How we can Fix Nigeria with Education and Innovation

Lagos, Nigeria

The whole world committed to seventeen sustainable developmental goals at the UN General Assembly in September 2015. Goal number 4 is - inclusive and quality education for all by 2030. Will Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, meet this goal in 15 years?

My country is ravaged by terror from Boko Haram (West African wing of ISIS), ravished by corruption and suffering from declining revenue due to lower oil prices. I am certain President Muhammadu Buhari is working hard — rallying international support, tackling corruption issues and fighting Boko Haram. It is critical to win the war against terrorism.

But we all seem to be ignoring a looming problem.

Nigeria has a population of 180 million people. About 40 million are less than 5 years old and another 50 million in the 6–17 age range. However, Nigeria has only 30 million seats in its primary and secondary school system and 2 million in the higher institutions.

There are 20 million children (6–17 age range) outside the school system. Official statements from the government suggest it is about 10 million. Considering the capacity constraints, some of the 40 million babies (0–5) will not get a seat.

With birth rate at 4%, death rate at 1.3%, infant mortality rate at 7.3%, modeled estimate suggests that there will be at least 80 million Nigerians in the 6–17 age range by 2030. Can Nigeria upgrade her school capacity from 30 to 80 million in 15 years? Will Nigeria be able to upgrade her capacity in higher education schools (universities, polytechnics and colleges of education)?

Student performance in the Senior Secondary School Certificate examinations have worsened over the years. Can Nigeria deliver quality education to 80 million students in 2030?

In a broad sense, there are capacity gaps and there are quality gaps across all levels of education. If we don’t fix these gaps, we will breed poverty, unemployment, crime, illiteracy, terrorism and disease. And the problem will definitely go around the world.

How should Nigeria respond to these capacity and quality issues in our primary and secondary schools? What are our policy options?

  1. Do Little or Nothing — we can choose to retain the status quo. Maintain the current educational system. Hire a few more teachers, invest a little more in infrastructure. And we can grow the capacity from 30 to 40 million in 15 years (2% growth rate)
  2. Invest Aggressively — we can choose to confront the capacity and quality issues by throwing money at it. Build more schools. Hire a lot of teachers. Encourage private enterprises to invest. Create a robust and efficient regulatory body that will monitor quality. This policy option might grow the capacity from 30 to 62 million by 2030 (5% growth rate).
  3. Innovate — we can innovate by choosing to set up a cheaper and parallel education system. We can embrace education technology. We will invest but not in buildings or chairs, or thousands of teachers. We will invest in research, invest in broadband, invest and create technology tools and devices. This policy option can grow the capacity to the required 80 million.

If you consider that Policy Option 1 is our default mode and that we cannot afford Policy Option 2 as it is daunting to double our infrastructure and teaching capacity. We should really embrace innovation — Policy Option 3.

I will recommend that innovating cheaper and effective ways to reach our teeming population with quality education and with the right incentives is the way to go. Policy Option 3 will cost a whole lot more than Policy Option 1 but definitely cheaper than Policy Option 2 with more returns to the country.

How will this work?

  • We will invest in research — developers, academicians, industry experts, employers will come up with relevant curriculum (content and length), effective channels for delivering knowledge, effective methods for assessing and credentialing.
  • We will innovate at all levels of education.
  • We will run on a model that allows the current constrained capacity to serve a bigger population since we will reduce the time spent physically in a school.
  • We will stop focusing on getting university degrees. Instead refocus on getting basic technical education to our teeming population to raise productivity among the current and future workforce.
  • We will invest in broadband.
  • We will focus on communication skills and push for a share of the global outsourcing market.
  • We will set up a scholarship system that routes special talents and ensures higher level intervention — focus and resources — is directed to identified candidates.
  • We will embed a conditional cash transfer (CCT) into all our education system including productivity inducing grants for the technical education stream.
  • We will lean on development agencies, educational institutions, technology firms and telecommunication companies to support our cause.
  • We will commit to a long term plan that involves rigorous testing for effectiveness before deploying solutions. This involves winning key stakeholders and agreeing long term smart goals.

Imagine eighteen-year old Aisha pursuing her degree in Economics, using customized and well researched technology tools and attending university physically only 12 weeks in a year. She spends another 26 weeks teaching 10 six-year olds for six hours in a day using kits and technology tools from the government. Her degree program includes a compulsory teacher training course. She gets paid by the government under a CCT program with her pay increasing if her students excels beyond a predefined benchmark when the kids attend their own annual 6 week review.

This is not a one solution solves all problem and it is not a quickfix. We will have to fix our NYSC program, we need to rethink our technical education system, among many things.

President Buhari will name his Education minister in the next few days. I urge the president, the executive council and the minister to please consider innovating.

The United States through USAID has recently announced a $2.3 billion 5 year assistance to fight poverty in Nigeria. How about directing the funds to this initiative. It will erase poverty, increase literacy, create employment and maybe give the world breakthrough inventions.

And to the global community, thought leaders, technology companies, educational institutions, development agencies, will you help us?

Together, we can avert a looming crisis, not just in Nigeria but across the developing world.

If you like the proposal, please recommend and share it.

Ayokunle Ojo is a chartered financial analyst and technology enthusiast, he works and live in Lagos, Nigeria.

Twitter: @ayolope