Education in Nigeria is in crisis: 10.5 million children are out of school, more than in any other country, and over half of adults in the country are illiterate, a legacy of decades of poor education. In response, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, attended an education summit yesterday in Abuja, Nigeria, together with President Goodluck Jonathan, state governors and the education commissioners of all 36 states.
The UN Special Envoy and the policy makers were joined by major education partners such as USAID, Qatar’s Educate a Child, the Global Partnership for Education, and the Global Business Coalition for Education. They were expected to announce significant new financial support for education and discuss how it could be used to build more schools, recruit and train more teachers, and implement new technology.
A similar trip by the UN Special Envoy in July helped put the education emergency in Pakistan in the spotlight. Nigeria fares worse in almost all respects than Pakistan, as was shown in our recent policy paper, released with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Over one in six of the world’s out-of-school children live in Nigeria. In addition, the situation has deteriorated in recent years. There were 3.6 million more children out of school in 2010 than in 2000. We hope that the education summit makes concrete plans not only to get all of those children into school, but also to make sure it happens by regularly monitoring progress, building on President Goodluck Jonathan’s proposal for a new census in 2014 to help track education progress. Assessing who is getting into school and who is being left behind is vital in order to know which policies need to be prioritized.
The education crisis in Nigeria is not only one of access, but also quality. The large number of Nigerian children and young people emerging from school with limited literacy or numeracy skills demands urgent action to improve the country’s education. As International Day of Literacy highlighted last week, decades of neglect of education around the world has left 774 million adults unable to read or write, two-thirds of whom are women – and Nigeria has particularly suffered. The 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report, Youth and skills: Putting education to work, showed that among young men aged 15 to 29 in 2008 who had left school after six years of schooling, 28% were illiterate and 39% were semi-illiterate. The figures are even worse for young women: 32% were illiterate and 52% were semi-illiterate.
In Nigeria, as in Pakistan, family income largely determines their education chances. In addition, as our World Inequality Database on Education shows, wealth gaps are exacerbated by regional and gender differences: in 2008, 78% of the poorest 7- to 16-year old girls from the North-East had never gone to school, compared with just 11% in the Southeast.
High education costs continue to pose obstacles for poor households. As reported in the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report, average primary education spending per child is more than ten times higher among the richest 20% of households in Nigeria than among the poorest 20%.
Figure: In 2008, in the North-East of Nigeria more than three-quarters of the poorest girls had never been to school.
To improve Nigeria’s dismal performance in education, the EFA Global Monitoring Report team recommends the following actions:
- Act on the law – and move beyond it: The 2003 Child’s Rights Act stipulates that the “Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide (a) free compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free university education and (c) free adult literacy programme.” The country must act upon this law, and ensure all children are not only in school, but also learning when there.
- Put policies in place to help the most disadvantaged– including those from poor households, in rural areas, and particularly girls in the north of the country. Unless the poorest families receive support to pay for the costs of schooling, they will not be able to benefit from an education. The government needs to invest in the quality of their education, to ensure that they are learning once in school.
- Turn the resource curse into a blessing for education: Although Nigeria is one of the countries furthest from achieving the Education for All goals, it is endowed with natural resource wealth, which could bring enough income to send many of the country’s children to school. Nigeria already retains 72% of oil exports as government revenue, but must manage, distribute and use the revenue better, and ensure that education is a top priority.
- Provide a second chance to the 7 million youth in Nigeria who never had the chance to complete a primary education, the majority of whom are young women. As well as averting a future generation of illiterate adults and ensuring these young people are able to fulfill their potential, the country would benefit from a vast engine of economic growth in the form of its bulging youth population.