By Adedapo Adesanya
Airtel Africa and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) have announced a five-year pan-African partnership to help accelerate the roll-out of digital learning by connecting schools to the internet and ensuring free access to learning platforms across 13 countries.
Airtel Africa’s financial and in-kind contribution for this partnership is $57 million till 2027 and will allow the organisation to provide equal access to quality digital learning, particularly for the most vulnerable children.
The partnership will help to ensure that every child reaches their full potential.
Airtel Africa is the first private sector partner on the continent to make a multimillion-dollar commitment to Reimagine Education, a global initiative launched by UNICEF in 2020 calling for public and private sector investment in digital learning as an essential service for every child and young person across the globe.
This initiative aims to give children a chance to catch up on their learning needs amid the ongoing global pandemic.
Speaking on this, UNICEF Executive Director, Ms Henrietta Fore said, “Hundreds of millions of children in Africa have seen their education disrupted or put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“By championing digital education for children in Africa, this partnership with Airtel Africa will help put children’s learning back on track,” she added.
The programme will call on technology and expertise, in addition to direct financial support to connect schools and communities to the internet, enable free access to online educational content for learners.
It will also provide vital data insights to inform UNICEF’s work to scale-up digital learning and help ensure it is sustainable and meets students’ needs across Africa.
On his part, Mr Olusegun Ogunsanya, CEO of Airtel Africa said “As a business, we have focused on education as a key area of our corporate social responsibility, and we are delighted that this partnership with UNICEF will enable us to accelerate results. It also coincides with the launch of our new sustainability strategy, which lays out our commitment to education.”
“We are excited to be working with UNICEF to advance the education agenda on the continent through facilitating connectivity and online access to play a role in driving change,” he added.
The Airtel Africa and UNICEF pan-African partnership will benefit learners in Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Commission on Child Destitution, ASUU Strike and Education Sector
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
With the recent passage for the second reading of the Bill for an Act to establish the National Commission on Child Destitution in Nigeria, it is now evident that the nation handlers’ have finally come to the sudden realization that history has over these years thrust upon our generation an indescribably important destiny – to complete the process of learning and modernizations which our nation has too long developed too slowly, but which is our most powerful for world respect and emulation.
The bill, if passed, would provide the legal and constitutional frameworks for the eradication of child destitution in Nigeria. The bill would also result in taking formidable steps to mitigate the effects of the recurring cases of child destitution in the country. When established, the commission would serve as an intervention programme that would eradicate, rehabilitate and prohibit the menace of child destitution in Nigeria.
Without a doubt, there are many reasons that qualify the development as a right step taken in the right direction.
First, separate from the painful realization that 17 states in the country with the highest number of out-of-school children, 14 of them are in the North, and if the rate of out-of-school children is not curtailed, it would further worsen the insecurity that is currently bedevilling parts of the country. There is an accompanying belief that the latest bill, when passed, will strengthen the already existing Universal Basic Education Act 2003, which among other purposes is aimed at enforcing quality, compulsory, mandatory and free education up to secondary school three or equivalent and other purposes.
The second is that successive administrations in the country have done very little in arresting the situation. A particular report in 2013 described as mind-numbing the awareness that about 10.5 million Nigerian children of school age are not enrolled in schools. Out of this number, the report explained that about 9 million are children of beggars, fishermen and other less privileged people in the society.
The survey further showed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world, noting that; there is still a huge number of those who are in school, but are learning nothing, as schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school.
Regardless of what you hear or read on the pages of the newspaper, this piece believes that despite the proposed National Commission on Child Destitution in Nigeria, it is still not an easy road for the Nigerian education sector but a tough and tumble ride. Even the practice of democracy in the country, contrary to earlier beliefs, has not helped to stop the pangs of challenges experienced by Nigerians in the sector.
Among many other comments in the recent past, I heard some say that across the globe, funding education now comes with a crushing weight that the government alone can no longer bear. To this group, it calls for public-private partnership and support from good-spirited individuals to the rescue.
Within this span, I have equally read an argument that our educational system is faulty just like every educational system is faulty. The United States educational system, they added, is faulty. If there is no fault in any system, then, there is no improvement. They concluded that what we call fault is a challenge and that is the basics of development. To the rest, our educational system is not faulty as it remains one of the systems that are still very sound and applauded across the world.
To illustrate this belief, the ongoing strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to ensure the government stops reneging on agreements with the union has more than anything else made it clear that the nation’s public universities, principally the federal government-owned universities, are in trouble.
Aside from the fact that this is the second industrial action in less than two years, coupled with the fact that the system continues to frustrate the ambitions and aspirations of our youths; those that will provide the future leadership needs of the country, there are indeed reasons that characterize the current happenings as a troubling reality.
The most fundamental of the reasons is that the strike came a few days after President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja, while receiving members of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) led by the co-chairs, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, and the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, promised that the federal government remains committed to honouring promises made to ASUU to prevent disruptive strikes, engender uninterrupted academic programmes and improve funding of educational institutions.
The second stems from the words of Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, president of ASUU, who during a reported interview with the Channels Television, not only contradicted but proved as untrue the above pledge by Mr President. He ‘religiously’ explained how the FG has seamlessly become reputed for not keeping promises.
Let’s listen to him; “For the past nine years or so, they have been giving us promises but once the strike is over, they relapse. While noting that his colleagues are tired of these promises which they don’t fulfil, he added that what they want is action, maintaining that the union has sacrificed for the country’s educational system, concluding that ASUU will not back down on the current industrial action, since the federal government has become reputed for not keeping to its promises.
Looking above, it is evident that if the time-honoured aphorism which considers education as the bedrock of development is anything to go by and if the age-long belief that; with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made, the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes, and projects remains a valid argument, then, we all have reasons not only to feel worried but collectively work hard to deliver the nation’s education sector.
Specifically, these challenges come in two forms; the first lays out the dilemma posed by the government’s underfunding of the public universities which as a consequence; impedes lecturers from carrying out scholarly research, truncates the academic calendar with strike actions, laces Nigerian universities with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with the universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector.
The second challenge stems from the first but centres more particularly on thoughtless demand for fees of varying amounts/proposed by the school authorities-a development that is financially squeezing the life out of the innocent students and their parents.
The dilemma and menace posed by this practice indicate considerably higher risk and unless the government commits its resources to get to the root of the challenge, the potential consequence could be higher than that of other challenges currently ravaging the education sector.
By not taking the education sector seriously, one fact that the federal government failed to remember is that when human beings, through sound education, develop a higher order of thinking, the society gains an advantage in being able to anticipate emerging threats, they gain the ability to conceptualize instead of just perceiving.
But when they fail to acquire or deny the need, they will also gain the ability to conceptualize an imaginary threat and when a group of people are persuaded to conceptualize this imaginary threat, they can activate the fear response as powerfully as the real threat.
This fact partially explains the current fears and insecurity that have recently enveloped the country.
To further avert all these, governments at all levels must unlearn this attitude of the progressives’ non-recognition of the right to education as a human right despite their membership in a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights where the right is respected.
Above all, the Buhari-led federal government must urgently commit to mind that globally; ‘the relationship between employers/employees is always strained, always headed toward conflict. It is a natural conflict built into the system.
Unions do not strike on a whim or use the strike to show off their strength. They look at strikes as costly and disturbing, especially for workers and their families. Strikes are called as last resort’. And any government that fails to manage this delicate relationship profitably or fails to develop a cordial relationship with the workers becomes an enemy of not just the workers but that of the open society and, such society will sooner than later find itself degenerate into chaos.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based non-governmental organisation (NGO). He can be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374
Adejo Advocates Funding of NEMIS for Optimum Performance
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Andrew David Adejo, has called for strong synergy and cooperation among stakeholders in the funding of the Nigeria Education Management Information System (NEMIS).
Speaking at the 4th National Conference on NEMIS held recently in Gombe State, Mr Adejo, who was represented by the Director of Information and Communication Technology in the Ministry, Mr Abubakar Isa, submitted that this partnership will ensure that the system performs optimally.
NEMIS was created to provide an unimpeded flow of data and information on education in Nigeria to all people, anywhere in the world, through the use of basic information and communication technology.
In his presentation at the event, the Minister of Education, Mr Adamu Adamu, stated that the provision of credible, reliable and timely data is an imperative for national planning, policy implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development interventions and reform initiatives in the country, especially in the education sector.
The Minister, who was represented by the Registrar and Chief Executive of the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB), Professor Ishaq Oloyede, disclosed that the Ministry was making tremendous progress in the production and dissemination of reliable and timely data, adding that 2019, 2020 and 2021 data on the sector have all been processed and are ready for national and global dissemination.
Commenting on the theme of the conference, Sustainability and Maintenance of On-line Data Generation Using Tablets and Android Phones, Mr Adamu said discussions at the conference will help improve the automation of data production and management processes in line with evolving global trends.
He assured that the Ministry will continue to strengthen the scheme to build its capacity needed for quality output in line with international best practices.
In his address, the Governor of Gombe State, Mr Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya, who was represented by the Deputy Governor of the state, Mr Manasah Daniel Jatau, said his administration has substantially revamped the education sector in the state with a considerable increase in school enrolment, literacy, numeracy and positive learning outcomes.
The Governor revealed that Gombe State has recorded a lot of improvement in ICT development, infrastructural development and teacher capacity building which he said will impact positively on education in the state.
He urged stakeholders to do whatever they can to improve education as a matter of priority, expressing the determination of the state to cooperate with all stakeholders to uplift NEMIS in the interest of the nation and indeed Gombe State.
In her goodwill message, the Country Representative for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Dr Ngozi Amanze, expressed the commitment of the group to supporting NEMIS in the area of capacity building for optimum performance.
81 Students Qualify for Next Stage of InterswitchSPAK 4.0
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The organisers of the prestigious InterswitchSPAK National Science Competition have shortlisted 81 students for the next stage of the educational contest.
The students were chosen from the over 12,000 students who vied for a spot in the finals of the fourth edition of the programme through a nationwide computer-based test (CBT) held between June 2 and 8, 2022, in two stages.
Business Post gathered that the first stage of the CBT was held on June 2 and 5, with the participants pruned to 500 from 12,000 and on June 8, another test was conducted to further trim the number to 81.
The students were tested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and the eventual winner of the competition will smile home with N7.5 million in scholarships for five years, a laptop, and monthly stipends.
The first runner-up will receive N4 million in scholarships, a laptop, and monthly stipends for a period of 3 years, while the second runner-up will go home with N1 million in scholarships for a year, a laptop and monthly stipends.
It was learned that the top 81 students who scaled the screening process were from 13 schools, including Adedokun International School, Ota; The Ambassador College, Ota; Marist Brothers’ Juniorate, Uturu, Abia; Faith Academy Canaan Land, Ota; Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja; and Mount Olive College, Anambra.
Others are Greater Tomorrow International College, Arigidi, Ondo State; Bofoat Model College, Ondo State; FUTA Staff Secondary School Akure, Ondo; Seolad International College, Ogun; Great Cornerstone International Science College, Ondo State; Apt Scholars Universal College, Ogun State; and Oritamefa Baptist Model School, Ibadan.
Speaking on the importance of InterswitchSPAK and the need to encourage and reward more students in Africa to take up STEM subjects, the Group Chief Marketing and Corporate Communications Officer of Interswitch, Ms Cherry Eromosele, noted that Africans should play a more central role in mapping out the future of Africa.
Ms Eromosele added that the continent was ripe for development at the same scale as observed in the developed world, adding that this development had been proven to be spurred by the knowledge and application of STEM.
“InterswitchSPAK remains an integral expression of the belief we hold at Interswitch, which is that Africa’s story can be changed from the inside out. And what this means is that only through the active participation of Africans can the change we seek to come about.
“For this reason, we leverage the InterswitchSPAK National Science Competition, now in its fourth run, to encourage young Africans to find value in STEM subjects that have been identified as drivers of economic prosperity, something that we at Interswitch have seen firsthand,” she said.
InterswitchSPAK is a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative of Interswitch and since its inception, it has continued to champion the study of STEM subjects among students in Africa as the competition has moved beyond a locally-organized initiative and has expanded to other parts of Africa such as Kenya in East Africa.
In 2021, the contest was won by Jubril Dokun of Brainfield College, Alagbado, Lagos State. Ayanlade Jesuferanmi of Obafemi Awolowo University International School, Ile-Ife, Osun State was the second-place winner, while Omoniyi Qudus of Scholars Universal Secondary School, Ota, Ogun State, was the third-place winner.
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