Global Economic Crisis: Impact on the Education Sector

Four interrelated global crises are mutually reinforcing each other: climate change, the energy crisis, the food crisis and the financial and economic crisis. But of these, the consequence of the global financial meltdown on the Nigerian educational system at all levels will be more devastating.

After several years of rapid growth in developing countries, the financial melt-down has ushered in dramatic shifts in the economic landscape, with direct implications for education at all levels and more broadly, for social development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals 2
(free and compulsory education for all boys and girls of school age)

The crisis comes at a time of impressive progress in getting more children into school, with primary school enrolments across sub-Saharan Africa increasing at a much faster rate than in the 1990s. This is especially true in the case of Nigeria which has made little progress to widen access to primary education.

To keep up this momentum, low-income countries face the challenge of expanding access, building more classrooms, training and hiring more teachers and improving the quality of learning at all levels. Sheer demographics point to increased participation and increased demand in primary, secondary and tertiary in several developing regions.

But recent history tells us that during past financial crises in Latin America and South Asia, social sectors were hardest hit by spending cuts and child labour increased. The world’s poorest children and youths are most at risk of dropping out of school because of poverty. Both developing country governments and donor countries will be under pressure to reduce, respectively, their social spending and aid budget.

Rising poverty levels reduced prospects of attaining internationally agreed development goals (IADGs) and cuts in government spending in the wake of the economic and financial crisis are some of the risks threatening developing nations, Nigeria inclusive. These countries, often ‘innocent bystanders’ in a dynamic largely triggered by irresponsible behaviour in the developed countries, will need more multilateral and NGO or foundation funding.

At the same time, industrialized countries may earmark and allocate fewer funds for overseas development aid (ODA). High-profile commitments made only recently (including the pledge to double aid to Africa by 2010) are in danger of remaining unfulfilled. Worldwide, fewer discretionary funds may be allocated for activities in education and the sciences both nationally and through development assistance.

Like much of the nation, our public schools are in dire financial straits. In this recession, nearly every state has less to spend on education. Private schools bracing for sharp falls in numbers during the recession are also going to extraordinary lengths to hold on to students. There has been a surge in parents requesting fee reductions — and some schools are even offering credit to struggling families.

Already, before this worldwide recesion, the Nigeria educational system has ben on a downward slope. But the situation was much worse before the advent of democracy in 1999 when the Univeral Basic Education was commissioned to improve and widen access for primary education.

Before then, budgetry allocation to education fell short of the prescibed 26 percent of the entire budgetry allocation. It only improved slightly when democracy berthed in 1999. Even at that, budgetry and UBEC interventions in all the thirty six states amounted to just a little drop in the ocean considering the years of neglect of public education.

Matters have become worse since then. Allegations of corruption has continued to dog the States’ Universal Basic Education Commission which has been reduced to patronage agencies by successive governors. The result: more children out of school, dilapidated infrastructures as public schools are no better than detention centres.

A visit to any of our public schools at all levels will reveal a nation whose education policy makers have perfeted official deceit as an art. How could Nigeria possibly be among the world’s twenty economies by 2020 with state of our public education? With the state of public education at all levels, vision 20-2020 amounts to a mirage.

Which future leaders would drive this Vision when majority of them study on bare floors? when there is extreme gender imbalance and Nigeria recently listed as third among countries with the highest number of out-of-school children worldwide? Isn’t it chronic delusion to hope to be among twenty best economies with our state of public education?

The Education For All Global Monitoring Report 2008, has ranked Nigeria among the countries in Africa that will not achieve Education For all By the year 2015 ( less than seven years from now). No official statement from the Federal Ministry of Education has come out to disclaim this yet.

When countries like Botswana (a country now used as a model for good leadership in Africa) has already attained the goal already, seven years before the target date! If our country cannot attain the goal of Education For All by 2015 and provide twenty First Century education when we had an oil boom, how we will do this during this global financial meltdown which had earlier been preceeded by international oil prices plumetting thus leading to drastic cut in government spending to education?

The impact of the economic crisis on higher education in Nigeria will even be more profound. Already, our HE and FE institutions have faced continously, dereased funding from government at all levels. With the global financial meltdown, it is likely that higher educational institutions would face harder times. Now that education at all levels are poised to be the “whipping boy” of budgetry allocations in the face of the meltdown? What bail out options are available for this sector?

Following the G-20 Summit in Washington last November, the December Doha Statement on Financing Education as well as the Oslo Declaration by the High-Level Group on EFA laid an excellent foundation for effective global advocacy on the need for the international donor community to maintain development assistance flows and to invest its way out of the crisis.

However, lower resource prospects and growing needs may make it mandatory to concentrate and prioritise action, including through a focus on less costly initiatives and a reorientation towards cheaper but effective upstream policy initiatives. International education stakeholders, including UNESCO, must harness its collective knowledge to share information and give policy advice that can help countries to cope with the crisis.

At the country-level, effective collaboration with relevant partners and multi-sectoral coordination will be ever more vital to attaining national development priorities and the IADGs. We still have seven years for example to double our efforts to achieve the Education for All by 2015. A lot needs to be done by current political office holders’ especially state governors to drive the EFA 2015 target in their respective States.

In this context it is fundamental for international educational agencies and local educational NGOs working in the country to restate the evidence on the benefits of education as one of the best development investments possible, citing its impact on health, on earning potential, and more broadly on citizenship and democracy.

These messages must be heard in fora that are not solely focused on education: in the G8, the G20 and on influential regional and global platforms. International educational agencies must seek to ensure that governments develop and implement policies that promote inclusion through quality education at all levels, with special schemes to enable access to learning opportunities for the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups.

It is equa

lly crucial to push for increased aid flows to education even though donors will be under pressure to reduce their overall aid package. According to the World Bank, a 1% drop in donor-country GDP is associated with a 1% drop in aid flows over the 1990-till date. But external aid is essential for supporting the expansion of education in low-income countries. It is all the more reason for making it more effective.

Times of crisis call for making choices and setting priorities. The economic crisis has not swept away the knowledge society – on the contrary. Early childhood education, girls’ education, literacy and skills training for youth and adults are foundations for inclusive social and economic development. Technical and vocational skills must be developed.

Rethinking the relationship between skills, work and employability within a lifelong perspective will be crucial for positioning education in the current crisis. Higher education also is a force for finding solutions to today’s global challenges from hunger to climate change. There is also the need to stress the importance of social responsibility, institutional cooperation and networking to strengthen research and the knowledge base in our country.

Finally, in the area of education, through its work on quality, curricula, standards, norms, teachers and rights, stakeholders have to respond to the crisis by promoting values such as respect, justice, equity and diversity as foundations of education, and more broadly, for building more sustainable financial and economic systems.

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