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Primary Education: When are we going to get it right?

Primary education or elementary education is typically the first stage of formal education, coming after preschool/kindergarten and before secondary school.
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Primary education or elementary education is typically the first stage of formal education, coming after preschool/kindergarten and before secondary school. Primary education is the take off point in a formal school system where future leaders and technocrats like: bankers, teachers, managers, scientists, engineers, sailors, medical doctors, lawyers, military personnel, clergymen, etc.,are trained. Because of the crucial nature of primary education to the well being of a child.

Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5–14 are not in school. Only 61 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds regularly attend primary school, and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36–59 months receive early childhood education. In Nigeria, about 10.5 million children are not in school, even though primary education is officially free and compulsory.

Primary education is globally regarded as the prime or foundation of other levels of education. Nigeria has the largest education system in Africa, which consists of public and private primary schools, public and private secondary schools, and public and private tertiary institutions. Primary schools in Nigeria serve as the foundation for the educational, social, and emotional development of young learners.

Public primary schools are funded by the government and are spread across rural villages, remote communities, and urban areas. It was established in 1967 under the Universal Basic Education (UBE) program, with the responsibility of providing free and compulsory education to children between the ages of six and twelve, and their first six years of formal schooling. This foundational stage of education is essential in equipping the young learners with fundamental numeracy, literacy, and critical thinking skills that will be needed in their future academic journey.

Although the federal government sets an all-inclusive educational policies and standards, primary education is primarily the responsibility of state and local governments, hence the variations in quality, infrastructure, and resource allocation across different states. Despite the important role public primary schools in Nigeria play, and just like other public sectors owned by the government, public primary schools are faced with different challenges that hinder their ability to provide quality education.

One of the major challenges in public primary schools in Nigeria is the shortage of teachers. Many schools do not have enough teachers, while others are filled with untrained and inexperienced educators, especially in rural areas. This shortage compromises the quality of instruction and teachings the students are meant to get. Most times, the few teachers available will divide themselves into teaching all subjects across all levels. In a study by, it was stated that the National Policy Education (2013) demanded that Early Childhood Care and Development Centers should adopt a caregiver-infant ratio of 1:10 for Crèche and a ratio of 1:25 for Nursery. It also stated that the teacher-pupil ratio for primary education should be 1:35. But the global ratio according to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) should be 1:25. No Nigeria primary school is strictly adhering to this directive. In cases like this, the teachers only cover the few subjects they can and leave some classes unattended to for days.

In addition to the shortage of teachers, many public primary schools across Nigeria are overcrowded. With limited infrastructure and resources available in public primary schools, they struggle to accommodate the growing number of students seeking education. Not only will overcrowded classrooms reduce the quality of education, it will also strain the capacity of teachers. The pupils in each classroom will also be affected as many of them will not be able to concentrate and the few teachers available might not be able to manage and cater for their needs. Primary school pupils require maximum concentration as they are easily distracted but being in an overcrowded classroom worsens the situation.

Scholars like Odogbor and Lrivike noted that most public primary schools in Nigeria are underfunded. This limits their capacity to provide quality education. The education sector receives very little funding meant for resources such as textbooks, teaching materials, and technology infrastructure. As a result of this, teachers do not have the necessary amenities needed to prepare for class and the students also will not have access to everything required for their education. Due to the lack of funding, many schools lack adequate classrooms, desks, chairs, and basic amenities such as electricity and clean water. Classes are overcrowded and most students sit on the floor to learn. Most public primary schools in Nigeria, especially in rural areas, have dilapidated structures that threaten the safety of students and teachers and creating an environment that is not conducive to learning.

In urban areas when teachers and necessary amenities are available, the teachers usually lack the necessary training and professional development opportunities to strengthen their skills and keep pace with evolving educational trends. Most teachers are comfortable with their certificate and do not want to upskill. The government on the other hand as well do not have enough trainings available to keep them on their toes and keep them updated with the necessary education policies. Lack of continuous training programs hinders teachers’ ability to employ innovative teaching methods, integrate technology into the classroom, and properly address the diverse needs of students.

In addition, the curriculum in many public primary schools in Nigeria is outdated and inadequate. Since teachers are not attending trainings and upskilling, they are unable to keep up with the learning curriculum. As a result, they fail to adequately prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century.

Lastly, institutions like National Primary Education Commission, State Education Board, and Local Government Education Authority has clearly spelled out the objectives of primary education in Nigeria. The National Primary Education is meant to guide against the collapse of the primary education in Nigeria, as well as work with a view to maintain high standard in the system. The State Education Board was also established to oversee the operation of the primary education at the state level such as teacher’s recruitment, trainings, and promotion. The Local Government Education Authority, on the other hand, was set up to take up the management of primary education at the local government level. Yet, most of these institutions do not function at maximum capacity.

To combat these challenges, the government at all levels should provide periodic training for teachers. Furthermore, there should be enough funding to be disbursed to the education sector. This will help get all the amenities needed to help students with their learning. Despite the challenges and constraints they face, public primary schools in Nigeria remain the primary avenue for millions of children to access basic education. They serve as inclusive spaces where children from diverse backgrounds come together to learn, grow, and forge bonds of friendship and camaraderie that transcend social, cultural, and economic barriers.

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