Text of speech by Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo at the 40th Anniversary of Reunion Symposium Of University Of Ife’s Economics Class Of 1979, at Muson Centre, Lagos on 5th July, 2019.
I have been asked to speak on Human Capital Development, I will be focusing as you will see in my presentation, on basic education which I think in some sense, is fundamental to what could be seen at the other level of education.
I am very honoured to have been invited to share this special occasion of the 40th anniversary of your graduation from the University of Ife and now Obafemi Awolowo University, with you. 40 years since graduation, well you guys are old! But I speak to myself as well, this year marks my 40th year post call as a lawyer. I graduated at the University of Lagos just a year earlier than you but I was in Law school in 1979.
I was in Youth Corps with colleagues such as Ambassador Dipeolu, who is Economic Adviser to the President. But I am especially pleased to have this opportunity to share thoughts with a room full of my successful peers, professionals; men and women of commerce who studied economics formally and went on to achieve great heights in various professions.
No one needs to restate how important the economist is; it is as I am sure you will agree, second only to the legal profession (GENERAL LAUGHTER).
But quite seriously, it is the stock of economists that form the pool of talent from which our accountants, bankers, financial experts are mostly drawn. They play an equally important role in framing the discourse on national economic policy, teaching the next generation of economists and in drawing up national development plans and strategies.
I have found, as chair of the National Economic Council and our Economic Management Team, that economists are invaluable. Of course, not only do I have a very strong team of economists to support the work that I do but also, I find that economists are possibly some of the most realistic that we find in our midst most of the time. The reason is that they are usually wrong and initially its discovered that these things are never precise. So, they become humbler, I believe in their approach to life generally. But they provide a most important resource which is, at least, a scientific way in looking at some of the issues and you cannot do without economists when you are thinking of the economy, anyway or thinking of national planning generally.
I was to speak on the broader subject of our plans for Human Capital Development (HCD) in Nigeria. That is a huge topic and I doubt we would achieve much beyond barely scratching the surface. So, I thought this morning might be more usefully spent, focusing on one aspect of HCD so that we can hopefully drill deeper. (Perhaps, we will be able to interact a bit more during the question and answer interactive session) That aspect is education, especially the interface between our national growth objectives and the educational system. And I want to concentrate on basic education; meaning education in the first nine years of a child’s life.
The conventional wisdom is that growth depends on productivity which itself results from getting right the appropriate mix of labour, capital and technology which is human capital. Taking this perspective, it comes to reason that with its huge population, Nigeria’s growth potential lies more in its people than in oil and gas. The examples of India, China and Indonesia, also show the growth possibilities if we get human capital right. So really at the root of the problems of development that we have, is human capital. What is the quality of those that do productive business?
What are the qualities of those who we rely on for economic growth? But what is more compelling is the prospect of being by 2050, (as we are told repeatedly) the world’s third largest country by population without a sound plan for the education of 70% of the population, which is the young people. No, if you don’t have a sound plan for the education of 70% of the almost 400 million people that we expect, (as we will be the third largest by population of the world,) then that will be a tragedy indeed.
This is why in addition to the Federal Government’s visible efforts in the real sector, as well as in hard and soft infrastructure, our focus in the next four years would be to lay and implement a relevant and dynamic educational plan for Nigeria. When I say relevant, I mean a plan capable of providing jobs and entrepreneurial skills for an increasingly globally competitive job market. But the challenge we must immediately acknowledge is that the Federal Government’s role in the first nine years of a child’s life is slight. It is primarily the constitutional role of States and local governments. But we (Federal Government) consider the matter of basic education a matter of national emergency, consequently it is the role of the Federal Government to guide, to inspire, to coordinate, co-fund and also co-implement the basic education strategy.
Improved educational outcomes are crucial to our overall strategy to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality and remain in the path of sustainable growth. Everybody talks about poverty. People say oh, Nigeria is now poorer in terms of relative numbers more than India which used to have that large number than ourselves. But the question, of course, is that poverty does not happen overnight, poverty doesn’t appear in a year or two years.
In 2012, when the last household study on poverty was done, we were earning the highest in our oil earnings and poverty figures at the time stood at 112 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty. But because we did not take a holistic approach to dealing with the question of poverty, beginning with education and the other indices of human capital development. Of course, the situation worsened and it did not improve. And that is exactly what we get if there is no deliberate plan for improving human capital development.
While the arguments will rage as to just how crucial education is to end extreme poverty, there is no question that illiteracy or lack of access to quality education is very closely associated with poverty.
The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report and the Education Commission’s Learning Generation Report provide important evidence on the impact of education on an individual’s earnings and economic growth.
The Education Commission which some of us are familiar with is the commission that was established to look at the issue of global poverty and education at the same time.
And some of their findings are quite interesting.
The first is that: education reduces poverty and that absolute poverty could be reduced by 30% just by improving learning skills, just by changing the way that we teach, just improving teachers’ education. It could actually reduce poverty by 30%.
Education they also said increases individual earnings as it increases earnings by as much as 10% for each additional year of schooling. Indeed, they found that just an addition of $1 investment in schooling, earnings can increase by $5 in low-income countries and $2.5 in lower-middle income countries.
Education reduces economic inequalities generally. It was found that if workers from poor and rich backgrounds received the same education, the disparity between the two in working poverty could decrease by 39%.
Just to give an example of that. We have a school, it’s a voluntary school, funded by contributions from some friends and colleagues in Maiduguri, where orphans in that school were randomly picked and these children are, of course, the victims of the conflict in Borno state, the Boko Haram insurgency, etc.
They have been in school now for about a year and a half, exposed to the best method of training: they are exposed to technology and all of that. Merely just looking at the results in a few short years, many of these kids have not been to school before, but several of them are able to write (programming) codes today, some of them are able to do basic programming today in barely two years. So, it just tells you that really what this is all about is opportunity. Children anywhere no matter how deprived, if given the right opportunity, can perform as well as children from a much better background.
The last is that they say education promotes economic growth as educational attainment explained about half of the difference in growth rates between East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa between 1965 and 2010. So, the real difference between us and the so-called Asian tigers is first education. Investment must be made in education.
President Buhari set the tone for the renewed emphasis on human capital development in his speech while inaugurating the National Economic Council on June 20th 2019. He said, “On education, I want to stress in particular the need to take very seriously and enforce very rigorously the statutory provisions on free and compulsory basic education. Section 18 (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended places on us an obligation to eradicate illiteracy and provide free and compulsory education. Section 2 of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act provides that every Government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. It is indeed a crime for any parent to keep his child out of school and in my view, when a government fails to provide the schools, teachers and teaching materials necessary for basic education, it is actually aiding and abetting that crime”
In essence, the position of the Federal Government is that we take free and compulsory education in the first nine years of a child’s life seriously, indeed it is a crime to flout the policy, and we will work with other tiers of government to enforce the policy.
This is our policy response to the tragedy of over 10 million out-of-school children. And it a phenomenon that occurs all over the country although there are zonal differences. States with highest numbers of out-of-school children are; Kano – 989,234; Akwa Ibom – 581,800; Katsina – 536,122; Kaduna – 524,670; Taraba – 499,923; Sokoto- 436,570.
Indeed, the scale of the problem is that it is not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of geographical access to schools especially, in hamlets and small settlements and funding. But even with children in school, pass rates in WAEC have, although improved, averaged about 40%.
Another sore point is the education of girls. With some studies today showing that girls are on the average smarter than boys, any nation that does not educate its girls does itself great harm. How do you solve your problems when you lock up your best minds?
So, we have a threefold plan to improve educational outcomes, but more importantly, to train this generation of students to create and function in a knowledge-driven economy.
To start with, we will be more focused on achieving the educational outcomes specified in the Sustainable Development Goals, such that we can meet the targets for school enrollment, quality of education, adult literacy, and quality of teaching by 2030. Secondly, as indicated, we have with the collaboration of State governments, undertaken an ambitious programme to get the over 10 million out-of-school children into schools. This will be helped by the President’s June 20 declaration.
It is a complex process requiring the full cooperation of State governments and religious authorities as well as the resources to build schools, equip them properly and train the required number of teachers. Our school feeding programme is already leading to improved enrollment and the N-Power programme can be a source of the initial requirement for teachers. We found that it is not so difficult to train. The N-Power teachers have a tablet like this, (-shows his hand-held iPad-) they have training materials on it. We also have an open portal where they can go to for training materials. Almost two third of these N-Power teachers are engaged in public primary schools in local governments across the country. Their devices have the materials for teachings, the lessons and all that. In fact, in some local governments, the graduate teachers they have are only N-Power people.
This programme has certainly exceeded expectations in terms of getting children to come to school, although in many areas, it has led to overcrowding of classrooms which creates another set of problems with regard to school infrastructure and the ability of children to learn in such conditions. What our latest figures show is that we have 22.4million children in 406,000 classrooms in public primary schools in Nigeria. This is about 55 children in a classroom which almost doubles the accepted standard of 30 children per class. This means that we will just have to find the resources to build additional classrooms across the country so that our children (or perhaps grandchildren in the case of this distinguished group) can learn in optimal conditions.
But more importantly, we are redesigning our educational curriculum as part of our educational Road Map, “Every Child Counts.” It is quite clear that we have to change both the substance of education that our children receive, as well as the methods by which they are educated. We are clear that the key to achieving our objectives is to focus on STEAM Education; Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, and the need for a workforce with STEAM skills to drive economic prosperity.
Lagos State University’s Centre of Excellence Programme has been earmarked by the World Bank Africa’s Centres of Excellence Programme, as a Centre of Excellence and regional hub for Innovative and Transformative STEM Education in Africa. This fits well with the Federal Government’s policy direction in education and our vision for a prosperous Nigerian economy able to create the jobs and train the young men and women to take on those jobs in the next few years. The notable addition that our policy has made to STEM is to add Arts, so ours becomes STEAM.
We believe that training in humanities is fundamental to sound reasoning and judgment and we must also take on the challenge of training men and women for opportunities in the Arts and Entertainment.
But what is STEAM all about? Let me explain. It is clear to all that from now into the next several decades, technology and computing will rule the world. Every aspect of our lives, healthcare, commerce, business, education, entertainment will be driven by or based on some technology platform or the other. Technology itself is driven by the interplay and convergence of Science, Technology Engineering and Maths.
Recognizing this, STEM curricula have been developed in several countries to enable the teaching of these subjects, not individually and separately as before, but together as a system of thought and ideas. The teaching also emphasizes how to use the combination of these subjects to design, or solve real-life problems. Most surveys on the job opportunities of the future agree that STEM-related jobs, especially jobs in computing will dominate the job market. The good news for us here is that even in Europe and America, there are huge gaps in finding competent personnel to take on most of the tech-related jobs already being created. The good news also is that most computing jobs do not even require degrees.
Our new policy is to introduce Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics curriculum in primary and secondary schools. We also recognize that schooling should support the development of skills in cross-disciplinary, critical and creative thinking, problem-solving and digital technologies. These skills are essential in all 21st-century occupations.
The National Curriculum being developed will not only include teaching of coding, digital arts, design thinking, robotics, critical thinking and other skills, but also using these skills in interpreting traditional curriculum topics. The Federal Government’s aim is to ensure that from early education, primary school onwards, regardless of social background or geographical location, every young person should have a fundamental level of digital and STEAM literacy that enables them to succeed locally or internationally.
The curriculum is one of the crucial components of the programme’s success. It recognizes the importance of having a well-rounded curriculum that is global in orientation and local in application.
Quality teaching is the key to lifting Nigerian Students skills quotient to attaining the national objective. Teachers need to be equipped with the skills and confidence to support digital literacy, functional skills training and STEAM learning. Our efforts under the National strategy will focus on implementing national retraining at primary and secondary levels, implementing national initial teacher education standards, sharing best practices and efforts to attract more STEAM graduates to the teaching profession. Conducive learning environments are crucial to motivate students and enhance learning. Classrooms and other learning centers must be remodelled. We will, therefore, be remodelling and re-equipping 10,000 schools every year for the next ten years.
We expect that STEAM will fundamentally determine the future of the Nigerian socio-economic landscape. We are in a race against other economies and against time. Technology has changed the employment landscape permanently. For the first time in human history, men and women will be trained in their own countries, work even from their bedrooms and compete for jobs anywhere on the planet. Computing is the ultimate agnostic tool. You may never even have to see your employer, employee or service provider. Our success or failure will determine our economic future.
But how about the resource challenges? It is evident that even with the best of effort given resource constraints and our population growth rate of 2.6%, we will just have to think out of the box and introduce the use of technology and digital means to reach the massively growing number of children. This will also place a huge demand on resources both at the national level of ensuring wider broadband coverage and also at the school level in terms of the availability of computers.
Our national fibre coverage is still low with only 46% of the population within 5 kilometres proximity to a fibre network which means over 100million of our people are outside fibre reach. At the more granular level, only 3,600 public primary schools out of 63,400 have computers. The ratio is a bit better in public junior secondary schools where just over one third have access to computers.
Fortunately, we already have arrangements to support State Governments in this area through the funds made available to UBEC as a first line charge in the budget. The budgeted amount for UBEC in 2019 was N112.47billion when added to the N87billion of funds remaining, it means that up to N200billion will be available in UBEC for basic education interventions this year.
We will be working closely with States to enable them to access UBEC funds so as to build schools and equip them appropriately. Improving access and amount of funding by reviewing the process and conditionalities for accessing UBE Intervention Funds by States and FCT with the aim of increasing accountability is certain to generate a near term impact. Some of the States of the Federation that have shown full or near-full access to UBE-Intervention Funds have shown progress in infrastructure, teacher development and teaching materials. With regard to digital infrastructure, we are already in discussions with relevant stakeholders to achieve 100% broadband coverage by 2023.
Getting children to school and ensuring that they are instructed in appropriate surroundings with the right equipment is just one part of the equation. We also have to ensure that they stay in school and are provided with suitable instruction while there. While the completion rates for primary schooling is about 86% that of Junior Secondary Schools is 42%. In fact, there is a great gender imbalance at this level with female completion rates at just 34%.
To keep children in school for the entire period of basic education, in addition to providing free public education and enforcing mandatory attendance, we will be using evidence of completion of the first three years of secondary school for participation in the N-Power non-graduate apprenticeship schemes such as N-Power Build, consisting of automobile, carpentry, plumbing, masonry, electrical, welding, bakers and confectioners, caterers and cooks, as well as housekeepers amongst others.
How about Improving Educational Outcomes?
Evidence from around the world and even domestically has shown that the quality of educational outcomes is very much dependent on the quality of teaching. Almost one-third of teaching staff in public primary schools do not have the right qualifications while the ratio is half of those in private primary schools. This is an intriguing fact given that one would expect private schools to be better resourced than public schools.
Some of the countries we studied showed that students placed with high performing teachers performed three times better than those with low performing teachers. To this end, the NCE will be revamped to raise the calibre of new teachers and principals, give continuous professional development and link teacher training to a revised curriculum using a scripted approach.
We are working with relevant organizations and bodies to draw up re-certification requirements while working with the Nigeria Teachers Institute to refine existing NCE qualification and to raise the status of the teaching profession. This entire process will be supported by incentives such as recognition, improved pay for teachers and opportunities for further professional development.
Working closely with the States, we aim to further improve teacher capacity through mentoring. In addition to improving teacher capacity, we will also be providing support to them by building an ecosystem that supports learning by teachers. This requires engaging teachers through peer-led learning schemes, school headmasters, and various Ministries of Education. The intention is to give teachers a new experience about how they learn and how they learn to teach. The training would be to enable teachers to take a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching and helping to solve real-life problems.
Some States have already started implementing programmes such as these. For instance, Edo State already has the EdoBEST programme while my Office and the Ministry of Education will be working with four States in the first instance to introduce a similar programme. The EdoBEST programme was designed to upscale 1500 public primary and junior secondary schools and train up to 15,000 teachers and impact on up to 300,000 students. In one year, the initiative has reached all the 18 Local Governments in the State, touched 612 primary schools, trained and equipped 11,000 teachers, reached 150,000 school children and distributed up to 1million textbooks and instructional materials.
With the programme my Office is developing with the governments of Anambra, Borno, Ekiti and Jigawa States, we aim to roll out an extensive programme of training for teachers across the entire country over the next four years. Our experience with the school feeding programme shows that this scale of ambition is achievable.
Teacher experience will be complemented with teaching aids, instructional materials and greater use of technology. Already in N-Power, some 200,000 graduates in the N-Teach programme have tablet devices with instructional materials which they use to structure their lesson plans and teaching. Learning assessments and performance management processes will also be deployed.
Friends, ladies and gentlemen, you and I belong to an idealistic generation. We had and still have great hopes for our nation. We probably have one of the lowest numbers of those who chose to live abroad. Being successful here in Nigeria meant and still means the world to us.
We are forever discussing Nigeria; our chat groups are on fire on every issue. Our nation’s journey may sometimes appear disappointing at various points; indeed, the task of nation-building may sometimes appear recursive, one step forward two backwards. But all you need are a few determined men and women who keep focused until they leave the earth.
The challenge today, especially in human capital development calls for help in thinking and action from all of us. And we are never too old to participate actively in public service; Buhari is 76, Trump is 73, Biden is 76; Nancy Pelosi 79, Bernie Sanders 77, Mahatir Mohammad of Malaysia is 94 years, Michael Pence is 60. How old are you anyway?