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A case of broken chalks and cracked blackboards

Formal education remains a key tool for national development. In Nigeria, the sector faces many challenges and is plagued by fundamental issues which stem from basic education level ...
PHOTO: imeela.com

PHOTO: imeela.com

Formal education remains a key tool for national development. In Nigeria, the sector faces many challenges and is plagued by fundamental issues which stem from basic education level, the foundation upon which literacy can be built. Although one of the challenges within the sector is shortage of academic staff across all levels of education, the quality of education is the most critical due to insufficient investment.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) estimated that over eight million Nigerian children were out of school in 2014. Additionally, transition and completion rates are appalling, with 32% of primary school students transitioning to secondary school.

The FGN’s inability to combat challenges within the sector has led to a high level of ‘student export’ amongst the middle to high income class in the country. According to UNESCO, in Africa, Nigeria is the second largest country with its students studying overseas after Morocco.

A general perception is that Ghana has a more organised educational system compared with Nigeria. Although there are no comprehensive data, a recent survey carried out by the Ghana National Accreditation Board revealed that there are close to 7,500 Nigerian nationals (representing slightly under 70% of total foreign students) pursuing programmes in Ghanaian federal universities. Furthermore, two years ago, anecdotal evidence showed that Ghana receives as high as US$1bn annually as tuition fees from enrolled Nigerian students.

Another recent trend is that of Nigerian students studying in Kenyan secondary and tertiary institutions. In July, an agriculture and technology institute in Kenya conducted its graduation ceremony with 25% of its PhD graduates being Nigerians. This is intriguing because Kenya is regarded to have one of the highest number of students studying abroad (in UK or the US). Meanwhile, according to the Institute of International Education, there are over 9,000 Nigerian students in American colleges and universities while Project Atlas figures show that no less than 19,000 Nigerians are studying in the UK. It would not be surprising if the exact number of students studying outside Nigeria in each country mentioned are far higher than the figures reported.

Nigeria’s education sector needs a major overhaul. Apart from the very obvious infrastructural issues and inadequate facilities, curriculum structures at all levels require immediate attention as the content in these curricula are not passed effectively to students. Furthermore, a restructuring of curricula to reflect the country’s current economic needs is essential as there is an oversaturation in specific professional fields while others lack skilled employees.

The essence of fully functional vocational and technical institutions cannot be overemphasized. Perhaps, polytechnics across the country could be revamped to offer courses that will equip individuals for career paths often cited as “blue collar” and usually captured in the informal sector. For instance, formal education in plumbing, electrical techniques, auto mechanics and carpentry amongst others is likely to offer a decent standard of living for the enrolled candidate post-graduation. However, a shift in mind-set is required to drive this sort of initiative effectively. Often times, these professions are regarded as inferior but generate appreciable income for several individuals in developed countries.

Another pressing issue within the Nigerian educational system is that of ‘brain-drain’; that is, the exit of highly trained teachers and lecturers. One factor responsible for this is the relatively low salaries offered to academic staff in comparison to salary structures in other sectors. This has opened a window for sub-par tutors to fill the gap.

Despite this human capital flight, based on data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), education has steadily emerged as the leading source of new formal-sector jobs over the past six quarters. This could easily be hinged on the fact that securing a job within the sector (particularly in public education) is relatively easy and usually a last resort for job seekers that have been rejected in other sectors. It is also worth noting that the education sector experiences high turnover of staff. This may explain its position as the leading job generator.

The national account series from the NBS revealed education as one of the fastest growing sectors last year; it grew by 8% y/y but accounted for only 3% of the country’s non-oil economy in 2015. This growth in educational services has been primarily driven by the private sector. It is a better alternative to public sector schools.

Given that private universities are less susceptible to strikes by dissatisfied lecturers, these schools offer a more stable learning environment. For the significant minority which meet high educational standards by offering internationally recognised curricula with well-equipped facilities, they are only accessible to the wealthy.

Generally, this trend bodes well for the economy as it increases the stock in human capital. However, the downside risk is the emergence of a two-tier education system which could widen the country’s income inequality gap.

To achieve the necessary results which would drive education and effectively boost the broader economy, the government has to pull its weight on every level. This year the FGN disclosed plans to offer free education to science and technology students through a cash-transfer programme under the education grant within the social intervention project. The 2016 budget provides N5.8bn for this initiative and about 100,000 tertiary students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are expected to benefit from this programme.

Other programmes by the FGN capable of giving the education sector a facelift include the daily meals to primary school pupils across the country via the Home Grown School Feeding programme, as well as the hiring of 500,000 graduates under the Teach Nigeria Scheme. These social intervention programmes can move the sector into a “grade A” classification. However, the lack of reliable data for the sector is a major problem as it makes it difficult to monitor progress and identify areas which are not delivering positive results on the back of these initiatives.

There have also been private sector driven educational relief packages geared towards empowering disadvantaged children in slums to achieve their full potential, through the provision of educational scholarships. The Slum2School Africa initiative has made a lot of progress with this. However, the sector is still a far cry from perfect and more work is required.

Efforts on this front are laudable but the structural issues within the sector need to be tackled: revamping dilapidated teaching environments, training and re-orientation of academic staff, an overhaul of existing curricula and improving on infrastructure as well as amenities amongst others.
The biting fx issues have caused households to revise spending patterns. Unfortunately, expenses on education have been curtailed, resulting in students being pulled out from their academic institutions to cheaper alternatives. The inflation data for August show that education prices rose by 18.5% y/y compared with 9.6% recorded in the corresponding period of 2015. This component has a 3.9% weighting in the index.

Anecdotal evidence points towards students studying abroad making plans to return to Nigeria to complete their education as the weaker naira is limiting local capacity to pay foreign tuition and living expenses. Some argue that due to the fx scarcity in Nigeria, those sourcing forex for educational tourism should turn to the parallel market which is offering incredibly higher rates. The issue at hand then becomes, what is the domestic alternative?
Quality education is a basic need. It is essential for the Nigerian government to treat the revamping of this sector with a sense of urgency. For the low income earners, particularly in the northern region of Nigeria, basic education is expensive and seen as a luxury. Ideally, it should be free and easily accessible.

Apart from being a job generating sector, education could also be a potential source of fx earnings through the accumulation of tuition fees from other nationals across African countries. Admittedly, proper investment needs to be channelled towards the sector and basic infrastructure put in place.

Chinwe Egwim
Macroeconomic & Fixed Income Securities Analyst at FBN Capital

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