The Nigerian education system

The Nigerian Education System: The North, the South, and the Brains that Do Not See Growth

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In the one year since the pandemic chose our planet for its deadly visit, Nigeria has played host to different trends. From a deluge of live senatorial drama, to a president who gained fame as a genuinely bad boy, the country has been rocked by its share of unwelcome drama. However, while many things have made the spotlight, an issue that has been locked up in reticence is the fragmented nature of education in the country. Now, this does not refer to the consistent breaks in the academic calendar, but the statistical inequalities which project the educational standards in Nigeria.

A mere examination of a secondary school government textbook will reveal that the various reasons geopolitical zones exist suspiciously exclude an allotment of huge ounces of poverty and feeble intellectual muscle. Across the zones, this is one well-observed thing. Standards of academic excellence get their definition from the region of the individual and the institution that he or she attends. An event that puts this into better perspective is the recent trend on Twitter wherein a tweep posted examination questions from a university in Northern Nigeria. These questions were far below the standards expected of students at that level, and they sound a chilling bell for the quality of material churned out by that institution. What are the factors surrounding tertiary education in the regions all across Nigeria? What are the causes of these endemically malignant problems of the Nigerian education system? What can we do to these problems?

International Scorecard of Universities by Their Regions

Perhaps, the quickest way to realise the academic clout of various Nigerian institutions is an assessment of their performance both on a local and international scale. Using a regional approach, consideration of local data reveals that Ahamadu Bello University, Zaria, topped the charts of the 2019 NUC rankings. Situating this in results that span a length of three years (2017-2020), the Kaduna-based citadel and the Federal University of Technology, Minna, have pooled some nice grades on the performance list. However, while one may be tempted to call them the Kings in the North, the data is merely a facade. Were we to square them off against their Southern counterparts like the University of Ibadan, the Obafemi Awolowo University, and others, they would show little by way of academic substance.

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To elaborate, an evaluation of international figures which extend over the same length of time (2017 – 2020) shows that these Northern institutions are nowhere to be found on the ranking of African universities. Except you are curious enough to look lower, they will not be found on the continent’s ranking, and certainly not on the world ranking. As against the claims in some quarters that rankings may not necessarily reflect quality, it is important to note that the rankings being spoken of are some of the best-known indicators of growth in educational institutions, and indeed, a country’s system as a whole. They establish their ratings using metrics that are generally accepted as valid in the academic world. Therefore, rankings by such organisations as The Times Higher Education should not be treated with levity, or swept off on the basis of “rankings do not necessarily reflect quality.”

Gender-based Dissimilarities in the Nigerian Education Sector

In providing a robust perspective on region-specific quality and availability of education in Nigeria, it would be a gross omission if one skips the level of inclusiveness of these institutions. It must be stated that gender inclusion at the tertiary level is more often than not, a grassroots problem. From the outset, leaving females out of the cycle of formal education is a prominent norm in the northern parts of the country. Due to longstanding traditional practices, there is a higher tendency to find schools with an inordinate male-to-female ratio. The value of educating the female population is easily governed by the financial capabilities of the family, the beliefs of the family head, or, in many instances, both. 

On the flip side are the Southern states where crosscutting education is more or less a culture. In statistical terms, the male literacy rate in some Northern areas in 2018 was an effortless double of the female dimension.

The inordinate difference between the number of male and female students in the average tertiary institution, which is more aggravated in the Northern part of the country, is yet another problem militating against the Nigerian education sector.

Causes of the Differences in Regional Education

Without a doubt, you have most likely guessed these causes, or at least one of them already. A problem that is at the heart of the Nigerian education system is the lack of funding for academic institutions. Across all levels from basic to tertiary education, there is a general display of collapse. A distasteful scenario is the uninteresting view of sites – because they are not fit to be called schools – where innocent students were kidnapped from in Kankara and Kagara. It is saddening that some centres of learning in Nigeria are hardly worthy of display to an international audience. In universities, Northern and Southern alike, facilities either mark themselves absent or are inadequate for the functions they are meant to serve.

Another cause that is more peculiar to the North is the security issues that confront the region. Insurgency, banditry, and kidnapping are a menace that snake end to end from the Northwest, to the North Central, down to the Northeastern states. Under this climate, there is little need to mention that an effective learning environment is not feasible.

Furthermore, there is the issue of poverty which extends itself regularly. With insecurity and internal displacement to worsen it, people find it more difficult to feed much less, learn. On the receiving end of this are the thousands of young Nigerians who are pushed out of school by criminals or taken from it by parents who need their hands elsewhere.

This coven of associated problems is few among the factors which drag the regions apart in terms of economic viability and educational growth. They also dress the government in a gown of hypocrisy when speaking of commitment to academic growth and efforts which are deployed to foster it. In addition to this is the potential default on commitments to international policies, particularly the SDG 4 which focuses on the achievement of quality education and the dangers that lurk around a massive spread of uneducated youth.

To remedy the crisis, which, in no uncertain terms, is what it is, the government must step up to its responsibilities by establishing frameworks where they are due. Committing a tiny fraction of the national budget to education is no way to grow a system. For the desired effect to occur, adequate financial resources must be channelled into the widening gap. However, it is also important to note that doing these will not yield much if they are not backed by decisive policies. Growth is surely not growth if it happens on only one end of the spectrum.

As another strike looms from the never-missing Academic Staff Union of Universities, the government, in a bid to deflect the shot and keep a clean sheet, should shift focus from lengthy negotiations and empty promises, and look into better ways of solving the endemic problems that sit sturdily with the Nigerian education system. In reaffirmation, ours is a system that is more beguiled by a lack of implementation, more than a lack of policies.


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