Learning for Lasting Peace: The Nigerian Dilemma
Celebrating the International Day of Education 2024: “Learning for Lasting Peace”
Peace means different things to different people. To some, it entails the absence of war, disagreement, conflict, or violence, and to others, it entails a feeling of satisfaction and achievement. Peace, according to Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King, Jr., goes beyond the absence of war and includes the availability of law, order, justice, or government in any given society. Obtaining and ensuring peace transcends peacebuilding activities at the end of violent outbreaks, conflict, or war. It is an incessant course that should be rooted at the heart of a state, its citizens, and its inhabitants and should be at the very core of state policies.
The United Nations (UN) acknowledges the role of education as a basic tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and encourages countries to strive for equity in people's access to resources like education. Likewise, the UN encourages countries to recognize that education is an instrumental agent in promoting sustainable peace in a society. Its significant role in ensuring sustainable peace is reflected in the annual Global Peace Index and the Positive Peace Index (PPI) of the Institute for Economics and Peace. The Institute for Economics and Peace identifies eight pillars of positive peace, of which education is subsumed under the third pillar, Equitable Distribution of Resources. It stresses that a nation is made up of various systems that interact with one another, and this interaction often leads to peace or conflict. Hence, when there is poor access to education or an increase in the percentage of youth (15-24) who are not in formal education (schools) or informal education (skill training), a country’s peace, productivity, and output are threatened.
Quality Education and Learning for Lasting Peace in Nigeria
Quality education, according to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 4, implies that everyone is entitled to inclusive and equitable education that is geared towards promoting life-long learning opportunities. It entails creating several conditions for not just literacy and numerical education to flourish but also technical and vocational education to ensure that youths and adults alike are equipped with the skills to secure better job opportunities to shrink the ever-widening poverty and inequality gaps, all geared towards promoting sustainable development.
A country provides quality education if it makes tangible efforts towards availing infrastructure, human resources, materials, and the necessary facilities needed to promote skill development and knowledge acquisition. This includes eradicating social and gender inequality in education by giving both genders and people of diverse socio-cultural and religious ideologies, orientations, and beliefs the equal opportunity to acquire education.
In addition, providing quality education entails that substantial efforts be put in place to ensure that teaching and learning are not altered. According to the United States Institute of Peace, one of the major ways to measure peace in Nigeria is by evaluating the ability of people to work or study without any interference. This interference can be in the form of strikes, student dropouts, and the destruction of educational facilities, among others. Therefore, while working towards ensuring peace in conflict-prone areas, tangible efforts are supposed to be directed towards maintaining a constant rise in enrollment statistics and a strategic decrease in the number of out-of-school children in a bid to ensure inclusivity and sustainability in the education sector.
For decades, Nigeria has struggled with increasing the number of students enrolled in schools. In the past decade, the population of schoolchildren has increased drastically, thereby stretching the available educational facilities in the country. The gross enrollment rate of pupils in primary schools was 87% in 2020, which decreased to 86.72% in 2021. Data from Universal Basic Education (UBE) revealed that in 2022, over 47 million pupils were enrolled in basic education (from Early Childhood Education and Care [ECEC] to junior secondary). Of this figure, over 7.2 million were enrolled in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), also known as Early Childhood Care Development Education (ECCDE), over 31.7 million were enrolled in primary schools, and around 8 million were enrolled in junior secondary schools.
According to the provisions of the International Human Rights Law and the United Nations Framework on Rights to Education, Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) and primary education should be compulsory (free), while secondary education should be progressively introduced. Yet, there are about 258 million out-of-school children in the world, with Nigeria contributing 15% of this population.
Below is a chart depicting the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria.
Fig. 1: Number of Out-Of-School Children in Nigeria
With the number in the chart above, Nigeria will need about 20,000 schools to take in these large numbers of out-of-school children in the country.
It is a fact that armed conflicts play a significant role in undermining children’s participation in education in Nigeria. However, despite the interjections emanating from outbreaks of conflict, Nigeria is also faced with the challenges of low enrollment figures as well as a high number of out-of-school children. While there is a constant decrease in the number of students that are enrolled per academic year in Nigeria’s public and private basic and secondary schools, there is a drastic increase in the number of children within school age who are not enrolled in any educational institution. These have put a strain on the utilisation of education as a tool for lasting peace in Nigeria. While Nigeria is struggling with the impact of conflict on its education sector, the country is also faced with the realities of the significant role of education as a tool for promoting and ensuring sustainable peace.
How then can Nigeria utilise education towards the promotion of lasting peace?
Promoting a Human Right Friendly Education Curriculum: A comprehensive understanding of the provisions of the UNDHR (United Nations Declaration of Human Rights) of 1948 is essential for a transformative society. As contained in Article 1, every individual is born free and equal in dignity and rights; hence, human rights are naturally inherent. If human rights subjects are taken seriously in Nigerian schools and taught across every level, then every citizen and inhabitant of Nigeria will become abreast of the legal actions supporting their rights as human beings and those of others. Promoting human rights subjects and courses in Nigeria’s education system is necessary because a generation that understands the interplay between personal and collective rights is a generation that is willing to promote peace.
Establishment of Human Rights Clubs: Human rights clubs should be introduced across public and private schools in Nigeria. Schools are major agents of socialization and contribute enormously to the development of a child. Human rights education is a crucial tool for imparting the morals, ethics, and attitudes that can improve humanity. Human rights clubs would promote a system of education where human rights are taught, learned, respected, practiced, protected, and promoted. This would, in the long run, contribute to laying the building blocks where future leaders would be nurtured. Human rights clubs place human rights issues at the heart of learning and social experiences. This would lead to creating a school that considers human rights and is an integral part of everyday school life for the students, teachers, and management.
Adopting a Human Rights Approach to School Management: A human rights approach should also be adopted in schools and utilized in the way that institutional decisions are made, interpersonal relationships are nurtured, and curriculum and extra-curricular activities are created. All these well-thought-out processes project an exemplary prototype for human rights education, which, when embedded in the minds of the students, parents (through the Parents Teachers Association [PTA]), and staff, will lead to lasting peace in Nigeria.
Quality education is instrumental in promoting sustained peace in any given society. This year’s theme for the International Day of Education, “Learning for Lasting Peace,” is a reminder to Nigeria that its education ought to be structured and utilised as a medium of promoting intercultural and inter-social understanding, especially in a multi-ethnoreligious country like Nigeria. Thus, the school curriculum should be designed to expose students to the various socio-cultural perspectives, cultures, and histories of the various socio-political groups to promote empathy, acceptance, and tolerance and eradicate prejudices and stereotypes.
For education to achieve its aim as an instrument of peace, it must be transformative and structured to promote peace, strengthen political institutions, ensure the sustenance of the economy, and champion social development. In a nutshell, Nigeria’s education sector should be structured as a conflict-sensitive system in times of peace and serve as a tool of deterrence to promote lasting peace in a country that has a vast landmass that is vulnerable to conflict.
Inclusive human rights education, therefore, remains a crucial approach to bringing students from a young age closer to understanding their rights. Human rights education should be prioritized in Nigeria’s heterogeneous and pluralistic society. When students are exposed to the tenets of human rights, they are equipped with the rudimentary tools to live in peace and coexist. They can also easily tolerate and acknowledge the dignity of others, irrespective of their traditions, cultures, religions, ideologies, and opinions. Hence, if the number of out-of-school students is reduced and the number of students enrolled in school continues to increase, then a larger number of schoolchildren will be exposed to the tenets of human rights and will eventually become ambassadors of peace for their generation.