By Samer Al-Samarrai, senior policy analyst, Education for All Global Monitoring Report
In the 2009 Global Monitoring Report we highlighted how a federal programme in Nigeria to provide additional funds for basic education was failing. The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) intervention fund had substantial resources; from 2005 to 2008 it had about $750 million to pay out. But only 60% of the funds were disbursed. Some states failed to receive any money from the fund because of problems ranging from inadequate policy coordination, complex bureaucratic procedures and weak capacity in state education ministries.
But things have changed, as Ian Attfield of the UK Department for International Development has noted. At the end of 2009 the backlog had been reduced considerably, releasing approximately $265 million for basic education. Based on rough calculations, that’s enough to build 25,000 classrooms or pay 80,000 primary school teachers for a year. These improvements have partly come about through rewards for good performance, threats to take away unclaimed funds and “naming and shaming” states that are not using their funds.
The northern state of Jigawa highlights the turnaround. Jigawa is one of the poorest states in Nigeria. Over 90% of the population live below the poverty line and most primary school age children don’t go to school (in 2006, over 60% of the primary school age population were not attending school). Poverty also affects the ability of local authorities in the state to provide education. Despite the obvious need, Jigawa received nothing from the UBEC fund in 2005 when it began. However, by the end of 2009 the state had cleared its backlog and new classroom construction had begun in 400 primary and junior secondary schools across the state to improve access.
Despite this impressive progress, the fund has the potential to do much more to narrow education inequality. About 70% of UBEC funds are distributed equally across states without any adjustment for differences in the ability of states and local authorities to finance education from their own resources. This exacerbates existing inequalities in spending on education across Nigerian states. For instance, Lagos is able to draw on substantial local tax revenues to finance education whereas sources of local financing are limited in a state like Jigawa. This leads to large inequalities in financing; in 2006, Jigawa spent $28 on primary education for each school aged child compared to $132 in Lagos. Building on its recent successes, UBEC could revisit its funding formula and play a stronger role in equalizing educational opportunity in Nigeria.