(An edited transcript of my intervention at the Hybrid CSO Workshop on Research Methodology to Monitor and Respond to the Growth of Private Actors in Education, organized by The Global Initiatives for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR) and Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa CAPPA Africa on Wednesday August 3, 2022).
My name is Gideon Adeyeni. I am from Education Rights Campaign (ERC). I want to begin from where the last speaker ended, about how oftentimes when some things don’t work all we keep doing is to just patch and patch, in the hope that we can get them to work. The main point that I am driving at is that the privatization of education, the commodification of education, is an absurdity, and no matter how much some persons try to paint it as good, it is simply bad. So no matter how many foreign companies or foreign entities are brought in to invest in education with all sort of programs, and no matter how fanciful their programs and initiatives look, they can’t work. And this is because education, as far as we understand, is the bedrock of any truly prosperous and peaceful society.
Today, people talk about the Nordics as highly progressive, I mean Finland and co. These countries are considered some of the most livable countries in terms of quality of life, happiness index and so forth, as they always score highest when we use these indices of development. I know that at least in Finland, education is free from primary to the highest level. So it is clear that to get a country to work, to be prosperous and peaceful, education must not just be well-funded, it must be accessible, and that means that it should be free for all. So no matter how much those in government and their cronies try to make us think that even while they privatize and commercialize education, they can still get the education system to work properly, let us understand and maintain what we know: that it will never bring us that prosperous and peaceful society that we desire.
It is undeniable that in Nigeria there is the neglect of the education sector , a near total neglect evidenced by the fact that while UNESCO recommends between 15 to 20% budgetary allocation to education, for a developing country like Nigeria, in the last budget of Nigeria 5.4% was allocated to the education sector. And we know at least a part-reason for this: the reason is that the more we fund education the less the money will be available to fund the prodigality of those who sit in Abuja and our government houses all over the country, whose seem to understand their role essentially as to fatten their body and cart away our money outside the country. The most saddening part of our present reality is that while our education is underfunded and the public education system collapses right in our face, the politicians send their own children outside the country, and every day we see images of their children graduating from some of the costliest universities in the world. It is really saddening!
I think it is important that we note all of these points because after all of this research work is done, the most important thing is how we communicate to the average person on the street and help them have a clear perspective on these issues. For me as an individual, I am not really interested in getting the message across to those folks in the big offices, but to the woman on the street, to make her understand why education must be funded adequately and why the underfunding of education is a primary reason public education is collapsing; and to make her understand that no matter how much they patch and patch an underfunded education sector, it can’t work – and that this proper funding is what we must get the government to do. So a serious question before us now is “how do we get that woman who sells agbado (and maybe cassava) to make her understand what we can do together to force the government to fund education adequately?” How do we communicate these issues? That is the primary thing that I think we must also be concerned about. How do we communicate to the ordinary citizen; beyond how we engage with those who occupy our seats of government, who I am never interested in sitting with – since they have consistently shown themselves to be nothing but political profiteers.
I also want to say that we must not forget to link the crisis of our collapsing public education system to the economic system that we have, which is concerned mainly about profit. It is an economic system that – in the environmental movement – is described as one that places profit over planet and over people. And that is the capitalist economic system. So, as long as we run an economic system that places profit over people and over planet, we will continue to wallow in crises. We have to link the public education crisis to the economic system like this. For instance, as long as profit is the primary motive for investment in the education sector, rural areas will not be prioritized in the provision of education services, and this is where the bulk of our people live. And what this means is the denial of educational opportunity to the bulk of children and people in the rural areas. I think it is important that we note these points and link all of these issues for our research and advocacy to yield meaningful results.