental right in a country with such vast riches without having to attend a private school. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, quality education is a human right (UNESCO). Read https://bit.ly/3Houq82. With Nigeria’s vast riches and the size of our government, we have to ask ourselves the worth of what we are doing now if we are not safeguarding the future of our young population to manage the reins of leadership in Nigeria’s multiple sectors of the economy. This is not the time for nepotism. This is not the time to engage in a blame game about who did and did not do what. This is the moment to recognise that it is not too late to have meaningful debates about the quality of our education system at all levels of government, from the family to the various levels of government. The urgent need for qualified teachers across the educational system and for curriculum reform to ensure the quality of our educational system are both critical.
Humanity is at a critical crossroad. Serious nations are using their investments in education systems to accelerate their transition to a future increasingly defined by knowledge as capital. The development of human capital through a dynamic education system is necessary across the school system’s value chain. The largest spenders on research and development (R&D) are now leading the pack globally. In Africa, South Africa is the only African country to have been on this league table. See https://bit.ly/3FF0KDq. Nigeria cannot afford to remain insignificant on the continent or in the global community of nations. In this day and age, we must be serious about making an impact for ourselves and the black race. We must look inward, invest strategically and sustainably in our education system, and most crucially, prepare for the future of the human capital required to manage, sustain, and change our nation from a resource-dependent to a knowledge-based economy. We have the drive. In comparison to the rest of the black race, our work ethic and ‘can do’ mentality are out of this world.
This is the first article of a series. Although we have presented a broad overview of how we see the future of our nation, Nigeria, because we are so interested in its success and future growth, subsequent articles will address micro-issues, focusing on some of the priority areas the nation should highlight in order to build on the critical issues of quality manpower and curriculum reform argued for in this piece. We encourage feedback and constructive criticism via our social media channels.
Ojo is an academic at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Falana is the Managing Partner of MTouch Professional Service in Lagos, Nigeria. They may be reached on Twitter at @Emmanuel_Ojo and @Falana_Gbenga.