Education delivery in Nigeria grapples with three major problems: relevance, standard and accessibility. Whilst graduates complain of soaring unemployment rates, employers of labour express dissatisfaction with the quality of graduates churned out yearly. Employers contend that a substantial number of these graduates are unemployable. These are two sides of the same coin: rising unemployment rates and un-employability of graduates. This raises questions about the relevance of skills (if any) learnt in school to real life problem solving.
The problem of relevance is compounded with one of standard and quality of learning in our education system. It is appalling that some university graduates have a hard time constructing simple sentences without grammar errors. Letter writing that used to be learnt with relative ease in the Junior High School is now a daunting task for many undergraduates. About 60 percent of final year projects submitted at our tertiary institutions were not written by their authors. We are looking here at symptoms of a bigger problem. Our education system promotes rote learning to the detriment of critical thinking skills. This starts from the basic level, where teachers impress on students the notion that students are like sponges; they must soak in all that the teacher has to say, and reproduce it during examination. Students are not encouraged to learn from experience.
Access to education is the last of the trio, but by far, the most vexing. When the curriculum is relevant, and there is a delivery of high standard, but inaccessible to those targeted, the aim is then defeated. In Nigeria, the problem of access is interwoven with the two preceding problems. Nigeria’s exponential growth in population has put immense pressure on its resources and has already overstretched public services and infrastructure.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), 40 percent of children aged 6 – 11 in Nigeria do not attend any primary school with the Northern region, recording the lowest school attendance, particularly for girls. Despite a significant increase in net enrolment rates in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.
Increased enrolment rates have also created challenges in ensuring quality education and satisfactory learning achievement as resources are spread more thinly across a growing number of students. It is not rare to see cases of 100 pupils per teacher or students sitting under trees outside the school building because of lack of classrooms.
This situation is being addressed with the implementation of the Basic Education scheme. The compulsory, free Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act was passed into law in 2004 and represents strategic effort to fight illiteracy and extend basic education opportunities to all children in the country.
However, the number of schools, facilities and teachers available for basic education remain inadequate for the eligible number of children and youths. This is more so in urban areas where there is population pressure. Under these conditions, teaching and learning cannot be effective; hence, the outcomes are usually below expectation. Besides, certificates are overrated in Nigeria at the expense of competence.
This is in the backdrop of current statistics, which estimate that 40.9 percent of Nigeria’s almost 200 million population is 14 years and below and 70 percent below 30. Approximately 1.8 million sit for the West Africa Examination Council exams. Recently, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) announced that over 1.85 million young Nigerians sat for the examination to fill 400, 000 places in all tertiary institutions; an estimated 1.4 million of this number would join the army of the unemployed. This happens annually, bloating the bottom of the pyramid or the informal sector. Nigeria could learn from Bangladeshi education experiments and successes in creating a formal structure for skills acquisition in the informal sector. Both countries are third world and among the most populous in the world.
Bangladesh is the 8th most populous country in the world, whilst Nigeria is the 7th. Bangladesh has a large informal economy (like Nigeria) and an illiteracy rate of 65 percent. Three quarters of the population is rural; about 31 per cent live below the international poverty line. This means that every third person is struggling every day to survive. Bangladesh is highly dependent on the remittances migrant workers sent back to the country (indeed, these constitute the largest source of foreign capital, as reported by Bangladeshi Ministry of Education).
The National Technical and Vocational Qualifications Framework (NTVQF) is currently being implemented in Bangladesh. It was initiated in 2008 as one of the most important building blocks of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Reform Project, funded by the European Commission (EC) and implemented by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh Ministry of Education.
The NTVQF is intended to cover the existing workforce and those entering the workforce. The framework allows for the recognition of skills workers have acquired in the informal sector, and includes post-secondary qualifications up to diploma level. The new qualifications are to be offered in formal education and training as well as workplace training and all training provided by public and private organisations, whether officially recognised or not.
Nigeria needs to move from certificate-based to competency-based education system. True, a few in research and teaching would need advanced academic degrees to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. However, Nigeria’s economic prosperity depends on how it conceives of and delivers education to the largest segment of its population locked out in the informal sector with no access to formal institutions that badly need upgrading in terms of curriculum and carrying capacity.