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Nigeria’s Educational System – Why the Eagle Isn’t Flying

A central factor contributing to the poor quality of education in Nigeria is the paucity of funding.
© Credit: Katenga Entertainment – Kenya

Education is widely acknowledged as the bedrock of national development. However, education in sub-Saharan Africa is generally in the doldrums. The region lags behind in access to quality education, as one-fifth of children aged 6–11 and one-third of youths aged 12–14 are out of school. Based on demographic features, mainly population and landmass, Nigeria is the ensemble of major obstacles bedevilling access to quality education in sub-Saharan Africa. Its stated philosophy of education is to develop a sound and effective citizenry that is fully integrated into the community and one that is provided with equal access to educational opportunities at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. These lofty ideals are encapsulated in the 2013 National Policy on Education, the expression of the Nigerian education system that remains encumbered by a plethora of obstacles that are impeding the quality of, and access to, education.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the quality of education in Nigeria is far below domestic expectations and lags behind global rankings. Using digital literacy, interpersonal skills, critical and creative thinking capabilities, among others, the 2019 Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum ranks Nigeria’s quality of education 116th out of 140 countries surveyed. The reasons for the poor state of Nigeria’s education are numerous.

A central factor contributing to the poor quality of education in Nigeria is the paucity of funding. With respect to the 2021 national budget, allocation to education stands at 5.68 per cent. This is far below the international benchmark of 20 per cent of public expenditure needed to bridge education funding gaps in the country. Nigeria is the only E-9 (a forum of nine countries that aims at achieving UNESCO’s Education For All initiative) and D-8 (an organisation for development cooperation among predominantly Islamic countries) member-state with less than 20 per cent annual budgetary allocation for education. The country’s investment in education also trails far behind many smaller and less economically endowed countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The dearth of education funding has meant poor remuneration of the academic staff and decrepit education infrastructure. University lecturers in Nigeria are among the least paid in the world. This partly accounts for the incessant cases of industrial unrests such as strikes and sit-ins commonly witnessed in the country’s tertiary institutions. Similarly, education facilities such as functional and well-equipped libraries, laboratories, and classrooms are either in short supply or in a state of disrepair.

There’s the challenge of access. Nigeria has the world’s highest number of out-of-school children, estimated at 10.5 million. In other words, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is a Nigerian. UNICEF also reports that only 61 per cent of children between 6 and 11 years regularly attend primary school while only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education in Nigeria.

In addition to the dwindling access to economic resources, especially in terms of its capacity to reduce the rate of school enrolment, other internal factors hinder access to education in Nigeria. For instance, in Northern Nigeria, where the prevailing cultural norms and religious practices, and where Boko Haram insurgency and other assortments of security threats are very pronounced, attendance in formal education is extremely low. The region boasts of a net attendance rate of 53 per cent. This suggests that a fraction of the remaining figure is exposed to Qur’anic education where basic skills such as literacy and numeracy are not included, since pupils enrolled in such places are officially classified as out-of-school children.

Gender, like geography, is another important factor in understanding the pattern of educational exclusion in the country. States in the North-East and North-West have female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 per cent and 47.3 per cent, respectively. This means that more than half of the girls in these places lack access to basic formal education. Apart from economic deprivations, the practice of the purdah (a practice of female seclusion) and child marriage as integral components of the dominant religion in northern Nigeria also impinges negatively on school enrolment in that part of the country, with child marriage being more pronounced in states that are yet to domesticate Nigeria’s Child’s Rights Act of 2003.

Further, insecurity in Nigeria has continued to pose the greatest threat to teaching and learning, especially within the past 10 years. In particular, factors such as Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, the so-called rural banditry in the North-West, and resource-use conflict between peasant farmers and herding communities across Nigeria have continued to undermine access to education in the country. Apart from the infamous abduction of 276 students from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok in 2014 and another 105 from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, in 2018, the kidnapping of schoolchildren and teachers has sadly become a recurring decimal. Between December 2020 and July 2021, more than 1,000 Nigerian students and their teachers have been abducted and held for ransom by criminal gangs, especially in the North-West.

Against the backdrop of these obstacles, what are the implications of this situation for Nigeria’s quest to realise different multilateral frameworks on education, especially Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the science, technology, and innovation components of the African Union’s Agenda 2063? Goal 4 of the United Nations Agenda 2030 seeks to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.

However, with the rate of out-of-school children, increasing vulnerability of schools to security threats, the existing religious norm, as well as the meagre budgetary allocation to Nigeria’s education sector, it is unlikely that the targets of Goal 4 will be achieved in the country unless the government addresses these challenges.

Chikodiri Nwangwu teaches Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He can be reached via email at or via Twitter @Kodiri_Nwangwu.


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