Education in Nigeria is divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary. The first six years of formal education in Nigeria are free and compulsory by law; and on average, each Nigerian child is meant to spend 16 years combined going through the country’s education system.
Yet one in five out-of-school children globally is in Nigeria, making up about 20% of children that are not getting any kind of formal education globally.
This situation exists because Nigeria’s education sector is plagued with quite a few issues that need to be fixed to ensure that every child has access to quality education, in line with the UN’s Global Goal 4 for quality education, starting with these five:
Similar to health care, education is seriously underfunded in Nigeria. In 2018, only 7% of the national budget was allocated to education, far below UNESCO’s recommended 15%-26%. In 2020, it was 6.7%.
While many schools are owned and funded by the government, the education sector is also heavily privatised with private, often more expensive schools proliferating across various levels of education. These schools are usually out of the reach of most Nigerians, who live below the poverty line.
Public schools, which are funded by the government, are generally cheaper but they typically lack quality facilities and learning tools. Classrooms are often in disrepair and many public school buildings are falling apart.
Teachers are also not paid very well and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has gone on labour and welfare-related strikes almost every year since 1992.
Hawa points at the blackboard in class while her teacher looks on, in Gwoza, Nigeria, May 2, 2019. As of June 2019, more than 1.9 million children had been forced out of school due to an increase in violence and insecurity across West and Central Africa.
Most of the Nigerian education curriculum is still based on the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme that it adopted in 1981, thus limiting the amount of digital skills many Nigerian students are able to receive via formal education compared to their counterparts in other countries.
“Of course the curriculum is outdated. We often have to update them ourselves as things evolve in the world. Imagine teaching kids about floppy disks and 90s programming languages but in 2020. There is a disconnect between what they are seeing at home and on TV and what they are being taught in school,” a lecturer at a private university in Lagos told Global Citizen, preferring to not be named.
“When these kids go on social media and see how people in other countries learn, the things they are learning about. Even they know what they are being taught in school is dated and they have little faith in what we try to teach them. That’s why we update what we are teaching on the go. We don’t wait for the authorities to chart the path,” he added.
The Nigerian curriculum is not unified as well. Some schools teach Quranic curricula, others follow a Montessori (developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori in 1907) programme, and yet more follow other curricula.
3. Teacher training and upskilling
According to a 2012 inter-ministerial committee report on the state of Nigerian universities, just 43% of Nigeria's 37,504 university lecturers have PhDs. This trickles down to lower levels of education where there are few properly qualified teachers and a lot of less qualified ones.
There are also no nationally-recognised teacher hiring guidelines and private school teaching is hardly regulated. Issues like this leave huge quality gaps in the education of Nigerian children.
“I often have to take courses on my own to refresh my skills or pick up new things that could be useful to my students in the classroom. Sometimes I hear the older teachers talking about government courses but I’ve never seen anyone go for those. Some private school owners call experts to train their teachers too,” Oluwatosin Salako, a primary school teacher in Lagos, told Global Citizen.
“I don’t think people really think about the progressive nature of education and how it is not stagnant. There are teachers who want to improve themselves but can’t afford to because their salaries can barely feed them. It’s very tough,” Salako added.
Nigeria’s education sector is rife with corrupt practices. Stories of paid-for certificates, “special center” examinations, sexual harassment, extortion, and leaked questions are commonplace, especially in the country’s tertiary institutions.
Lecturers are also known to withhold test scores or fail students for personal reasons, often with no way for those students to get respite.
In primary and secondary schools, meanwhile there have been many reports of teachers sexually and physically abusing students; while many Nigerian schools generally allow teachers to flog children in school. In some regions of the country, it is even encouraged culturally.
A row of old desks lies across the road on the outskirts of Banki town in northeast Nigeria on May 1, 2019.
Most of Nigeria’s out-of-school children are in the Northeast and Northwest of the country, regions that have been heavily impacted by the Boko Haram insurgency for almost a decade.
“In northeastern Nigeria, 2.8 million children are in need of education-in-emergencies support in three conflict-affected States (Borno, Yobe, Adamawa). In these states, at least 802 schools remain closed and 497 classrooms are listed as destroyed, with another 1,392 damaged but repairable,” says the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Given these issues, it is important that Nigerians across all areas of society work together to ensure that the education system at the federal and state levels has improved capacity to provide quality basic education.
More teachers must have the tools to gain essential expertise and skills. This enables them to use validated teaching methodologies to provide sufficient quality education. Perhaps more importantly, children in emergency circumstances must have timely and affordable access to quality education services.
More than 75 million children globally miss out on the education they deserve because of conflict, natural disasters, or other crises. You can join the movement to ensure every child can access safe, free, and quality education by taking action here.