Youth Education: A Catalytic Trigger for Nigeria's sustainable development

Youth Education: A Catalytic Trigger for Nigeria’s sustainable development

Prince Julius Adewale Adelusi-Adeluyi

In the last fifty years, the number of children in school across the globe has increased by leaps and bounds. Education as a fundamental human right for both boys and girls has become a widespread belief and, has been enshrined in mainstream governance policies in most countries. This increased focus on education has led to improved economic outcomes and greater levels of productivity. It is no secret that education is a crucial driver of economic development. The top two most educated countries in the world, Canada and South Korea have some of the most advanced and productive economies. The economic discrepancy between the global North and the global South is largely predicated on the education divide between both regions. When it comes to access to education and overall literacy, Africa is largely behind and sub-Saharan Africa fares worse where over a fifth of school-age children in the region are out of school. According to UNICEF, more than 13 million children in Nigeria are out of school. With over 43% of Nigeria’s population under the age of 15, the country’s young and dynamic human resource is paradoxically one of its greatest assets and also a looming disaster. In the absence of the prioritization of education, the country will be home to millions of uneducated and unskilled members of the labour force. This potential reality is grim and a large threat to the attainment of sustainable development as the links between education and poverty are obvious. We cannot overemphasize the importance of education as a critical step in building socio-economic capital.

My life experience shows that education opens up to you many windows of opportunities. Because of this, I have spent a substantial part of my life, advocating for increased investment in education across Nigeria. Through the MTN Foundation, we have invested 1.5 billion naira into various youth oriented projects with the sole purpose of bridging the illiteracy gap. So far, Nigeria has been unable to deliver widespread quality education. Moreover, where quality education does exist, affordability becomes a barrier. This was true for Akpologun Jude Oyime who is now an engineering graduate from the University of Benin. For Jude, higher education had always been an aspiration however; his family faced several financial challenges. He applied and was successfully awarded a scholarship through the MTN Scholarship Schemes (Science & Technology and Blind Students). Jude’s family was able to watch him graduate, a reality that seemed so far off before he received the grant from MTN. Now, Jude has completed his NYSC and joined Nigeria’s dynamic workforce. Jude’s story, and that of many others like him remind me that for many of our youths, all they require is an opportunity to succeed. Access to quality education provides them with that opportunity.

Beyond this, I have recognized also that as society evolves, the methods and measures of learning also evolve. Some twenty-five years ago, it did not matter much if one could operate a computer; the need and prevalence of information technology were not as interwoven in our society then, as it is now. With the advent of digital platforms such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter to mention a few – knowledge and learning has been democratized – our mantra should be ‘No Youth Left Behind’. Ensuring that Nigeria’s youth are valuable and productive in the present and future means that we cannot neglect digital education. The rise of technology as a major driver of sustainable growth for future economies is a viewpoint that must influence our attitude toward the future of education. In alignment with the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) 8, 9 and 4 which are focused on ensuring Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry Innovation and Infrastructure and Reduced Inequalities, the MTN Foundation prioritizes digital education in its philanthropic efforts. By building the technological capacity of Nigeria’s youths, we can position them to develop problem-solving and entrepreneurial capacities leading to innovative solutions and technological advancements. Investment in digital education enables the Nigerian youth to be competitive on a global scale.

Education plays a very crucial role in securing the economic, political and social progress of communities and nations. One of my favourite quotes by Obafemi Awolowo, the father of free education in Nigeria reads “In order to attain to the goals of economic freedom and prosperity, Nigeria must do certain things as a matter of urgency and priority. It must provide free education at all levels and free health facilities for the masses of its citizens.” Building a sustainable future is not solely making declarations about that future. It is in the conscious and consistent investment in those who will live in that future and those who are capable of building it. Stripped down to its core, the most meaningful investment a country can make in its citizens is an investment in their education. This education reaches beyond the four walls of a classroom; it is an active process of imparting skills in the youth. Skills that will inform how they see life.

There is a lot to be done, while the MTN Foundation has impacted more than 3,500 students through its scholarship schemes and over 1,900 youths through its digital literacy programs I lay awake some nights thinking about the thousands more who have not been able to access any form of education. As such, we must not rest on our laurels. In order for us to catch up with the rest of the world, there is a continued need for heavy investment in education both from the government and from the private sector. We recognize that the government alone cannot deliver on this huge task and so, this is a clarion call to the private sector and well-meaning Nigerians to join us in birthing the desired future for our Youths through investments in the educational sector. To ensure that generations of our youth stand a chance of having a purpose-driven education, it is imperative that as a nation, we prioritize the funding of education.