The rapid growth of the Nigerian economy has meant an equally rapid increase in the need for a skilled and educated workforce. Delivering quality education to students in an emerging market of 160m people presents a number of challenges and opportunities that will have a great impact on the future of the country. There have been signs of improvement in the sector, but there is still much work to be done. Increasingly, federal and state governments are looking to the private sector and non-state actors participation through partnership and collaboration.

HISTORY: In the years preceding independence in 1960, various regional governments introduced education plans to increase the participation of eligible students. In 1976 the federal government instituted compulsory primary education through its Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme, which prompted greater primary school participation across the country. Beginning in 1996 the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has provided financial support and equipment to existing projects aimed at reducing illiteracy. Subsequently, the UPE was reconstituted into the Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme, which promotes access to education for all.

The UBE scheme seeks to promote and emphasise the importance of education, while reducing dropout and illiteracy rates. The programme also provides nine years of free schooling at the primary and secondary levels. While the UBE may show that the government understands there are shortcomings in the system, inadequate funding has been an issue.

GENDER GAP: In 2010 the overall primary school enrolment rate was 83%, according to the World Bank, which estimates that between 60% and 70% of Nigerian children go on to graduate from secondary school. Meanwhile, the country’s literacy rate was 64.2% in 2006. Although this figure is low, youth literacy rates are trending higher. As of 2010, 78% of males and 65% of females between the ages of 15 and 24 could read and write, according to UNICEF.

A higher percentage of males than females are enrolled at all levels of the country’s education system. Enrolment rates in schools are lower in the north than the south due to the prominence of religious conservatism in the region. Overall, some 8.6m children who are eligible for primary school do not attend, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

There are encouraging signs, however. In 2009 the Teachers Registration Council noted that nationwide, the number of female teachers had surpassed the number of males teaching in secondary schools.

Women in the education field may be facing fewer obstacles than in past years, thanks in part to the expansion of the Nigerian middle class. As in most other countries, higher-income families are more likely to enrol their children in formal educational institutions. It should be noted, however, that universities remain dominated by men, both in terms of student bodies and in faculty and staff.

FRAGMENTATION: The diversity in educational outcomes in different regions is a by-product of the fact that states are primarily responsible for administering education. Tunde Adekola, the senior education specialist at the World Bank, estimates the primary school enrolment rate in the south is between 90% and 95%, while the rate in the north is much lower, with some areas seeing less than 50% enrolment. He noted the disparity in quality teachers as well, stating that 80-90% of teachers in the south have licensed qualifications, while in the north the figure is about 50%. Logistical issues can hinder progress as well. Rural areas also tend to experience lower enrolment rates due to schools being far from students’ homes. This is exacerbated by the fact that families do not always have access to transportation.

“Nigeria’s states are like 36 separate countries,”

Adekola told OBG when noting the states’ administration of education. “Some states are doing a better job educating their students. It is a question of leadership that starts from the top; from the governor to the education ministers down to the teachers. There is a demand for capability. People want children to learn and do better.”

FUNDING: The 2012 federal budget provides an allocation of $2.56bn for education, constituting 8.4% of the total budget. This figure is well below the 26% recommended by UNESCO, and lower than several of Nigeria’s West African peers, including Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. The funding also falls short of what is called for by Nigeria’s Vision 20: 2020 plan, which set an annual target of $3.92bn in education spending. Inadequate government funding has been a recurring theme in the sector and it shows. Lack of human resources, facilities and insufficient supplies have hampered progress.

Primary education is funded by the federal, state and local governments, with the federal level paying for instructional materials and teacher training programmes through the UBE Intervention Fund. Secondary and tertiary education are funded by the federal and state governments.

The government is taking steps to attract greater private sector participation, which will be critical going forward, especially if public funding of education remains low. In 2007 the Ministry of Education (MoE) released its 10-Year Strategic Education Plan, which recognises the role the private sector must play if education is to improve. This includes everything from a pledge to increase the number of public-private partnerships (PPPs), as well as helping tailor curricula to better equip students with the necessary skills for when they enter the workforce.

The private sector is also providing financial support at the tertiary level, according to Rahamon Bello, the acting vice-chancellor at the University of Lagos. “We liaise with various foreign universities and are looking for more international partnerships. International oil companies and smaller indigenous businesses have also provided funding to public universities to increase educational technical capacity, and this is an important financing mechanism, as the government sources are low,” he told OBG.

International organisations continue to be important players in the Nigerian education system. The Department for International Development in the UK pledged $294.4m to increase enrolment by 800,000 and improve education standards by providing 66,000 teachers with training in maths, science and English over a period of six years. Even after the plan is fully implemented, Nigeria will have further to go to ensure there is an ample supply of qualified human capital in the education sector.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS: The 10-Year Strategic Education Plan is an ambitious programme that seeks a massive overhaul of the education system. One scenario outlined by the plan sets several notable benchmarks. Among them is a 100% gross enrolment ratio of children aged three to five by the year 2020; free and compulsory UBE at the primary and junior secondary levels, with special attention given to girls and economically disadvantaged children; a senior secondary education gross enrolment ratio of 43% by 2020, compared to 30% in 2006; and an increase in the adult literacy rate to 75% by the year 2015, and 85% by the year 2020. The government has been placing particular emphasis on reducing the existing gender disparity between boys and girls at all levels of education, particularly higher learning, which is the most male-dominated among all levels.

Increasing the adult literacy rate from 64.2% to 75% in 2015 may prove to be the biggest challenge. To this end, the government has initiated several programmes aimed at curbing adult illiteracy, including ventures with UNESCO. In 2011 the organisation and the Nigerian government announced it would finance a $6m adult and youth literacy project to be administered by UNESCO. Current estimates state that some 50m Nigerians are still functionally illiterate.

Upon announcing the agreement, Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, offered strong words of support, saying, “As the UN’s specialised agency for education, UNESCO has at its disposal a huge reservoir of expertise and experience. Every effort will be made to mobilise and effectively deploy these resources for the benefit of Nigeria.” The 42-month project is ongoing, with UNESCO working out of Abuja with federal, state and local governments to oversee the efficient implementation of the programme.

The $6m agreement is the fourth such project between UNESCO and Nigeria since 2004, all of which are currently still in operation. In 2008 the federal government pledged $2.15m to vocational and technical training; in 2005 it allocated $3m to support science in technology education at the primary, secondary and university levels; and in 2004 the government committed $1m to boost Nigeria’s science and technology system. Engineering may be one area where there could be significant returns to public investment. “It is necessary to have a deeper concentration on engineering training programs to develop technical capacity in this country. There is big potential for technical education in the automation industry, and Nigerians display a significant willingness to learn,” Peter Sengpiel, the managing director of Festo Nigeria, the local unit of the global automation technology company, told OBG.

REGIONAL ACTION: Tasked with delivering education, state governments have also been proactive in reforming the sector. In May 2012 Kano State announced the creation of six-month long adult literacy classes its 8000 polling stations, and the recruiting of 8000 teachers and other staff. This comes on the heels of the establishment of 5000 new classrooms across the state, placing Kano on its way to realising its goal of full enrolment by 2015.

The administration of Goodluck Jonathan has also shifted focus to an oft-forgotten demographic, the Almajiri, or “street children” who are neglected by the educational system. Typically, Almajiri come from the predominantly Islamic north, and from schools that base their curricula on the teachings of the Quran. In his Democracy Day address in May 2012, Jonathan praised the creation of the Almajiri Education Programme, which aims to lower the number of Almajiri — currently at around 9m. Approximately 5m of these live in the north-west of the country. Jonathan declared that over the next four years, 400 schools will be built to cater to this group, including both day and boarding schools.

Although being done in conjunction with the states, the federal government has been the primary driving force behind this initiative. The federal Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) had already seen to the construction of 51 schools by April 2012. UBEC is also ensuring compliance with federal standards, while also providing funding for the purchase of school supplies, equipment and the training of teachers. The actual administration of the schools, however, are being carried out by the states.

NON-FORMAL EDUCATION: Until recently, there had been little interest in developing non-formal education, but a key component of President Jonathan’s education policy has been to cultivate a vibrant non-formal subsector, particularly in underprivileged parts of the country. The government is making encouraging progress in this area. Non-formal education takes place in a formal setting, but is not officially recognised by any of the government education agencies. Education in this area usually includes seminars, workshops and distance learning.

An important player in the improvement of adult literacy rates is the National Commission for Adult Education Mass Literacy and Non-Formal Education (NMEC), which is a parastatal branch of the MoE. The NMEC is largely responsible for the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan’s plans to reduce adult illiteracy. In 2012 the NEMC is set to establish a series of national literacy centres across Nigeria, which will also provide vocational training.

Despite being the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria suffers from a shortage of skilled workers across multiple sectors. In an effort to develop a more skilled workforce, the federal government implemented the Local Content Act in 2010. The act seeks to increase the participation of Nigerians in the country’s oil and gas sectors.

Specifically, the act grants special privileges to companies that meet the minimum threshold for qualifying as “Nigerian companies”. Under the law, a company is deemed Nigerian and eligible for privileges if 51% of the shares issued by it are held by Nigerians. The firm must also house at least 10% of its local profits in Nigerian banks, and invest in the development of local human resources.

UNIVERSITY SEGMENT: On this front, the progress at the university level has been measurable. Barred up until 1999, the 34 private higher education institutions comprise one-third of Nigeria’s universities. In the 2009-10 academic year, there were 400,000 applicants to public and private universities combined. The private institutions enrolled 32,000 students, compared to the 150,000 accepted by the public universities. Despite the shortage of openings, great progress has been made in the past 15 years. Since the 1996-97 school year, the number of open slots at universities has nearly doubled from 79,904, according to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. Many schools would like to enrol more students, but lack the capacity to do so. For example, the University of Lagos saw 40,000 applications for the 2011-12 school year for its 6000 openings. To alleviate some of this backlog, in 2011 the MoE announced the creation of nine new public universities to open in 2012, along with the disbursement of $9.79m for each of the institutions.

The World Bank reported in 2010 that tuition and fees at private Nigerian universities average more than 30% of per-capita income in the country, although the costs are on a par with other West African nations. As a result, public universities are the first and often only choice of the majority of Nigeria’s students seeking enrolment. Matriculation into federal and state universities typically requires payment of a modest tuition. The availability of credit is limited in general, and this is particularly true for young adults hoping to enrol at universities. Student loans are virtually unheard of because of the difficulty lenders have in verifying personal information and assessing an individual’s creditworthiness.

In addition to limited capacity, public and private tertiary institutions face other obstacles. One is a poorly defined accreditation process. Quality postgraduate educational opportunities are also limited. Not surprisingly, the better opportunities tend to exist at private institutions for those who can afford them. Currently there exists no financing mechanism for students seeking to attend university but lack the funds to enrol. As such, government scholarship programmes could be expanded to extend higher education opportunities to more secondary school graduates. The implementation of a government voucher plan is also another option for students seeking matriculation in private universities but lack the financial means for doing so. Indeed, the Special Presidential Scholarship Scheme launched in 2012 is directed toward this very aim RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: Like most countries in Africa, research and development (R&D) in Nigeria remains underdeveloped, though strides are being made to improve its capacity. The creation of linkages between industry and university/research institutes should help increase interaction between the academic and private sectors. The Ministry of Science and Technology, along with the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), oversees the expansion of R&D initiatives.

NOTAP has already created 30 intellectual property technology transfer offices (IPTTOs) in universities, polytechnics and research institutes across the country. Modelled after a similar system in the UK, the IPTTOs are designed to create a strong intellectual property rights system, while incentivising and encouraging individual research and partnerships.

Additionally, in order to shape a more active private sector, the NOTAP Industry Fund was created to draw resources from the private sector to sponsor research-related initiatives and support Nigerians seeking PhD degrees. NOTAP is also overseeing the development of science and technology parks across the country. In 2011 it was announced a partnership agreement had been reached between NOTAP and the Abuja Geographic Information Systems agency to create what could soon become the largest science and technology park in Africa, known as the Africa Premier Innovation Corridor (APIC).

APIC would likely house such government organisations as the National Biotechnology Development Agency and National Space Research and Development Agency, as well as private firms and universities. A similar memorandum of understanding was reached in May 2012 between NOTAP and the University of Port-Harcourt to establish an oil and gas technology park. Nigeria already has several smaller information and communications technology (ICT) parks, such as Kano State ICT Park, while Delta State has announced it plans for an ICT park in Asaba with the goal of creating an additional 15,000 jobs.

OUTLOOK: The government has seen substantial progress in reducing both adult and youth illiteracy rates over the past several years, and has raised enrolment rates at all levels of schooling. However, further progress is needed if Nigeria is to reach its Vision 20:2020 education goals, as well as realise the provisions in its education plan. Government funding remains low, at 8.3% in 2012, well below UNESCO’s recommended figure of 26% for developing countries. As such, the government has been seeking greater private sector participation in the sector.

Government agencies must continue with their efforts to promote literacy, especially through non-formal education. As the government relies largely on self-reporting when tabulating literacy data, statistics often do not reflect the underlying realities. While the government has been proactive in combating literacy and other educational issues, it must allocate a larger portion of its budget to education if the goals in its education plans are to materialise.

Incentivising school performance by making certain levels of aid contingent upon performance that can be measured accurately may be one option for improving the nation’s schools. For their part, states must take the initiative and implement innovative programmes geared toward boosting school enrolment and the number of qualified teachers, as well as the availability of teaching resources and technology.