Improving education in Nigeria: learning what works

By Ian MacAuslan, EDOREN Workstreams 1 and 5 Leader

How do you educate a billion people? This is the challenge – and the opportunity – facing Nigeria’s leaders today.

The scale is enormous. By the year 2100 the population of Nigeria will be 914 million, according to the UN’s latest population projections, more than anywhere except India and China. Between 2010 and 2095, over 1 billion children will be born in Nigeria, and by 2095, over 70 million children will be entering the Nigerian education system every year. This may seem a long way off, but the foundations to address this population growth must be laid today.

The challenge is also enormously difficult. Even now, 25 million Nigerian children reach school-going age each year. And already, four in ten school-age children aren’t in school. Household survey analysis suggests attendance rates over the last ten years are stagnant at around 60%, and the limited evidence we have on what children learn suggests that many of those in school don’t learn much. The Nigerian education system faces multiple difficulties. Looming large amongst them: teachers are often demoralised and inadequately prepared and managed for the task they face.

Nigeria must meet this challenge, and urgently. The largest country and the largest economy in Africa, still growing at over 6%, Nigeria faces instability from falling oil prices and terrorism. In a recent interview, the finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, indicated that failing to create gainful better education and job opportunities for young people “could be a nightmare,” risking another Arab Spring in Nigeria.

In this challenge, there is an opportunity.  Substantial improvements in quality education should help diversify the economy and limit the spread of terrorism. Globally, better learning supports economic growth. Providing quality education to a billion people will unlock Nigeria’s vast potential. But how can this massive, difficult and urgent challenge be met?

We don’t have all the answers today. With some notable exceptions (such as ESSPIN), data and research on education in Nigeria are limited. It’s not yet clear what works and what does not.

But answers are coming. Much of the evidence currently available, and information on who is producing it, is collected on this new website. EDOREN is helping to shed light on key issues in Nigerian education today by conducting high quality multi-year research. We are looking at:

  • Education systems: successful reforms are likely to be evidence-based and systemic: piecemeal or anecdotally-based reforms are unlikely to make the difference required. We’ve reviewed the literature on basic education in Nigeria. We’ve shown how household surveys on education can be used. We are supporting improvements in Nigeria’s education management information systems. We are studying how Nigeria’s universal basic education system operates and comparing this with systems in South Africa, Brazil, India and Indonesia. We are assessing research capacity in education in Nigeria, and we’ve looked at processes of education sector policy and resource allocation in two states. We will study how early learning affects later learning, and how curriculums and pedagogies should be designed to ensure each child learns as quickly as they can. Together, these studies will help indicate likely pathways for lasting and substantial impact.
  • Teachers: the subject the 2013/14 Global Monitoring Report, teachers are central to any education system. We’re evaluating the impact on learning outcomes of a programme designed to improve in-service and pre-service teacher training in northern Nigeria. We’ve modelled teacher recruitment and training requirements in Katsina until 2025. We are studying the way in which teachers are managed and deployed in Katsina and Kaduna. Together, these three pieces will inform lasting improvements to teacher effectiveness, a key piece of the learning puzzle.
  • Girls’ education: we’re researching a programme designed to improve girls’ enrolment, attendance and educational outcomes in northern Nigeria, where more girls are out of school than anywhere else in the world. These studies will indicate what works to improve education for girls, and how to overcome operational challenges on the way.
  • Private and faith sector schools: we’re evaluating the impact on learning outcomes of a programme designed to improve the functioning of the market for private education in Lagos, where nearly three out of four school-children are in a private school. We will study the role of Islamic and Qu’ranic schools in northern Nigeria, and how best they can be supported and regulated to improve education. These studies will shed light on how to improve the quality of non-state education, which will undoubtedly be a vital part of educating the next billion Nigerian children.

As the results of these studies come out over the next few years, we’ll share them widely, combine them, and together start learning about how a billion Nigerian children can learn over the next 100 years.

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