Nigerian public schools used to be the toast of the nation many years ago. Indeed, some of the best brains went to public schools in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said these days as the public school system has witnessed consistent decay over the years. According to the BBC, Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school in the world, with about 10.5 million children not being educated.
The rising population in the country is not helping matters. At least, 11.06 million kids enrolled for early child care development education in the country from 2014 to 2016, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Successive governments have introduced measures to improve access to education. In 2004, the Universal Basic Education (UBE) was introduced by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration to provide free education at the primary level. The Mohammadu Buhari administration also introduced a free school meals programme that has fed 7 million students in 40,000 schools so far.
While these schemes are great ideas to make education more accessible for the less privileged, the same cannot be said for the quality of education in the public school system. It is not uncommon to see dilapidated buildings, overcrowded classrooms, students sitting on the bare floor or under trees in the outdoors to learn. In addition, teachers are constantly on strike to protest against poor pay and other grievances, thereby setting the school calendar backwards.
This has resulted in parents enrolling their wards in private schools. Even poor parents, who can barely afford three square meals a day, would rather spend money enrolling their wards in substandard private schools than even the best public schools, especially at the primary school level. The question is what went wrong with Nigerian public schools? Why are they failing?
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Why Nigerian public schools are failing
Inadequate budgetary allocation in education
Nigeria has about 200 million people, making the country the most populous African country by far. About 60 per cent of the population is estimated to be under the age of 25 and it is expected that the population will rise to 300 million, mostly made up of young people, in 30 years. Yet, Nigeria is failing to invest in the young who are supposedly the leaders of tomorrow. In the 2018 budget, the government allocated just seven per cent of spending to education, which is below the 26 per cent recommended by the United Nations. These budgets are not enough to take care of Nigerian public schools, resulting in a lack of infrastructure in these schools.
It is no longer news that the problem in Nigeria is corruption in virtually all sectors. You cannot plant corn and expect yam. When you elect the wrong people into key public positions, do not expect positive results. The education sector has heavily suffered from this consequence, corrupt leaders enrich themselves with allocations meant for improving public schools. This is why we hear of snakes swallowing bags full of money in JAMB offices and other ridiculous stories like that.
Lack of infrastructure
With inadequate budget allocations and corruption working hand in hand in the education sector, public schools are heavily affected. Dilapidated classrooms, lack of adequate books to line the library shelves and generally unconducive environments are common sights in Nigerian public schools. These affect learning in these schools, thereby discouraging parents and guardians from enrolling on their wards.
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Shortage of qualified teachers
There are not enough teachers in the Nigerian public schools. On average, there is just one qualified teacher for every 46 primary school students. A World Bank survey showed that primary school teachers in Nigeria are not in their scheduled classes approximately 25 per cent of the time. The survey also estimated that actual teaching time is on average 33 per cent less than that which is timetabled.
On the other hand, the quality of teachers in the Nigerian public schools is worryingly low. In the same survey, a shocking 69 per cent of maths and 76 per cent of language teachers failed to achieve 80% in tests for ten-year-old Grade-4 pupils. With this discovery, it is not surprising that an average primary public school graduate still struggles with reading and writing.
Fixing the Nigerian public schools
With the above points, it is clear that Nigeria’s public schools have failed their young. So, what is the solution?
To begin with, the government should increase budgetary allocations in the education sector. The good news is that the immediate past administration of ex-president Buhari apportioned N1.79 trillion to the education sector in the 2023 appropriation act. This represents 8.2 per cent of the appropriation bill according to then-minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed. This is a welcome development for the sector. Hopefully, the present administration of President Ahmed Bola Tinubu will use that to improve the public schools by building the needed infrastructures and employing qualified teachers.
Speaking of employing qualified teachers, the government – both at the federal and state levels – should find ways to increase the number of teachers and retain them as well. Incentives like tax cuts, training and salary reviews should be introduced as attractive packages. Teachers’ attendance should also be linked to their wages, as a way to force teachers to attend their scheduled classes. After all, no work usually means no pay.
Curriculum reforms should also be introduced in Nigerian public schools. Education specialists should be engaged to create a more modern and relevant school curriculum, with an emphasis on problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking.
It is important to note that the Nigerian government is currently overstretched financially. So, involving the private sector is a great idea. Public-private partnerships (PPP) can be a great solution, which has successfully been adopted in developed and developing countries. PPP comes in various forms. Therefore, the Nigerian government should explore options and come out with one that is best suited for the country’s education sector.
Of course, all these will not be possible without addressing the elephant in the room – corruption. Parents and society at large should bear the responsibility of electing people into key positions in government. Until citizens are allowed to vote peacefully and their votes are allowed to count, there will always be a problem in Nigerian public schools.
Also, parents and guardians must not circumvent the admission process just to please their children/wards. They should allow their children/wards to go through the rigorous admission process and prove their mettle alongside their contemporaries.