Written by Amy Wilson
Nigeria’s education system is run by the state and since the Universal Education Act (UBA) of 2004 was introduced it has been compulsory for children to attend primary school between the ages of six and 11. Despite this legislation, some 4.7 million children are not being sent to school; 40% of this age group. The percentage who are absent in the northern region of the country is even worse, while the number of girls attending primary school in all areas of the country is worryingly low, the ratio of girls to boys being 1 to 2. In the north, where religious issues add to the problem, the ratio is as high as 1 to 3.
Over the past decade progress towards the target of 100% literacy has been stymied by the massive increase in population. Today no less than 40% of residents are aged 15 or less, which has inevitably put a massive strain on infrastructure and public services, not to mention the education system. There is no magic bullet that will overcome these issues in the short-term so the government needs to make several difficult decisions, some of which will inevitably take years to come to fruition. It will be interesting to see whether the country’s legislators are prepared to act now to ensure strong economic growth is maintained in the long-term.
One of the country’s key assets is its vibrant youthful population. If this potential is to be harnessed the amount invested in the education system must be significantly increased as a matter of urgency. Youngsters, whether just starting primary school or newly graduated, are the future of the country. Individuals in this age group are known to be impatient for change, curious, hardworking and ambitious; precisely the traits that have enabled Nigeria to overtake South Africa as the largest economy in Africa and ensure it achieves its next target of becoming a G-20 power by 2050.
A report published by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) in 2013 said: “Nigeria could be the fastest growing country in our sample due to its youthful and growing working population, but this does rely on using its oil wealth to develop a broader-based economy with better infrastructure and institutions as regards rule of law and political governance and hence support long term productivity growth – the potential is there, but it remains to be realized in practice.”
It is clear that the onus for improving education standards lies largely with the government, but private institutions, financed largely by philanthropic business leaders, also have an important role to play; for example, the African Leadership Academy. The ALA identifies and nurtures talented students who it believes will go on to become future leaders. By funding their development it aims to prevent them having to look overseas for educational and employment opportunities. To learn more about the organization follow Tunde Folawiyo news on the ALA.
Internationally, it is widely recognized that there are two key issues with the potential to derail Nigeria’s future ambitions to become the next member of the BRICS group. It has an outdated and largely derelict infrastructure and an inadequate education system. The country’s single biggest asset, apart from oil, is seen as being its youthful population.