It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 20th in the series of the annual Nigerian Economic Summit, scheduled to take place from March 18th to 20th, 2014 at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, Nigeria. This year‘s Summit is of particular significance as we will be focusing on the education sector..

Education is without a doubt, the sector that holds the key to transformational national development and our ability to compete in the global marketplace and it is singularly the sector that has experienced the worst type of decline in relation to standards, quality and value.

The decision to hold the Summit on education was taken to redress the decline in a sector that is critical to economic development. The Nigerian education sector is in dire straits and requires the intervention of both public and private stakeholders if it is to fulfill its function of preparing Nigeria to compete in the global economy. At present, our adult literacy rate of 61% as well as the low level of tertiary enrolment, which was 10% in 2010 portends a threat to the ability of Nigeria to become the 20th largest economy in the world by 2020. To compare, Kenya has an adult literacy rate of 87%, Egypt of 72% and Ghana has a rate of 67%. Similarly, Nigerian data on school enrolment falls far behind that of comparable African economies and our drop-out rates are higher. Thus, primary school enrolment in Nigeria currently stands at 83%, dropping to 44% at the secondary school level and 10% at the tertiary level. In Egypt, primary enrolment is 100%, dropping to 85% at the secondary level and 30.4% at the tertiary level.

Although a modern and highly skilled workforce is integral to the development of any nation, these statistics mean that we are developing an unskilled workforce who will be unable to drive the development of the Nigerian economy, drive change and innovation and ensure Nigeria becomes an attractive investment destination. In addition, the current waves of social unrest in many parts of Nigeria would be mitigated were there adequate opportunities for personal and professional development for the restive youth. To buttress this point, of the 62 million children out of school worldwide; a whopping 10 million of these children reside in Nigeria. These children will be condemned to a life of poverty and crime if nothing is done to reverse this trend.

There are four critical areas of the education sector that need new thinking if Nigeria is to develop as a nation. First, we need a national consensus on the objectives of our education system. In other words, agreement is required on the core competencies, skills, attitudes and learning outcomes of our education system.

Secondly, we need a collective realization of the pervasive centrality and importance of education to national development. Positive macro-economic indicators are meaningless in the face of rising poverty and unemployment and nothing will reduce poverty and unemployment faster than the development of a skilled populace that can create, innovate and contribute to national development. Despite the importance of education, it does not receive the attention it deserves from either the public or the private sector and most interventions have been superficial and tokenistic. This is also evident in the low funding to the sector - 8.6% of the federal budget in 2013, a far cry from the 31% of the federal budget allocated to the sector in Ghana. The private sector’s role in education needs to be highlighted and addressed as the private sector suffers the most from an inadequate and low-skilled workforce. The private sector must realize that it has a stake in the public school system and through partnerships and new governance models, must be enlisted to support public schools.

Thirdly, the Nigerian education sector requires sustainable structural reform and changes that will allow the emergence of a 21st century economy. There is a lack of accountability and effective governance in education at both the federal, state and local government levels. Finally, building a culture of life-long learning is critical to ensuring the Nigerian economy can respond quickly to global changes and global developments.

At the Summit, there will be a Presidential strategy session expected to be led by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, aimed at distilling what is required to ensure the Nigerian education sector can deliver highly skilled, globally competitive individuals for the Nigerian economy. There will also be plenary sessions on developing education as the bridge to a better future for Nigeria; creating an accountability framework in education; access, equity and inclusion; skills, knowledge transfer and relevance and a plenary on “Leadership and Ownership in Education: A conversation with State governors”. In addition, there will be simultaneous workshops aimed at providing solutions to challenges in technical and vocational education; in ensuring tertiary education creates competitive and employable graduates; in relation to the neuroscience of early years and basic education; sustainable structural reform in education; teacher education and effective partnerships in education.

The objectives of this Summit will be to push for permanent structural changes that would allow Nigeria develop 21st century skills in our children. The medium term objective should be to have new ways of building capacities and capabilities in the education and learning space in Nigeria. The private sector needs to be actively involved in public education and understand their role to ensure Nigeria has a labour force that is highly skilled and is employable. An immediate objective should be to capture the attention and interest of key stakeholders on the centrality of education and learning for economic development and nation building.

You are cordially invited to join us at the 20th NES as we collectively work to build a national consensus on what is required to rebuild, revamp and reinforce the education sector to secure Nigeria’s future and fulfill the potential inherent in our vast human resources.

Frank Nweke II.