In a bid to improve the federal republic's education sector, Nigeria's National Council on Education (NCE) recently adopted a new plan to make school reform a top priority. "The Roadmap on the Nigeria Education Sector" targets four major areas: access and equity; standards and quality assurance; technical and vocational education; training funding, and resource mobilisation and utilisation. By approving the plan in May, the NCE has signalled its commitment to transforming the nation's underperforming schools.
Concrete objectives and specific benchmarks differentiate this plan from past efforts. In a speech at the NCE meeting, the Minister of Education, Sam Egwu, noted that previously, good ideas have been beset by impractical implantation efforts. "There needs to be clearly articulated targets and outcomes for states and agencies against which performance (in delivery of education) can be monitored, evaluated and compared," he said. He also called for greater coordination and transparency among the federal, state and local education authorities to establish a more effective nationwide system.
As a plot programme, the first phase of implementation will be limited to a sample of schools across the country. These projects will receive extra resources and funding over the next two years, with those measures that are deemed successful being extended throughout the sector.
Given the extent of the reform necessary, the step-by-step approach is a smart move. Education has recently become a major national priority, but President Umaru Yar'Adua has committed the government to the improvement of the nation's schools, and even listed education among the top-seven sectors slated for reform. Still, since Yar'Adua made that announcement in 2007, progress has been slow. The World Economic Forum's "Global Competitiveness Index 2008-09" ranked Nigeria's health and primary education systems 126 out of 134 countries. Its higher education and training did not fare much better, coming in at 108. Both of these statistics are well below Nigeria's overall rank of 94, suggesting that the country has thus far failed to put sufficient resources into the sector. Indeed, it ranked 127 in terms of education expenditure.
Despite these figures, there is a silver lining amidst the data – the significantly better scores for the quality of Nigeria's education sector. The low marks come primarily from underdevelopment, including limited enrolment, lack of infrastructure and teachers, but the systems stack up well in terms of content, with the quality of primary education at 88 and the quality of higher education at 60. These higher ranks suggest that there is a good foundation for the roadmap to improve upon.
To improve the overall scores, however, major changes are needed across the board. The roadmap's list of obstacles is a daunting one: out-of-school children, lack of essential infrastructure, gender disparity, poverty, curriculum relevance and review, information and communications technology (ICT) and teacher development, motivation and retention, among other problem areas.
Basic enrolment figures are one of the biggest hurdles across the entire sector. According to statistics provided in the roadmap, 22m children are expected to be enrolled in the first three years of education, but only 2.02m actually are, leaving a gap of 19.98m. The shortfalls are less dramatic for primary and junior secondary, at 10.5m and 6m, respectively, but they are still at high levels. Nomadic and migrant children are categorised separately because they are part of an informal education system, but they face an equally daunting gap, with only 450,000 out of 3.5m school-aged learners in school. The problems continue in upper levels of education, with a gross enrolment ratio of 31.4% for secondary schools as of 2005 (the last year statistics were available). Technical schools and universities are also under-enrolled, primarily because of insufficient capacity – technical colleges admit only 2.5% of graduates from basic education and universities take 6% of applicants.
The roadmap offers detailed strategies to combat these figures, each with specific deadlines for progress. Across the board, the plans seek to improve infrastructure and teacher recruitment strategies. New classrooms, technologies and instructors will be provided over the next two years to build capacity and retain students. Additionally, ICT is set to become an important focus of Nigerian schools. By 2011, the government aims for all academic staff to attain computer literacy, increase the number of ICT teachers by 20% and increase funding for ICT development and deployment by 40%. While many of these goals are driven by the demands of higher education, primary and secondary schools will also benefit. Functional ICT laboratories, with a minimum of 10 computers each, and internet connectivity will be built in 20% of primary and junior secondary schools.
The sheer scale of the programme requires input from a variety of sources. Multiple government agencies will participate, as well as the private sector and international funding partners. The plan lists the 2009, 2010 and 2011 budget as one of the primary sources of money, but if the 2009 budget is any indication, the Ministry of Education may have to look further – the N33.6bn ($226m) allocated is less than 2% of the total budget, a small fraction of the 26% recommended by UNESCO to create real change in developing nations. Good news, however, came for the programme in May. The government announced that it had received grants totalling N196.6bn ($1.3bn) from the World Bank and the British Department for International Development to help finance the roadmap. This collaboration is certainly a good thing, both for practical reasons and also because it demonstrates the support of the international community. However, in order for the plans to be sustainable, the government will have to step up and provide the requisite financial support.