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The State of Private Schools in Nigeria: Challenges and Opportunities

The education sector in Nigeria has experienced tremendous growth in recent decades, largely driven by the proliferation of private schools at the primary and secondary levels. With more than 90% of schools in Nigeria being privately owned, private schools have become fundamental in providing educational access to millions of Nigerian students.

However, along with the immense growth come unique challenges that must be addressed for private schools to realise their full potential and provide high-quality education. This article provides an in-depth examination of the current state of private schools in Nigeria, analyzing the major opportunities as well as the critical challenges facing the sector.

Overview of Private Schools in Nigeria

  • As of 2020, Nigeria had over 100,000 private primary and secondary schools compared to about 10,000 public schools.
  • 91% of primary school pupils and 77% of secondary school students are enrolled in private institutions.
  • The number of private schools increased 5-fold between 2002 and 2020 compared to public schools which tripled.
  • Enrollment in private schools grew 10 times faster than in public schools over the past two decades.
  • Private schools significantly outnumber public schools across all 36 states and the FCT.

This rapid expansion of private education has been driven by:

  • Increasing population and demand for education. Nigeria has the largest youth population in Africa.
  • Insufficient public education infrastructure. Public schools lack capacity to meet demand.
  • Perceived better quality of private schools by parents.
  • Policy changes including universal basic education (UBE) which increased access.
  • Profitability attracts investors despite challenges.

Overall, the growth of private education has expanded access to schooling for millions of Nigerian children. However, major problems in the sector continue to persist.

Challenges Facing Private Schools in Nigeria

Despite the proliferation of private schools in Nigeria, the sector faces some significant challenges:

Poor Infrastructure and Learning Environment

  • Many private schools operate in unsuitable makeshift facilities like uncompleted buildings, shops, and centres.
  • Lack of amenities like furniture, libraries, playgrounds, sanitation facilities, and electricity.
  • Overcrowded classrooms with high teacher-to-student ratios (1:100+).
  • This poor infrastructure negatively impacts teaching and learning.

Underqualified Teachers

  • Teachers often do not have the required qualifications and training.
  • Low pay and benefits make attracting and retaining good teachers difficult.
  • High turnover as teachers seek better opportunities.
  • Poor teacher quality affects learning outcomes.

Weak Regulation and Standardization

  • Multiple regulatory bodies with overlapping functions like SMOE, NERDC, NCCE.
  • Conflicting regulations on issues like curriculum, quality assurance, and school establishment.
  • Non-compliance and enforcement challenges due to the sheer number of schools.
  • No standardized national examinations/assessments to measure standards.

High Costs and Limited Access

  • High fees make private schools unaffordable for the poor.
  • Limited access for girls, children with disabilities, and other marginalized groups.
  • Schools concentrated in urban areas and southern regions. Rural and northern regions are underserved.

Financial Sustainability

  • High operating costs coupled with non-payment of fees affect sustainability.
  • Overdependence on school fees as the main source of revenue.
  • High taxes, fees, and levies charged by govt. agencies.
  • Difficulty accessing loans/capital for growth and improvement.

Opportunities and Developments in the Sector

Despite the challenges, there are also important opportunities in the private education sector in Nigeria:

Technology Adoption

  • Schools are leveraging technology for administration, teaching, learning, and security.
  • Edtech solutions enable personalized learning, better monitoring, and improved outcomes.
  • Online platforms for payments, communication with parents, and remote learning.

Increased Investment

  • Significant interest from education investors and commercial banks to fund expansion.
  • Private equity funds dedicated to education like Gray Matters Capital, Omidyar Network, Rise Fund etc.
  • Partnerships between schools and financial institutions to provide education loans.

Favourable Government Policies

  • Policies like UBE, Education Tax Fund promote private sector participation.
  • Government incentives like land grants, tax holidays to encourage investment.
  • More PPP initiatives between public and private players.
  • Discussion around education reforms to improve standards.

International School Growth

  • Increasing demand for international curricula like Cambridge, IB Diploma etc.
  • High demand from expatriates, Nigerians abroad, and middle/upper class.
  • Opportunity to achieve global standards and university placements.

Vocational and Technical Training

  • Strong demand for vocational education and skills training.
  • Schools expanding offerings in technology, vocational trades, services etc.
  • Aligning curriculum with industry needs and innovations like STEM.

Improving Standards and Best Practices

  • Accreditation models and quality assurance programs gaining traction.
  • Associations promoting standards and knowledge sharing like ANFE.
  • Scope for clusters, partnerships, and collaboration to share best practices.

Addressing the Challenges Facing Private Schools

To maximize the potential of private schools to provide quality education at scale in Nigeria, concerted efforts must be made by stakeholders to address the key challenges:

Stronger Government Regulation and Quality Assurance

  • Clarity on roles of regulatory agencies, reducing overlaps and duplication.
  • Stringent licensing, establishment procedures, and inspections.
  • Accreditation standards and frameworks to improve quality.
  • Testing and assessments to measure standards across schools.
  • Enforce minimum infrastructure standards for health, safety and learning.
  • Crackdown on illegal schools while encouraging compliant ones.

Increased Access to Capital

  • Make low-cost financing available for infrastructure and operations.
  • Government subsidized loans and grants for education providers.
  • Tax incentives and holidays to improve financial position.
  • Promote access to impact investing and education-focused venture capital.

Investment in Teacher Training

  • Provide affordable training programs for teachers in private schools.
  • Set minimum qualification requirements for teachers.
  • Promote industry partnerships to train teachers on curricula relevant to the job market.
  • Provide ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers.

Public-Private Partnerships

  • Collaboration between government and private schools to improve access and standards.
  • PPP models like charter schools and infrastructure sharing to optimize resources.
  • Incentivize private investment in underserved areas through matching grants and subsidies.
  • Leverage private sector expertise in administration, management and technology.

Support for School Management

  • Training and assistance for school heads and administrators to strengthen organization and compliance.
  • Help schools develop business plans, accounting, compliance, and performance monitoring capabilities.
  • Encourage cluster-based models for joint administrative functions like procurement, quality assurance, teacher training etc. to reduce costs.

Promote Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue

  • Discussions between policymakers, school owners, educationists, investors and community to align efforts.
  • Allow self-regulation through industry associations to set standards and disseminate best practices.
  • Provide a platform for schools to articulate challenges, provide feedback, and engage in policy decisions affecting them.

Incentives for Innovation and Best Practices

  • Award schemes to recognize schools delivering high-quality education.
  • Grants for research and knowledge-sharing platforms.
  • Allow successful schools to replicate and scale practices through networks and franchising.
  • Create sandboxes for controlled piloting of innovative education models.

With targeted collaboration and solutions, Nigeria’s private education sector can leapfrog challenges and fulfill its immense potential to provide learning opportunities for the next generation of Nigerians.


Private schools have become indispensable in expanding access to education and serving the burgeoning youth population of Africa’s largest economy. However, for Nigeria to reap dividends from its young population, private schools must overcome pressing challenges around delivering high-quality and affordable education.

Addressing infrastructure constraints, teacher training gaps, uneven regulation, high costs and financial viability will require a holistic approach with active participation of all stakeholders. With improved access to financing, stronger government oversight, public-private partnerships, professional development and sharing of best practices, private schools can rise to the challenge.

The growth of private education also presents an attractive impact investment opportunity for commercial and social investors eyeing the promising education sector. As Nigeria continues to urbanize and its middle class expands, demand for quality private education will remain robust. With the right solutions and sustained focus on raising standards, Nigeria’s private schools have immense potential to equip the next generation with knowledge and skills to drive national development.


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