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“Nigeria Education System: Fixing the Learning Crisis” by Bisi Ogunwale

One of the policy goal of Universal Basic Education Road Map for the 2015 – 2020 Strategy is the need to “ensure the acquisition of appropriate levels of literacy, numeracy, manipulative, communicative, and life skills needed for laying a solid foundation for life-long learning.” It’s September 2019, four months before the year 2020. How has the country faired on this particular goal? 


On August 23, 2019, the leading newspaper in northern Nigeria, Daily Trust, carried a story that caught my attention, “Only 1.5 percent of early grade pupils in northern Nigeria read effectively, says expert.” According to the findings from a survey conducted by the Nigerian Center for Reading Research and Development (NCRRD), only 1.5 percent of children surveyed were able “to read and answer comprehension questions”. It further states that “Over 72 percent of them cannot read a word” in English language. The national average is 60 percent. 


The findings by NCRRD helps to put in proper perspective the Human Capital Index (HCI) launched by the World Bank in 2018. HCI conveys the productivity of the next generation of workers compared to a benchmark of complete education and full health by measuring the amount of human capital development a child born today can expect to attain by age 18. 


According to the HCI, a child born in Nigeria in 2018 will only acquire about 8.2 years of school education, on the average, by age 18. But when the year of school is adjusted for quality education, it was found that a Nigerian student only gets an equivalent of 4.3 years of school. The global and sub-Saharan Africa average is 7.9 and 4.9 years, respectively. Many countries in Africa are doing better than Nigeria!


Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act of 2004 provides that every Nigerian child is entitled to 9 years of uninterrupted basic education covering primary education up to Junior Secondary School (JSS) level. However, the World Bank HCI shows that, when adjusted for quality of education, a Nigerian child in JSS 3 will have only had school education equivalent of what is expected of a child in Primary 4.


According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the 2018 global average pupil-teacher ratio is 24 pupils per teacher while Nigerian average is 49. Nigeria faces the most significant shortage of teachers in the world, accounting for about 12 percent of the global total. The quality of teachers is poor, with unqualified primary teachers exceeding 40 percent of teaching staff. Early childhood education practically does not exist.  


Governments at different levels are very good at constituting committees which write beautiful reports with lovely recommendations, but the execution is always the problem. There is no doubt that that the governors and Commissioner for Education in different states lack a full understanding of how to fix the issues facing our primary education system. Furthermore, the re-appointment of Alhaji Adamu Adamu back to his position as the Minister of Education after four years of what I call inactivity is a rude shock, and one wonders if the President has any vision or plans for the educational sector at all. 


One thing is clear; the issues bedeviling our educational system cannot be fixed in isolation. Therefore, there is an urgent need to declare a national state of emergency on education in Nigeria and the federal government must take the lead in driving the process. A well-coordinated and centralized national emergency task force with the federal government at the forefront will help to drive funding and other resources to deal with the issues decisively. 


Teaching cannot and should never be the last result for people who could not find jobs in the private sector. The government must make concerted efforts to retain the best graduates in English language, mathematics, and sciences to teach. These people must be adequately trained, especially in early childhood education techniques. Beyond recruiting the best, training and retraining teaching staffs, there is also the issue of motivation. 


Currently, many teachers do not show up in school, and even when they do, they are either selling wares or using the students to run personal errands to make extra money. Teachers must be motivated with different incentives; for example; the government must ensure that teachers are adequately paid so that they are focussed on teaching. 


Learning requires a conducive atmosphere, so Nigeria needs to increase investment in school infrastructure significantly. Building classrooms and increasing the number of desks as many governors have celebrated over the years is not enough. Other school infrastructures include well-equipped libraries, laboratories for the science practical, open fields for games, games equipment, dormitories, sanitation facilities, and others. Physical Education and extra-curricular activities have now been relegated in so many schools. The fact that a school lacks decent toilets can harm learning. 


A recent study from the United Kingdom found that environmental and design elements of school infrastructure together accounted for about 16 percent of the variation in primary school’s academic progress. The study explains how three major factors – naturalness (e.g. light, air quality), stimulation (e.g. complexity, color), and individualization (e.g. flexibility of the learning space) – considered in school infrastructure design of primary schools have significant effects on the learning outcomes of the pupils. 


Although Nigeria is currently underfunding education at all levels of government, policymakers must do an audit to evaluate the effectiveness of the different educational policies they have formulated over the years. If government prioritize monitoring and evaluation of its budget spending on education, we will begin to see the enormous implication of not following through on every milestone in the goal. Instead of moving forward from where we were in 2015, the educational system has gotten worse. 


When I compared the quality of education received by my parents to what I received and how the current education system in Nigeria is, it is unfortunate to note that in Nigeria, with every generation the level of education keeps falling. Meanwhile, other African countries like Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia are recording significant progress in improving the productivity level of their citizens. 


As President Muhammadu Buhari goes into his second 4-year term in office, I hope that he will task his education minister to put together the foundation towards building a more educated and productive country. 


  • Bisi Ogunwale is a public policy analyst.


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