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Opinion: Educational engagement and out of school youth in the Commonwealth: Unpacking educational inequalities

Educational engagement and out of school youth in the Commonwealth: Unpacking educational inequalities
By Ahmed Adamu

More than 60% of the Commonwealth population are made up of young people, who represent the hope and strength of the Commonwealth sustainability. The best way to prepare these young people is by giving them the deserved quality education. That is why the young people in the Commonwealth consider quality education as number priority as contained in the 2013 Hambantota Youth Declaration. By extension, education is the number one mandate of the Commonwealth Youth Council, being the official voice for the young people. The question we ask ourselves is how qualitative and accessible is the education.


According to UNESCO report, adolescents are more likely to be out of school than children, and there are more than 121 million children and adolescents across the world who never started school or dropped out, and this has caused concern about the future prosperity of the Commonwealth. It also costs a lot on these nations, for example in Nigeria, it was reported that the country loose equivalent to 15% of its GDP due to out of school population, whom would have added value to the economy if educated.


Because education is monetized, the issue of affordability becomes a concern, and that’s what underpins the large inequality between nations and individuals in terms of access to quality education. Even though, researches have shown that there is no absolute positive correlation between income status of a country and the level of its literacy as some poor countries that spend less per capita achieve high level of literacy. However, income status has remained huge cause of inequality among individuals.


Children of the rich have higher propensity of having access to quality education than the children of the poor. There is also inequality in terms of ethnic and cultural persuasions, though there was a tremendous change in perception about formal education in some strong cultural societies, there are still remnants of such indifferent attitude toward formal education in those society. Inequality between genders is the prominent one, as women are perceived as domestic properties rather than active participant in societal development.

Fundamental Educational system

The illusion that women’s formal education is not important, as even if they went to the school, it is useless as they will eventually get married. That was the fundamental and wrong belief that causes gender inequality in educational system. Women require special provisions at educational environments, which often not provided. Female students feel more comfortable seeing a mixture of male and female teachers, or rather pure female teachers. However, there are fewer female teachers in some countries. These and so many other reasons cause the huge gaps between genders.


The women education is paramount, as we are taught that educating one woman is like educating the whole society. This is because women nurture all classes of people we have in society, and the best discipline and knowledge we receive comes from mothers, and that’s why girl’s education is very important.


Inequality as a result of disability; young people with special requirements are literally forced out of school because there are no provision to cater for their unique circumstances, and subsequently, they become hopeless and feel not part of the society. Researchers have found that people with disabilities if adequately provided with educational facilities can outperform regular students. There are also inequalities between rural and urban locations, as both teachers and students prefer to live in urban areas. However, in recent times as a result of over flooding the urban areas, educational supplies in these urban cities cannot meet up the demands. Therefore, unequal economic and social opportunities between rural and urban areas has caused the locational educational inequalities.


Because of the income disparities, there are children who are perceived to be in school but are actually out of schools. There are children who are forced to engage in labour activities to help the family earn a living, these could be through hard labour or street hawking. Parents are usually worried about what a child can eat at school or back at home. Some children are out of school because they do not have mobility to travel to the far distant and only available school. So, that is why societies loose great scientists, engineers, economist etc, and you cannot quantify the economic loss of losing these latent talents. Similarly, lack of quality education cause continuous violence and restiveness in society, which is another social cost of unequal access to education.


Education and poverty are therefore a vicious cycle; if you are not educated you are three times more likely to be poor, and when you are poor you are equally unlikely to be educated. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves to what extend should we monetise our educational system. Education is like the air we breathe, you need air to live, and you don’t pay for it. Equally education should be accessible for all and relatively affordable.


According to the Commonwealth Youth Development Index, educational outcomes are not wholly dependent on income of a nation (at country level). Poor nations can achieve high levels of education, and this is further evidenced by the fact that government spending and education do not correlate highly. For instance, Tonga (a Commonwealth country) achieves almost complete youth literacy whilst spending less than the United Kingdom. Therefore, size, income, location, and history of a country does not influence the quality and accessibility of its education systems.


What matters are the all-inclusive and robust educational policy, compliance and strong monitoring and evaluation systems. There should be a general and disaggregated educational indices that can be used to understand the context of the educational issues for policy priority and evaluation. If for example we have an index that say there are 1 million out of school young people in xx year, then these statistic should be monitored in years to come so that we can gauge to what extend our educational policy are impacting by now looking at the number of the out of school children. Poverty alleviation programmes can help improve access to education.


Education is not only about passage of knowledge, it is about communication, and it does not make sense to me to teach a child with a strange language. That is why primary and secondary schools should be taught in mother’s tongue or regular language in the community. Second languages like English, Arabic or French should be taught as a separate language study within the educational system. So that, children can learn to speak a common language for international and national interactions and for communication purpose. Targets and professionals goals should be set for every student, and should be coached toward achieving that particular goal. Student loans should be provided for those that want to further their education. Appreciation incentives should be provided to parents who send their kids to school regularly.


Teachers at primary and secondary schools should receive equal salary as those of polytechnic lecturers, so that best brains can be attracted to teach at the foundation levels. Countries that spend so much is sponsoring students abroad should save the money and build their local universities so that more people can access quality education within the country, rather than allowing it for the few lucky ones. Special training and courses can be sponsored abroad, but, it is an economic cost to keep sponsoring students abroad to study regular courses that can be offered locally. With the savings from reducing the foreign scholarships, government can train and hire more qualified teachers and provide the required facilities locally. Corruption in managing educational budget must be squarely addressed.


Finally, the importance of education cannot be over emphasized, as education correlate with life expectancy, wellbeing, gender equality and development. Therefore, I recommend demonetization of education. Instead of spending money on weapons for wars, and power competition, let’s put that money to the educational sector. We as citizen of the world, we must not live in isolation, we must be sensitive to other nations’ backwardness and help them prosper. Let us compete in knowledge and education, rather than competing in nuclear and wealth.


Thank you

Speech by the president/chairperson, commonwealth youth council, Ahmed Adamu, during the annual conference of the council for education in the commonwealth, held at British council headquarters, 10 spring gardens, London, on Tuesday, 2nd June 2015

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