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The problems in Nigeria's education system stem from a complicated mix of economic, political, and social situations. Three decades of political instability followed civil war in the late 1960s. Economic wealth from huge oil reserves in the southeast were diverted away from education and other socially progressive programs into the pockets of corrupt politicians and military leaders. The formula of corruption, poor planning, and a worldwide drop in oil prices in the 1980s resulted in the crash of Nigeria's economy. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Nigeria's per capita income dropped from US$1,200 in the 1980s to US$300 in 2000.

The economic decline and the political rivalries, especially dividing the northern Muslim states from the southern non-Muslim states, resulted in deterioration in the educational system all over the country, but the most dramatic figures are reported from the northern states. Of the 19 states labeled "educationally disadvantaged," 17 are in the North. In 1995, for example, there were 4,448,869 secondary students enrolled in Nigeria. The northern area, with about half the country's population, accounted for only 1,417,645 of these students. In 1999, the six states with the most candidates applying for university admission (all in the south) had a total of 200,506 applicants. The bottom six states in number (about the same population) were all in the north, with a total of 5,619. The numbers for applications to polytechnics and colleges of education showed similar results. Out of a nationwide total of 160,724 candidates, some 72,830 were from 6 southern states, while the bottom 6 states, all in the north, had only 375 candidates. The qualification of teachers mirrors the same unequal distribution. In the late 1990s, only 16 percent of the primary school teachers in the north held the NCE, considered the minimum qualification for teaching. In the south, more than 94 percent held the NCE.

The educational infrastructure needs to be revamped, especially at the primary level. At most schools, there is a desperate shortage of texts. Even in better areas, such as Abia State, primary schools only have enough texts in core subjects for 45 to 50 percent of the pupils. In the poorest states, the number is lower than 10 percent.

Another serious problem is the dropout rate at all levels of education, especially among boys. In 1995, the percentage of elementary students dropping out by the sixth year stood at 30.8 percent. The dropout rate in areas with long reputations for high achievement in education is especially surprising. In Enugu State, for example, nearly 100 percent of primary-school-aged boys and 91 percent of the girls were enrolled in schools in 1992. As political and economic conditions worsened, the figures declined. In 1996 the enrollment figures showed only 42 percent for boys and 35 percent for girls. In the conservative Islamic state of Sokoto in northwest Nigeria, the enrollment statistics for 1992 and 1996 were 41 and 49 percent for boys and 12 and 15 percent for girls. People in conservative Islamic states, however, often send their children to Qur'anic schools, so it is likely that a higher percentage of their children were attending schools.

Because school graduates often have difficulty finding jobs that match their education, the younger generation frequently sees little practical value in staying in school beyond a few primary grades. This problem is especially severe in the eastern region among the Igbo people. The dropout rate becomes critical at the junior secondary level. In 1994, for example, the distribution of boys and girls in Enugu state is about equal in primary school. Of the 156,001 students enrolled in secondary schools, 81,080 were females. The dropout rate in the following year for boys was astronomical. In 1995, of the 99,867 students enrolled in secondary schools, some 91,311 were girls. Boys had dropped out to find work in businesses and trade, while girls stayed in school. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the completion rate for boys in the east stood at only 30 percent.

The federal government has made a strong commitment to education. The UBE is a positive step towards educational success. The goal is to create an educated public whose best interests are to support a unified nation. Emphasizing African and Nigerian history and culture in social sciences is another important step in developing a feeling of unity among the people. Another step is the creation of Unity Secondary Schools throughout the country.

Probably the most promising long-term programs involve local communities throughout the country taking control of their future. These range from integrating teaching in Qur'anic schools with national basic literacy programs to private businessmen offering prizes for students who win literacy contests. They include community involvement, such as the pilot school program initiated by NPEC for the state education boards to seek schools and communities that will set up community participation programs. They come together and raise funds, provide supplies, and help coordinate the various social services available such as health and child care.

The prospects for the future are uncertain. The federal government must deal with great divisions between regions politically, the gap in economic development, and the strong identity of people with their local cultures. People still distrust a strong centralized government. The idea of a unified nation of people who should sacrifice ethnic loyalty for the welfare of the country as a whole is still being tested in Nigeria. The government leaders realize that the survival of Nigeria as a unified country is at risk if the educational system remains inefficient and inconsistent.


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—John A. Zurlo

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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceNigeria - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundation, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education