Education, youth unemployment and social unrest
Nigeria is facing an increasing ‘youth bulge’ with a youth population currently standing at 123.4 million, approximately 63 per cent of the population.
The United Nations (UN) predicts that by 2050, Nigeria will be the third largest population in the world. While increased population could potentially offer the country key human capital for development, millions of Nigerian children and youth, however, remain uneducated or poorly educated.
Lack of education and in instances where education is available, low quality is associated with increased youth unemployment, which is currently estimated at 42 per cent.
Like most developing countries, violence, unemployment, poverty and limited future opportunities continues to be a threat to the youth in Nigeria. The challenges of youth unemployment and underemployment if not urgently addressed will continue to increase socio-economic exclusion, migration and political tensions.
The current ‘EndSARS’ protest reveals underlying issues of poverty, social injustices and the widening inequality in the country. Such issues as, educational inequality for example, arises from poor access and quality of education, which most often results in poverty and poverty contributes to poor educational outcomes, which further impacts the youth.
Nigeria is, therefore, struggling not only to keep its citizens out of poverty but is facing the challenge of keeping its children in school and its youth gainfully employed.
The class and socio-economic divide in the country, particularly in urban cities continues to further inequalities within the society and is affecting access to education for a significant number of children and youth.
The level of dissatisfaction and frustration experienced by the youth continues to increase. Educational outcomes in the country are below expectations and many children are not in school.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had an estimated 13.2 million children out of school with no access at all to education; this is expected to increase significantly post-COVID.
Those in school are not learning adequately, as many are considered functionally illiterate despite attending some level of schooling and consequently, they drop out of school. Access to government schools in the country and in urban cities are limited as a result of capacity issues and increasing demand arising from the growing population. The transition from primary to secondary level continues to fall, with enrolment rates at the secondary school level dropping to 42 per cent.
The impact of this on Nigeria’s human capital cannot be underestimated as educational inequalities continue to affect investments in education, as well as the rise in conflict and unrest within the youth population.
School dropouts by a significant number of the youth can be linked to economic hardship.
Consequently, the economic challenges experienced by the youth along with poor educational opportunities, especially in the marginalised neighbourhoods will likely provide some youths with the opportunity to seek other criminal avenues for survival.
Studies have shown that poor educational opportunities result in increased youth crime and violence, especially for those in marginalised communities.
Conflict and violence by the youth will likely rise when they begin to resist the dominant culture and authority and when they refuse to accept the status quo of class and wealth dominance. We can see that this is increasingly happening in the country.
In addition, when education systems remain insensitive to social inequalities, the system itself most often plays a socially destructive role by maintaining unequal access and quality of education, offering segregated and unjust educational provision.
When education is used to reinforce power structures and class inequality in society, it contributes to further grievances amongst the youth. However, improved educational opportunity for young people and employment could reduce inequalities and consequently grievances that cause conflict and violence.
The acquisition of credentials by Nigerians in order to increase the chances for social mobility and social capital, as well as the acquisition of skills needed to meet the requirements of the job market, has resulted in increased demand for formal schooling by the youth. However, a significant number of our youth lack adequate and relevant productive skills for the economy, and many are not educated despite some having received a level of basic education.
Many who have attended formal schooling face very limited economic opportunities, leading to frustrations and anger towards the government and the ‘system’.
Frustrations are also increasing for those who cannot access any form of education or skills development initiatives.
The lack of access to quality education and consequent effect of the youth’s inability to access jobs and opportunities can only have detrimental effects for the country.
In addition, with globalisation and rapid advancements in technology transforming the world of work, the Nigerian education system faces the challenge of connecting students with what is learnt in the classroom and that of the needs of the economy.
Our youth are lacking the foundational, digital and 21st-century skills required to succeed in a changing world of work. In a world of increasing innovations, the ability of our youth to solve problems, be critical thinkers and to create new solutions becomes increasingly relevant and essential if they are to contribute to economic development.
Such skills are needed for innovation, adaptability and competitiveness of the economy. In view of the poor academic achievements of our children in Nigeria, the ability of the education system to meet the demands of the marketplace and skills requirements for the country’s economic growth continues to be of some concern.
A significant number of our youth make their livelihood in the informal sector, which accounts for 56.2 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The informal sector has a high prevalence of small businesses and entrepreneurship in the country and therefore offers a good opportunity for our youth to be productive.
Although informal employment is expected to decrease as the level of an individual’s education increases, however in Nigeria, where the formal sector is not growing at the pace to absorb its educated population, a significant number of our higher educated students are forced to remain in the informal sector to make a living.
Income from employment in the informal sector is however expected to be lower than that of the formal sector. Providing the youth with the opportunity to be productive, to fulfil their potentials and to acquire the necessary skills to add value to their lives and the economy is therefore critical, as well as ensuring social cohesion and nation building.
There is therefore a need to prepare and equip young people with the skills required to become useful members of society. Ensuring that Nigeria’s growing youth population gain access to quality education, entrepreneurship and vocational skills training for example, is critical for the country’s economic survival and security.
Given the growing demand for education and skills development, Nigeria therefore needs to reform its education and skills development system to ensure there is equal and equitable access and quality of education for all its children and youth up to the completion of secondary school at a minimum.
Incentives ought to be introduced to offer educational pathways and skills development for those that can no longer enter formal education and encourage others that want to go back to school to do so. In addition, government could subsidize educational costs such as transportation, uniforms and books for example, which most often causes barriers to entry for children and youth attending government schools in order to complete their education.
Other forms of financial support, such as vouchers, could also be provided to disadvantaged families that attend low-cost private schools as a result of a lack of public provision of education.
Given that only about 30 per cent of secondary school students annually transition to tertiary institutions in the country, government could strengthen its entrepreneurship education at the secondary school level to enable students gain more relevant and quality entrepreneurial and vocational skills.
Adequate consideration should be given to trade and crafts in the curriculum and through institutionalized apprenticeships that fit into the skills requirements of the country.
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) could be completely restructured into a technical, vocational education and training (TVET) institution catering to the needs of significant graduates each year, and models such as the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) could be replicated in all states in the country with the active involvement of the private sector.
In addition, government could continue to actively collaborate with the private sector to provide access to finance for micro and small-scale enterprises for the youth in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy, as well as providing the private sector with incentives to invest in skills development initiatives for the youth.
There is a desperate need to give our youth some hope and it is only when we adequately and purposefully invest in developing our children and youth and create opportunities for them will we begin to reap the benefits of social cohesion and economic development.
Akerele-De Souza is an education and international development consultant