The idea that education is a fundamental human right came as far back as 1948 when the UN declared in article 26 of its charter that everyone has the right to education.
This point was further emphasized by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 and SDG 4 states that we must ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Are we making any progress? Looking at the literacy rate centuries ago and now, we’ll see that many developed countries have a literacy rate of about 99%. Globally, the literacy rate for persons of at least15 years old is 86.3%. Nigeria has a literacy rate of about 60%.
Sure, we are making progress. Nonetheless, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Recent statistics have shown that there are more than 260m children and youth out of school. It’s no longer news that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children with over 10m.
The problem is even much bigger if you consider the quality of education. More than 600m have been to school but lack the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. That is 6 out of 10 children are in school but not learning. There’s a crisis in the educational system.
If you look at the education problem from the Nigerian context it is really disturbing. By 2050 Nigeria will be the 3rd most populous country in the world, and at the rate we are going we’ll also be the poorest country in the world. This is definitely not unconnected with the challenges of our education.
While it is impossible to discuss the rot of our educational system and how dysfunctional it is without referring back to the government, in general, traditional learning systems are failing us. They are way too slow. You spend all these years in school but you are still not fulfilled at the end of the day. They are also simply not accessible. Access to quality teachers or quality education in Nigeria is a luxury. They are way too expensive for the output we are getting. The demand for quality education is enormous. The traditional system where we want to have a decent teacher to student ratio is simply not scalable. Where are we going to find these top-notch teachers that will give us the quality of education that we desire? We need new ways to teach.
Technology is changing the dynamics and it’s a great opportunity to change the way we teach and reach more people.
The Internet is becoming a household utility and access to a smartphone is growing very fast. What an amazing opportunity for everyone. We can go directly to people and educate them at the level that they need to be educated.
With technology, we can also improve the relevance and quality of education through mastery learning. In mastery learning, we ensure that the student masters every concept before they move on, therefore eliminating gaps in their education that eventually become an obstacle to them and make them lose interest in learning.
In traditional learning, the fixed component is the time — when and how long a student works on something. Imagine how our typical classroom is — the student has a fixed term and academic session to learn several concepts whether he masters them all or not. Mastering the material is the variable. We do not insist on 100% mastery. In mastery learning, the opposite is what happens. The student stays on that material until he masters it. To achieve this without technology it means that we need almost a 1:1 teacher to student ratio. This is not practical and not scalable.
To achieve mastery and personalized learning, we need rich, curriculum-tailored video content. The students can now pause and repeat lessons without feeling embarrassed or without feeling that they are wasting the time of the teacher. Learning also becomes scalable because the marginal cost of sharing digital content is getting next to zero.
Technology usually catches up with developing societies and provide solutions to their challenges. A good example is the telecom industry. Now, mobile and Internet communication has become ubiquitous.
Similarly, for education, technology will be the game-changer. It is the key to innovatively provide access to quality education for everyone. It is necessary in order to meet up with the SDG4 requirements. But the model cannot be exported and deployed as a turnkey solution. We must develop and customize our local solutions that will address our unique challenges.
Written by Faiz Bashir.
Faiz is co-Founder of FlexiSAF Foundation and the CEO of FlexiSAF Edusoft