Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. These famous words by Nelson Mandela ring true for Nigeria today. With a large and rapidly growing youth population, Nigeria has the potential to transform into an economic powerhouse if it develops its human capital by investing heavily in education.
A better-educated, highly skilled workforce will not only raise productivity and incomes but will also create the bedrock for sustained long-term economic growth and development. As the saying goes, “The prosperity of a country depends not on the abundance of its revenues, nor on the strength of its fortifications, nor on the beauty of its public buildings, but it consists in the number of its cultivated citizens, in its men of education, enlightenment and character.”
There are strong economic arguments for investing in education in Nigeria. Education has been empirically shown to have major impacts on economic growth through multiple channels:
- Increasing human capital and labour productivity: Education imparts knowledge and cognitive skills that make workers more productive. This raises output per worker.
- Advancing technological innovation: Education, especially higher education, is crucial for developing new technologies and driving innovation. This expands the production possibilities frontier outwards.
- Facilitating structural transformation: As an economy develops, more advanced skills are needed to move workers from low-productivity agriculture to modern manufacturing and services. Education enables this crucial transformation.
- Promoting entrepreneurship: Education provides the skills necessary for starting new businesses that create jobs and wealth. Entrepreneurial skills are especially important for emerging economies like Nigeria.
- Improving health: Education, especially of girls, significantly improves health outcomes. Healthier workers are more productive and miss fewer days of work due to illness.
- Strengthening institutions: More educated citizens are better able to monitor and hold governments accountable. Education facilitates the development of modern democratic institutions and the rule of law.
Given the robust evidence on these channels, it is no surprise that countless studies have shown a strong correlation between educational attainment and economic growth. For Nigeria to achieve its potential, it must heavily invest in developing human capital from early childhood through tertiary education.
The Current State of Education in Nigeria
To understand how to move forward, we must first understand where Nigeria currently stands in terms of educational outcomes. The present situation leaves much to be desired.
Nigeria has made significant strides in improving access to primary education. According to UNESCO, the primary school net enrolment rate rose from 61.3% in 2005 to 70.5% in 2017. The number of out-of-school children of primary school age fell from 10.5 million to 8.7 million over the same period. While these gains are laudable, the fact remains that nearly one-third of primary-aged children remain out of school. Completion rates for primary education remain low.
Secondary school enrolment and completion rates are very low compared to peer countries. The net enrolment rate in secondary school is only 43.8% as of 2017. There are high dropout rates, with only 54% of lower secondary students transitioning to upper secondary schooling. The system faces major challenges of poor infrastructure, overcrowding in urban areas, and geographical inequalities.
Skills gained from education lag behind other lower-middle income countries. On standardized international assessments, Nigerian students perform poorly compared to other sub-Saharan nations. The average Nigerian child attends school for only about 7 years, learning much less than their counterparts in other emerging economies.
University education has expanded rapidly but is undermined by chronic underfunding. Nigeria has 170 universities across the country, up from only 30 in 1990. However, spending per university student amounts to only USD 1,800 annually, compared to USD 14,800 in South Africa. Universities suffer from overcrowding, poor facilities, and frequent faculty strikes.
The learning crisis has led to a shortage of skills despite high unemployment. Paradoxically, even with Nigeria’s very high unemployment rate of over 23%, firms consistently report difficulty finding workers with adequate literacy, numeracy, and technical abilities. This skills mismatch demonstrates that the education system is failing to produce sufficient human capital.
Stark inequalities in education remain between the rich and poor states. The southern states of Nigeria tend to have higher school enrolment and learning outcomes than northern states. Inequities between rural and urban areas also persist. Gender imbalances have narrowed but have not disappeared – the ratio of girls to boys enrolled in primary school rose from 0.83 in 2008 to 0.95 in 2017.
Public education spending is far below global benchmarks. Nigeria spends less than 6% of GDP on education, compared to the international target of 15% – 20%. Total public expenditure per pupil is less than USD 150 annually, which covers salaries but leaves little for maintenance, facilities, textbooks, etc.
This analysis shows that while some strides have been made, Nigeria’s education system currently falls far short of its needs and potential. Massive investments and reforms will be needed to build the workforce required for 21st-century economic success. Significant progress will only come through concerted long-term efforts by policymakers over multiple years and decades.
Challenges Facing the Education System
A variety of interlinked forces have hampered the development of education in Nigeria. Tackling these challenges must be the first order of business.
Insufficient funding and budgetary allocation are major issues. As highlighted earlier, Nigeria spends a very small share of GDP on education compared to international standards, and in per capita terms, the budget is wholly inadequate. Increased funding is vital for hiring competent teachers, purchasing learning materials, improving infrastructure and facilities, and raising quality.
Misallocation of resources worsens funding constraints. A disproportionate 75% of the education budget goes to recurrent spending on overhead and salaries, leaving only 25% for capital expenditure. teacher absenteeism. There are often delays in the release of budgeted funds to schools due to red tape. Padding of nominal rolls with ghost teachers and corruption divert resources from classrooms.
Deficiencies in quality teaching force persist. Teacher absenteeism is rampant, estimated to be as high as 40% on average. Teaching is not seen as an attractive profession, with poor salaries and limited incentives for performance. Many teachers lack sufficient subject knowledge, especially in STEM fields. Regular training programs to upgrade pedagogical skills are absent. Fixing these issues requires major reforms in teacher management.
The curriculum fails to provide job-relevant skills. Secondary and tertiary curriculums remain overly focused on abstract concepts and theoretical knowledge. Vocational training and the development of practical skills get relatively little emphasis. Bringing education and employment goals into alignment will involve updating learning objectives.
Inadequate education sector management and supervision. Weak institutional capacity plagues education departments across federal, state and local governments. There is a lack of data-driven monitoring and accountability. Greater delegation of control from federal to state and local authorities can improve administration.
Cultural barriers impede the education of girls. Early marriage, poverty, and patriarchal social norms constrain educational access for girls, especially in northern Nigeria. 34% of girls are married before the age of 18. Scholarships, awareness programs, and recruitment of female teachers are needed to drive progress.
This list highlights that Nigeria faces a range of complex, interlinked challenges spanning funding, governance, teaching quality, infrastructure, and more. But the good news is that many other developing countries have successfully overcome similar problems. By learning from global best practices and implementing careful reforms, Nigeria can make great strides.
Policy Recommendations for Improving the Education System
- Substantially increase public expenditure on education: As an urgent priority, spending on education needs to rise from 6% to at least 15% of GDP, in line with global benchmarks. The increased resources should be allocated towards improving school infrastructure, purchasing textbooks/technology, training and support for teachers, and scholarships for disadvantaged students.
- Enhance budget efficiency: Eliminate corruption and ghost workers to free up resources lost to waste and fraud. Improve the balance between capital vs. recurrent spending from 25:75 to 40:60, to create fiscal space for investment. Decentralize more budget authority to the state and local levels.
- Launch extensive school building and rehabilitation programs: To accommodate Nigeria’s rapidly growing youth population, investment is urgently needed in school infrastructure – especially classrooms, furniture, toilets, and electricity. A major nationwide drive should be launched to modernize the physical facilities at primary and secondary schools.
- Reform teacher management: Raise teacher salaries and tie pay to performance to make teaching an attractive profession. Tackle absenteeism through monitoring and stiffer penalties. Provide regular pedagogical training for continuous skills development. Hire more teachers to improve the student-teacher ratio to 30:1.
- Upgrade the curriculum: Nigeria’s curriculum needs to shift from rote learning toward more interactive instruction and the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Expand vocational and technical training options for secondary students to improve employability. Keep curriculums in sync with job market needs through private sector involvement.
- Bridge the digital divide: Integrating educational technologies (like online learning platforms and video content) into classrooms is essential for building skills for the 21st century. Public-private partnerships can finance the provision of electricity, computer hardware, and internet connectivity across schools.
- Boost girls’ enrolment: Provide scholarships, free meals and take-home rations for girls at government schools to lower barriers to access. Strictly enforce laws against child marriage. Recruit and train female teachers to provide role models. Provide adequate toilet facilities to make schools girl-friendly.
- Decentralize control from federal to state level: Allow state governments more autonomy in curriculum design, budgeting, teacher management, and administration. Strengthen capacity of state education ministries for better implementation and monitoring of education programs.
- Partner with the private sector: Encourage private schools to play a complementary role in providing education. Implement public-private partnerships (PPPs) for financing school infrastructure, educational technologies, and skills training programs. Forge partnerships between schools and industry for apprenticeships.
- Improve data collection: Develop comprehensive national learning assessments and an improved Education Management Information System (EMIS) integrated across federal, state and local levels. Use data to identify gaps, monitor progress, and hold authorities accountable.
Pursuing such reforms in a comprehensive, coordinated package can start to transform Nigeria’s education system and develop the skilled workforce needed for 21st-century jobs. But sustained long-term commitment and financing will be essential to see gains over 10 to 20 years.
The Promising Potential Impact of Investing in Education
While the challenges are steep, Nigeria’s youth demographics give it an extraordinarily promising future if the education system can equip young people with the right skills. With a massive population under 25 years old that is projected to keep growing, Nigeria has the potential for a major demographic dividend from its youth. But this can only be achieved through extensive investment in human capital development.
If successfully implemented, the reforms outlined above can have huge positive impacts:
- Dramatically improving learning outcomes across schools, leading to a more skilled and productive labour force
- Increasing enrolment and completion rates, ensuring all Nigerian youth get proper education
- Creating economic empowerment by giving youth the tools to earn higher incomes and escape poverty
- Boosting employment by aligning skills with the needs of industries
- Unleashing entrepreneurship and innovation by developing creative problem-solving abilities
- Accelerating economic growth through increased productivity and technology adoption
- Empowering girls and women by closing gender gaps in access to education
- Curbing population growth because educated girls tend to delay marriage and have fewer, healthier children
- Fostering social mobility so that all citizens have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, regardless of family background
- Strengthening Nigerian democracy and institutions by developing active, engaged citizens
In short, investing in developing Nigeria’s human capital through education holds the promise of inclusive growth and sustainable development. It is the path to shared prosperity, stability and harmony. The transparent and accountable governance of resources will help restore people’s faith in public systems.
As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For Nigeria’s vast, young population, it represents the key to unlocking their enormous potential. An educated populace is truly a country’s most precious national resource in our globalized world.
If Nigeria seizes this historic opportunity, its economic ascent can propel the African continent to new heights. With the right reforms, the sleeping giant of Africa will awaken and take its rightful place on the world stage. Nigeria’s future – and indeed Africa’s future – lies in its classrooms.