The Need for Innovation, Including Non-State Actors, In Nigeria's Education Sector

July 08, 2015Abisola Bamtefa The Education Partnership Centre

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with a population of over 166.2 million, most of whom live below two dollars a day. The sheer size of the country’s population presents both risk and opportunity – the risk that state failure and a disenfranchised citizenry could lead to a major humanitarian catastrophe in sub-Saharan Africa, and the opportunity to harness the vast human resource potential to bolster the development of the country and continent. Education is pivotal in achieving the latter scenario for the nation; however the Nigerian education sector is widely viewed to currently be in crisis.

The country failed to meet any of the Education for All (EFA) 2015 global education goals, and is one of only a handful of countries with a primary-school enrolment number under 80%. Even the children that are able to access schools typically learn little. Monitoring Learning Achievement (MLA) studies carried out in 1996, 2003, and 2006 and 2009 reveal pervasive underachievement in Nigeria’s schools. In a study of three Nigerian States (Kano, Kaduna and Kwara), primary grade six pupils scored an average of 2.3 out of 33 marks on numeracy tests, whilst on literacy tests, an average of only 4.9 out of 29 comprehension questions were correctly answered (Johnson, Hsieh and Onibon, 2008). These dismal results are indicative of low levels of learning in the nation’s public schools, and are closely related to teacher quality. A teacher development needs assessment (TDNA) carried out by Johnson et al (2008) in Kwara State, Nigeria, revealed that only 7 out of 19,000 public school teachers (that is, 0.03%) were competent in Mathematics and English Language teaching. More recent reports also confirm that the quality of teaching and learning remains very poor.

Nigeria accounts for close to a fifth of the estimated 60 million children out of school globally - 10.5 million Nigerian children are not enrolled. There are persistently high levels of pupil dropout at primary level and those that are in school record pervasively low primary completion rates.

It has been identified that across sub-Saharan Africa, one of the key challenges to attaining the Education for All goals is the limited involvement of the non-state sector in the provision and management of education. With discussions around post-2015 global education goals bringing in to sharp profile the failure of States to deliver quality education in developing countries like Nigeria, the realisation is that alternative and innovative non-state models are needed not only to ensure education for all but to promote education of high quality for all.

Education and the non-state sector in Nigeria

The understanding that the challenges in the education sector place Nigeria’s development at risk has spurred several non-State and State-partnered initiatives. The import of non-State provision in achieving the EFA mandate is evident in a state like Lagos, where the share of non- State enrolments in primary and secondary schooling has risen to 48% (Lagos State Ministry of Education, 2010). In Nigeria, a limited number of empirically rigorous studies have sought to compare education outcomes in the public and private sectors. It is indicative that these studies typically find that after controlling for learner intake, there remains a significant achievement advantage to studying in schools which are run by non-State providers.

Besides the contribution of non-State stakeholders to developing the formal schooling sector, the last few years have seen a surge in innovative teaching and learning methods, curriculum delivery platforms, and academic assessment tools which are powered by the country’s nascent revolution in information and communications technology. Furthermore, although all registered companies in Nigeria are expected to pay 2% of their assessable profits to an education tax fund controlled by the federal government, several of these organisations undertake separate corporate social responsibility initiatives which directly influence access to and quality of education in Nigeria.

The state of education and the realisation of the regional implications of weak social and democratic institutions in Nigeria have also spurred the interest of the international community. Several large scale donor-supported education reform programmes have been deployed in Nigeria, including some innovative forms of technical assistance delivery, financing and public- private partnership (PPP). Some of these innovative models are transforming the lives of thousands of Nigerian children. Yet, in spite of the growing contributions of the non-State sector to education, a deliberate and concerted effort to identify, profile and analyse these contributions is glaringly lacking. Effective and scalable models of best practice remain relatively unknown. A map of education innovations in Nigeria does not exist, limiting the ability of the non-State sector to attract needed technical and financial support.

The number of private schools in Nigeria has increased over the years to close the gap observed in the public provision of education. However, evidence shows that their performances and learning outcome of learners are very low as in the public sector. While public schools, which are characterized by free tuition at the primary and junior secondary levels, tend to have better qualified teachers but they are poorly managed. Private schools on the other hand are privately financed and managed, are usually profit oriented, and are usually staffed by unqualified teachers. Key providers of private education include: religious bodies, cooperative and corporate organisations and private individuals.

Interventions in the education sector by national institutions and international organisations have increased in the past decade but the state of education in Nigeria is still wanting. New challenges, such as armed conflict, have also emerged to weaken impact of various interventions. The situation of Nigeria education sector therefore demands both innovative strategies and local initiatives to address. Chidi Ezegwu highlights the need for local initiatives for local challenges in order to address the increasing obstacles to equal and quality education for all in Nigeria. In this regard, TEP Centre is increasingly investigating the current state of education in Nigeria, embedded local factors that obstruct development of the sector and more result oriented ways to address the observed challenges and speed up educational development in Nigeria. More about these studies, their findings and innovations are regularly updated on the TEP Centre website.

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