Journey of economic prosperity: Nigeria’s education system and human capital development.
The world gathered in London virtually and physically for the Global Education Summit on 28th July, 2021, with the aim to raise awareness and investment in quality education through Global Partnership for Education. This, like previous conferences and summits, has continued to provide justification for investment in education with full consent of world leaders. So the question is, why does the leadership in Sub-Saharan Africa; particularly Nigeria, consider investing in education an option? Is there no clear understanding of the multiplier effect of quality education by our lawmakers?
We raise our hands to put forward some justifications and evidence for economic prosperity, powered by human capital development, through the instrumentality of education.
The Nigerian educational system has come of age. It has served generations from colonial to post-colonial era. We can, therefore, rightly judge that the educational system in place during the colonial period was a success because it was able to produce the human capital that was needed based on the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, for economic prosperity of the colonial masters.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, many changes came along to redefine the education system to produce the human capital needed for today’s economy. The evidence can be found all around us. The World Economic Forum (2017) posits that the human capital development of Sub-Saharan Africa is 40%. In other words, children born in Sub-Saharan Africa today are likely to achieve only 40% of their optimal potential (productivity) with the current level of the education and health system. Similarly, Nigeria was ranked 114 out of 130 countries; below Rwanda, Ghana, and Cameroon, ranked 71, 72, and 73 respectively.
The three major criteria used to measure human capital development are Survival, Expected years of Quality-Adjusted school, and Health environment (adult survival rates and the rate of stunting for children under age 5) (World Bank, 2021). Education has been more instrumental in making other criteria effective. For instance, the level of one’s education may also improve the healthy lifestyle of oneself and family, thereby leading to a healthy environment.
Lest we assume that we all have a full understanding of the concept of Human capital (HC). Kwon (2009) described Human capital as one of the production elements that can generate added values through inputting it. It is also “the knowledge, skills, competencies, and attributes embodied in individuals facilitate the creation of personal, social and economic well-being (OECD, 2001 in Liu, Gang, Fraumeni, and Barbara, 2020). Studies show that HC is a key indicator of the current and future potential of a country and its individuals (Liu, Gang, Fraumeni, and Barbara, 2020); as well as managing national wealth for the purpose of assessing its long term sustainability (UNICEF, 2009).
Every nation is a reflection of its members. Therefore, for a nation to increase its economic prosperity, its individual member economic capacity must be fostered and enhanced. This provides the largest form of wealth (Liu, Gang, Fraumeni, and Barbara, 2020). This goes beyond saying it but putting efforts to raise an army of economic builders through human capital development. However, the Nigerian government over the years has made economic prosperity and quality education an egg and chicken situation. The puzzle has been solved by many countries such as Kenya, Singapore, South Korea, Ghana, Morocco, etc. For instance, Singapore decided to follow the rough road in 1980 by investing in a world-class education system with a special focus on analytical skills, teamwork, and creativity. This, in turn, raised its economy with a per capita GDP at 2011 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) of US$96,477.21; increased life expectancy to 83 and lower mortality to 2 per 1,000 in 2017. This has also made it the fourth richest country with a Human Capital Index of 0.88( The Straits Times 2020 cited in World Bank, 2021).
It may appear that huge investment in education is not politically feasible, as many politicians look forward to some sort of concrete and short-time evidence to campaign for another four years political cycle. This is evident in our yearly budget on education both on recurrent and capital expenditure.
Investing in education is as expensive as its consequences. Nigeria has stories to tell about incessantly worsening of insecurity, rising unemployment, and underemployment, the decline in national income, among many other issues. Each year, the system has continued to produce a pool of vulnerable young people at different levels. Many of these people have been disappointed and some, with no access to formal education. Many are roaming the streets for jobs or any way out. Some ways out are the results of kidnapping, financial crime, religious brainwashing, ethnic crisis, to mention but a few.
Truth be told, investment in education will not yield immediate returns within a short period. However, society stands to benefit more in the long run; not only in economic prosperity but also in social cohesion and equity, while also strengthening people’s trust in institutions (World Bank, 2021).
It will be interesting to know that less than three decades from now, the world will be looking to Sub-Saharan Africa to supply the workforce to drive the world economy. This is because 35% of Western Europe’s population is projected to be over 60 and above, compared to Sub-Saharan Africa’s 9% in 2050 (World Bank, 2021). The major skills that will be required are high-order cognitive and socio-behavioral skills. Evidently, these skills will not grow out of thin air. It requires access to quality education to close early gaps in cognitive and socio-behavioral skills (World Bank, 2019).
With the current human capital ranking, Nigeria is distant from the benchmark. Nigeria is vulnerable to lose more in this time of the pandemic, as fragile or conflict-prone areas are affected, and may not escape the cycles of fragility and underdevelopment (World Bank, 2021). To partake in the opportunities available, we need to invest aggressively in education at all levels, as well as ensuring lifelong learning to guarantee rapid adaptability for upskilling and reskilling, in this fast-changing world.
Let us raise hands, believe, and rekindle our hearts with excerpts of the opening speech of two leaders at Global Partnership Education, 2021 who continue to evangelize the good news for “access to quality education for all.”
The UK Prime minister, Boris Johnson, “… the mind is not a bottle to be filled, but a fire to be rekindled and it is education that provides the spark. It is education that unlocks doors to opportunity and prosperity.” On the part of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, “… with quality education, our children can discover their talents and potentials, reinforce their characters, bring dreams to reality and develop the skills and competencies that will serve them positively for an entire lifetime.”
Kwon, Dae-Bong(2009). Human Capital and its measurement. The 3rd OECD world Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge, and Policy” Charting Progress, Building Vision, Improving life, Busan, Korea(27–30 October 2009).
Liu, Gang; Fraumeni, Barbara M. (2020): A Brief Introduction to Human Capital Measures, IZA Discussion Papers, №13494, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), Bonn
World Bank(2021). The Human Capital Index 2020 Update: Human Capital in the Time of COVID-19. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978–1–4648–1552–2. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO.
World Economic Forum (2017).The Global Human Capital Report 2017:Preparing people for the future of work, retrieved from www.weforum.org