Written by Emmanuel Ayoola
Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa[i] is plagued with serious educational challenges. With over 10.5 million out-of-school children, Nigeria takes the spot as the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. In fact, out of every five out-of-school children in the world, one is a Nigerian.[ii] In every sense, the situation is a crisis.
The factors responsible for the educational challenges in Nigeria are numerous and hydra-headed. From weak legislations to the scourge of conflicts and terrorism, to socio-cultural challenges, lack of inclusive policies and inadequate commitment from the government, the list is almost endless.
To start with, there is a fundamental problem with the Nigerian Constitution vis-à-vis the right to education. Despite the fact that Nigeria has ratified some of the several international instruments that provide for the right to education, its own grundnorm – the 1999 constitution (as amended) however, makes the right to education non-justiciable. Section 18 of the constitution provides that the:
- Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.
- Government shall promote science and technology
- Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide:
- free, compulsory and universal primary education; b) free secondary education; c) free university education; and d) free adult literacy programme.
While the above provision may appear sufficient, however under the constitution, it is provided for as principles of state policy under chapter 2. In effect, the right to education although aptly provided for, lacks the force of law as it is not justiciable. In other words, it cannot be enforced by law. This disguised immunity that protects the government from being held accountable by right holders for the protection of the right to education contributes to the crises at hand.
Another of the challenges that education in Nigeria suffer from involves acts of terrorism that are targeted directly at educational institutions and those that are targeted at communities which in turn, impacts access to education in such communities.
Reports show that in north-east Nigeria between 2009 and 2022, more than 2,295 teachers were killed in attacks by insurgents which saw 19,000 people displaced and over 910 schools destroyed.[iii]
In 2021 alone, 25 schools were attacked and 1,440 students were abducted and 16 children killed. Attacks of this nature no doubt led to the closure of some schools. At least 619 schools were shut down in 6 states in northern Nigeria over fears of attack and this resulted into over 600,000 children losing access to education.[iv] This has been one of the most severe challenges that has confronted access to education in Nigeria.
More also, cultural and social implications impact access to education in Nigeria. Most affected in this regard, are young girls. The girl-child in Nigeria often has to contend with lack of access to education. For instance, in the north of Nigeria, practices like forced and early marriages deprive girls of access to education. Girls in the south of Nigeria, in like manner also contend with cultural practices that limits their access to education.[v] Boys suffer their own share too as they experience a high drop-out rate –especially boys in south – eastern Nigeria.[vi]
Another group of people who similarly suffer a disadvantage of lack of access to education in Nigeria are persons living with disability (PWDs). Although, Nigeria has ratified the United Nations Convention on rights of Persons with Disabilities which expressly provides that schools must be inclusive and accessible to all children living with disabilities, Nigeria has failed to meet required standards for the protection of this right. This unfortunately continues to happen in the face of its National Policy on Education and the Universal Basic Education Act which provides for inclusive and free education for all school children. PWDs suffer a lack of inclusion because most schools are not designed and managed in a manner that will be inclusive and accessible for them.[vii]
The challenges Nigeria suffer as a country cannot be discussed in isolation of the government’s responsibility and obligation to committing resources to education. Nigeria still spends below the recommended benchmark[viii] of between 15-20 percent of annual budgets on education. In its 2022 budget, Nigeria increased its budgetary allocation for education to 7.2 percent from 5.7 percent in the previous year. While this is commendable, a lot still needs to be done by devoting more resources to educational infrastructure and generally funding education in Nigeria as a lot of schools lack infrastructure like; conducive classrooms, laboratories, libraries, toilets, electricity and proper learning environment.[ix]
In order to address the educational challenges in Nigeria, the government must be committed to the following;
- Resolving the legal barrier that makes the right to education non-justiciable. The government should amend the constitution to make the right to education enforceable.
- In its response to armed conflicts and terrorism, the government should implement approaches that will ensure the protection of educational institutions and secure access to education for children in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and in post-conflict settlements and communities. Strategies aimed at securing education for all should form part of the government’s overall response to such conflicts and attacks.
- Agencies of the government like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the Ministry of Information and Culture needs to do more in addressing the socio-cultural nuances that exclude children from access to education in some parts of the country. Nation-wide campaigns that target remote parts of the country where these cultural practices may be entrenched will go a long way in ensuring that children are able to access education.
- Persons living with disabilities have a right to education. Therefore, in protecting their right, the government must develop inclusive policies, programs and infrastructure that will make education both accessible and inclusive for them.
In order to improve the quality of education and make it accessible for all, the government must commit adequate resources to education in the country. A good way to start will be by implementing the UNESCO recommendation on spending 15 -20 percent of national annual budget on education.
[i] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1121246/population-in-africa-by-country/ last accessed 9March 2023
[ii] UNICEF https://www.unicef.org/nigeria/press-releases/unicef-warns-nigerian-education-crisis-world-celebrates-international-day-education last accessed 9 March 2023
[iv] Supra 2
[v] Mohammed S.S.I (2000). Female and Girl-child education in Nigerian. In Federal Republic of Nigeria (ed), Abuja: Federal Ministry of Education.
[vi] The National Human Rights Commission < https://www.nigeriarights.gov.ng/focus-areas/right-to-education.html> last accessed 9 March 2023
[vii] https://www.jonapwd.org/Factsheet%20inclusive%20Education.pdf last accessed 9 March 2023
[viii] https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/unesco-member-states-unite-increase-investment-education last accessed 9 March 2023
[ix] https://guardian.ng/features/education/public-schools-in-throes-of-poor-infrastructure-learning-facilities/ last accessed 9 March 2023