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Fixing Nigeria’s public education system

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Public education in Nigeria plays a critical role in the country because a majority of its children and adults depend on public schools to acquire the knowledge and skills required to navigate a fast-paced modern world.

In Nigeria, approximately 28 million children were enrolled in primary school during the 2017/2018 school year. There were far more students enrolled in public schools than in private schools.

In total, 22.70 million children attended public schools, while 5.40 million attended private schools. This is according to data obtained from Statista, an online platform known for gathering vital statistics.

Similarly, the same online data platform stated that as of 2022, there were 102,500 students in private universities compared to 1,751,761 in public universities, implying that the private sector controls less than 6 per cent of the university student population in Nigeria.

These data sets show that Nigeria’s public school system, which comprises its public schools from elementary to tertiary and how they are managed is of critical importance to the development of Africa’s most populous country. Most Nigerians rely on public schools to acquire education.

However, public schools in Nigeria at all levels are failing to meet global standards. Of particular interest is early childhood education because this leads to all other achievements later in life. Many classrooms lack basic pieces of furniture with children sitting on bare floors in some cases. Pupil-to-teacher ratios are off-beam.

Problems of Public Basic Education

Some have blamed this on low budgetary allocations. While 10.10 per cent of federal and state budgets were allocated to education in 2022, there is still a long way to go to meet international benchmarks of 15 to 20 per cent of national budgets spent on education, some have argued.

Furthermore, regressive spending patterns show that salaries account for 90 per cent of total recurrent spending, leaving less than 10 per cent for quality learning support.

While funding is an elephant in the room of attaining quality public education for the mass of Nigerians, there are other bottlenecks that have to be dealt with as well.

Since the focus is on early childhood education, the local government area council has a critical role to play. After teachers’ salaries are paid, some local governments have little left. Improving efficiency necessitates power decentralisation as well as federal and state government support to ensure an adequate flow of resources to the poorest areas.

While local governments are responsible for basic education, they lack budgetary authority, which is primarily held by the federal government. This creates perverse incentives for local government areas (LGAs) to keep enrollments low or hire less expensive and thus unqualified teachers.

But the solution to this problem is not for the government to divert resources into an already ineffective system riddled with graft and corruption. However, it is necessary to address the underlying cause of the system’s inefficiency. This is where a partnership with the private sector with a proven record of success matters.

Solutions to Public Basic Education

Such a model public-private partnership addressing public education that has worked in Nigeria is the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EdoBEST), an initiative of the State Universal Basic Education Board. Edo SUBEB worked closely with the Bridge International Academies to make this the success that it has become. Rather than pump more money into a dysfunctional system, the state government invited a private sector player to help with proffering and executing solutions.

Launched in April 2018, EdoBEST harnessed the transformative power of cutting-edge technology to provide exceptional learning outcomes to primary school children across Edo state by better supporting their teachers.

The urgent need to train over 15,000 teachers and ensure learning for over 320,000 students prompted a collaboration with Bridge International Academies (Bridge). The programme began with a pilot in which 1,500 EdoBEST teachers were trained and equipped with the tools and skills needed to implement a novel type of learning experience for children, which is uncommon but desperately needed in Nigerian public education. The impact on the children of Edo State has been undoubtedly been exponential, and the multiplier effect will be seen for a long time.

Bridge specifically provided the following inputs to the EdoBEST initiative: Learning resources and materials such as textbooks, independent study books, individual homework books, lesson guides for teachers via a tablet, and a standardised daily timetable for each grade. Others were training and ongoing support to better equip teachers for effective classroom management and quality delivery of the Nigerian national curriculum.

The initiative also faced challenges such as a teacher shortage, a lack of classrooms, poor network coverage and connectivity, and barriers to technology adoption following the termination of the partnership.

The EdoBEST initiative is a whole-system reform with many integrated components, rather than a single intervention focused on one area of education. The difficulty of implementing system changes in a few short months necessitates a thorough understanding of which components are functioning, to what extent, and how.

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