Making the Grade: Achieving Universal Education

Article excerpt

The passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1950 spurred efforts around the world to ensure that everyone has a right to education." More than 50 years later, as states still struggle to achieve universal education, Nigeria's Universal Basic Education Act (UBE) and the US No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) have garnered the greatest international attention for their professed abilities to finally realize this goal. However, the controversy surrounding both suggests that these programs may not be all that they appear.

Nigeria's gross domestic product (GDP) ranks 211th out of the 229 countries in the world at US$875 per capita, while the United States has the second highest GDP with US$36,300 per capita. Yet while 60 percent of the Nigerian population is below the US poverty line and almost half of all US citizens own a car, Nigeria's universal education plan seems to be meeting with more success.

The United States has been working with a universal education base for some time longer than Nigeria, which only began its implementation through the Universal Primary Education program in the mid-1970s. Accordingly, the disparity in the criticism of the two programs may be somewhat justified. Critics of NCLB, such as the National School Board Association (NSBA), have mainly focused on the flawed accountability requirements that may lead to more children being "left behind" by the educational system than before. The main criticism of the UBE is proverbial in education policy: lack of funding.

According to the Chairman of Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission, Dr. Abel Guobadia, "no curriculum change, no infrastructural innovation, no restructuring of the educational system ... will succeed in arresting the falling standards of education, if the institutions continue to lack the sufficient funds for the effective operation." In 2002, the first year for both programs, UBE spent the approximate equivalent of US$112 million, while NCLB allotted US$13.5 billion. While Nigeria spends far less on its education program, UBE funding can annually be no less than two percent of the Nigerian consolidated revenue fund (which the National Assembly originally proposed as 10 percent before it was vetoed by President Olusegun Obasanjo), while NCLB last yea," comprised less than one percent of the annual budget and has no required budgetary allocation.

Since both programs are fairly young, statistics are not yet available on the success of either. However, some information can be gathered from their infrastructure. …