Over half of Nigeria’s population of 180 million people–roughly 90 million–is under the age of 17 yet there are not enough schools in the country. According to Nigeria’s Ministry of Education, we have only 61,563 primary and secondary schools with a combined capacity of 30 million seats to accommodate this population. Little surprise that Nigeria has some of the highest numbers of out of school children in the world. Government estimates put the number of out of school children at 10 million but many knowledgeable observers say this number could be as high as 20 million. Particularly in the North East where a terrorist insurgency has made going to school unsafe, the number of out of school children is rising every day.
Then there is the problem of teachers. In many parts of Nigeria, there is only 1 teacher for every 134 students. Nigeria’s Universal Basic Education Commission estimates it will need 119,603 qualified teachers every year to close current gaps in the education system. Yet, we graduate less than 1/10th of this number every year and concerns with inadequate or inconsistent remuneration make recruiting new teachers very challenging.
At the university level, there is a similar challenge. Last year, over 2 million young people applied for admission to universities and polytechnics around the country yet only 500,000 were admitted. Today, fewer than 2 million young people — only 1 percent of the population — are currently enrolled in the Nigerian tertiary education system and only 14 percent of the population has any tertiary education. Even for those with a tertiary education, there is a significant mismatch between what is taught in university and the skills required in a globally competitive workforce. As such, many young Nigerian graduates are unemployed or underemployed. According to McKinsey, over 50 percent of young Nigerians are unemployed.
Finally even when there is the political will for reform in this sector, there is the lingering question of how to finance it. According to research done by Sterling Bank, reforming Nigeria’s education system will require an investment of over $55 billion. But with low oil prices at a time when oil constitutes over 70 percent of government revenues, the government is unable to fully fund a comprehensive reform program.
This situation is about to get even more challenging. Given current population growth, over the next 20 years, our education system will need to cater to another 80 million Nigerians who will need access to a basic primary and secondary schools. Also, a fast changing digital world means that these young people must be equipped with a completely new set of technical and soft skills to fully participate in the new global economy.
The new Minister of Education might look at this as a long list of challenges and wonder what exactly he has gotten himself into. However, I see this as an extraordinary opportunity for Nigeria to innovate its way out of these challenges. The problems in this sector are at a scale the world has rarely seen. Hence it is an opportunity to develop innovative and scalable ways to give every young Nigerian access to quality academic training. This might mean we find new ways of reaching the vast majority of young people through mobile teaching or that we find ways of educating people outside the strict regulatory confines of “school.” This is Nigeria’s opportunity to become a model for other African countries facing similar challenges.
In the private sector, we have already begun to develop new models of education to resolve the challenges within this sector. Just 18 months ago, Jeremy Johnson, Christina Sass, Ian Carnevale and I co-founded Andela – a new model of education for software developers in Nigeria. Every month, we recruit the top 1% of the thousands who apply to our four-year fellowship and pay them to learn how to become world-class software developers and technology leaders. Our partners, technology companies all over the world who recognize the brilliance of our developers, fund their education and provide them with valuable international work experience. So far, we have trained over 140 young people in Lagos, Nigeria. We have even managed to export this new model of education to Nairobi, Kenya.
Nigeria’s Minister of Education will need to build a team of creative problem-solvers who will innovate new ways of cost effectively delivering a quality education to our young people. Perhaps, if he’s lucky, he might even be able to export it.
This piece was produced by Ventures Africa in partnership with The Africa Expert Network (AXN) to provide unique insider commentary from practitioners and subject matter specialists.