Thoughts on Education Reform in Nigeria: Time to Stop the Drift

Flashpoints: Education Reform as Political Albatross

Is education reform a political albatross in Nigeria? This appears to be the case based on recent history. Here are some examples of recent attempts at reform of the educational system at national and state level:

  1. The Obi Ezekwesili Education Reform programme included about 20 initiatives including restructuring of the Federal Ministry of Education, Public Private Partnership for Unity Schools, Community Accountability and Transparency Initative and Special Education Strategy. The reforms met with stiff resistance and many of the initiatives were unceremoniously reversed by her successor.
  2. The Fayemi Education Reforms in Ekiti also met with resistance with most teachers refusing to take the 'competency test' (Teachers Development Needs Assessment or TDNA). The unpopularity of the test among teachers was widely believed to have contributed to his eventual loss at the elections because teachers in most states are highly organized, vocal and politically influential in grassroots politics.
  3. Governor Adams Oshiomole's attempt to reform education in Edo State was famous for the video of the Governor teaching a teacher how to read.
  4. In Oyo State, an Education Stakeholder's Forum was violently disrupted by members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) under the misguided belief that the state planned to sell public schools. Members of NUT later mobilised primary and secondary school students to stage violent protests throughout Ibadan during school hours.

The Case for Reform

It is generally accepted that a sound educational system is the bedrock for the rapid development of a nation. It is also clear that such an educational system does not come about by accident- it is painstakingly created by strong, visionary leaders implementing a well-developed strategy with sincerity and discipline. This of course takes time. It does not happen overnight.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is not a nation with a lot of time. The fifty-seven years of our existence as a country are but a blink in the eye of more advanced nations who have had centuries to develop advanced educational systems to produce human capital for socioeconomic development. Nigeria is at a distinct disadvantage in a world that is continually getting smaller and more competitive. How do we close the gap?

This article presents some ideas about how we can introduce innovation to the educational sector. It is not a policy paper and as such it will not be an exhaustive examination of every issue relating to education. It is meant to inspire conversation and perhaps concerted action. I look forward to your reactions and contributions in the comments section.

A Brief History of Educational Reform in Nigeria

Most stakeholders in the education sector will agree that there are 4 major problems that have contributed to the complete failure of the educational sector:

  1. Policy Inconsistency
  2. Inadequate funding
  3. Inadequate Human Capacity
  4. Frequent Change of leadership (10 Education Ministers since 1999)

There have been serious and well-meaning attempts over the years to address these issues. However, none of these policy initiatives was able to stand the test of time. Implementation was usually negatively affected by poor planning, lack of resources, or regime change.


Nigeria has received significant moral, intellectual and financial support from the international community over the years. This support can be summarised as follows:

Policy Support

Nigeria is signatory to the following global initatives relating to education:

  1. United Nations Millenium Development Goal 2 (MDG2): Achieve Universal Primary Education with target year 2015
  2. Education for All Movement (EFA) with target year 2015
  3. Sustainable Development Goal on Education (SDG4) with target year 2030

Financial Support from Development Partners

Examples of financial aid received from the international community (not an exhaustive list):

  1. DFID-funded projects such as Girls’ Education Project (GEP; 2004-).
  2. DFID-funded Capacity for Universal Basic Education (CUBE; 2003-2008)
  3. DFID-funded Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN; 2008-)
  4. USAID-funded Northern Education Initiative (NEI; 2009-)
  5. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA-funded) Strengthening Mathematics and Science Education (SMASE; 2006-2014)
  6. World Bank’s Universal Basic Education Project (UBEP; 2002-2006)
  7. World Bank's State Education Sector Project (SESP; 2007-2011)
  8. World Bank's State Education Programme Investment Project (SEPIP 2013-)

The Current Situation: Facts and Figures

The following tables present recent trends in relevant educational statistics (source: UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report)

Education for All Progress in Nigeria: Trends in Student Enrolment

Student Enrolment Rates have remained relatively stable since 1991

Trends in Youth and Adult Literacy Rate in Nigeria

There has been no remarkable improvement in literacy rates

Number of Primary and Secondary School Teachers

There is an increase in number of primary and secondary school teachers

Trends in Quality of Primary and Secondary School Teaching Staff

The quality of teaching staff must be examined more closely.

A New Model

A new model for education must adopt a long term, carefully planned and methodically implemented strategy. This strategy must focus on the key elements of the educational sector:

  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Curriculum
  • Infrastructure
  • Management and Supporting Systems

The existing educational system can be safely assumed to have failed completely and therefore we cannot waste valuable time and effort trying to beat it into shape. What we need is radical transformation. The evidence of the failure of the educational system is particularly glaring in the perenially poor West African Examination Council (WAEC) results.

There are two options for radical transformation of the educational sector:

  1. We can begin sincere and disciplined implementation of the existing policy documents and action plans.
  2. We can adopt a tabula rasa or clean slate approach, think outside the box and build a new educational system to develop human capacity for 21st century Nigeria.

Either approach will require SINCERITY, DISCIPLINE and INNOVATION.

Regardless of the chosen approach, a focus should be placed on radical transformation of the following aspects:

  • Curriculum
  • Civic Education Curriculum: History, Ethics, Community
  • Agriculture
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Technical and Vocational Education
  • Science,Technology & Mathematics

Here are some ideas:

  1. Technology for Education Partnership: Telecommunications Cos., Media Cos., Industry
  2. Expansion of the Open University
  3. Establishment of a Teacher Corps
  4. The Everywhere School concept of Pervasive Education which leverages on availability of telecommunications badnwidth for dissemination of education material.

Lessons from Other Countries

Nigeria should take a long hard look at the Progressive Education movement to borrow radical ideas for rapid transformation of our educational system.
Two recent examples of progressive education will suffice to show that even relatively advanced educational systems are still working hard to stretch the boundaries of educational innovation. These two examples are from Finland and the United States:


Finland is third behind Singapore and China in the international league tables for literacy and numeracy according to the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. Despite this enviable ranking, there is an ongoing initiative to radically transform the Finnish curriculum by replacing traditional 'teaching by subject' with 'teaching by topics' The goal is to directly prepare students for working life by teaching 'topics' with situational application: "For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills."

United States

The XQ Super School Project is being developed by a coalition
of 'educators and entrepreneurs, parents and pioneers, business leaders and administrators, youth and education experts, in the endeavor to 'remake America’s high schools for today'.
Their model of learning, called XQ, is simply an evolution of the traditional measures of intelligence such as Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ). XQ defines the 'nimble, flexible intelligence needed for today' and prepares the child for any challenges life may throw at them.

The project is inspired by the belief that the next generation must learn to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

To this end, the project designers intend to develop the students to be:

  1. Masters of all fundamental literacies.
  2. Holders of foundational knowledge.
  3. Original thinkers for an uncertain world.
  4. Learners for life.
  5. Generous Collaborators for tough problems.

The XQ Super School project is driven by a formidable team headed by Russlyn Ali, a former Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. It was slated to take off with an initial 10 schools in the United States in 2016.

What are your thoughts on the state of our educational system?  Is there hope for positive change under the prevailing circumstances?  Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.