Getting the basic education system under control has been a key aspect of federal education policy, with improved enrolment numbers beginning to pay dividends.

The government is working to enrol millions in pre-school programs

With an adult literacy rate of just 61.3%, the local education sector clearly has some way to go to building the society Nigeria will need should it wish to diversify its growing economy. While the literacy rate for 15-24 year olds was estimated by UNESCO at 72.1%, this is still falling far short of where the country needs to be in education terms. However, education remains a government spending priority, especially under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. At the 20th Nigerian Economic Summit, held in March 2014, President Jonathan called for an overhaul of the country's 45-year-old education policy, stating at the time “Education has changed the destiny of nations, big and small, and we are determined to change our story for the very best." Traditionally, the federal government has been more involved with the tertiary education sector, leaving basic and secondary education up to the state and local governments to operate. However, since 2011, the federal government has begun playing a larger role in guiding all levels of education, keen as it is to improve Nigeria's human potential.

In the 2014 state budget, the Ministry of Education received NGN424.31 billion, or some 9% of government outlays. While a YoY budget cut of 3% was programmed for the Ministry, this is well below the 6% average that was set down for all state spending, and much of the cut was felt on the capital outlays side, down some 28.7% according to the World Bank. One of the key guiding policy documents addressing both the health and education sector is the National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development (NPPSD), established in 2004. The key targets set down by the NPPSD for education included achieving universal basic education for all Nigerian children by 2015, eliminating illiteracy by 2020, and ensuring that enrollment rates for both males and females in education reached equilibrium. In order to meet a number of these goals, the federal Ministry of Education, in cooperation with the 36 states, has been implementing the Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme. Net enrollment increased to 0.90 in 2013 from 0.88 in 2012, according to the Ministry, while the net enrollment ratio increased to 97%. In 2013, 24.07 million students were enrolled in primary education across Nigeria, while 91.14% of boys and 92.81% of girls who complete six-year primary education stayed on to enter the junior secondary school system. In terms of instructor numbers, at the primary level there were 666,288 teachers (56.8% female) in 2012, with a further 287,090 teachers at the secondary level, 50.5% of whom were female. Overall, this gave a national teacher to pupil ratio of 1:57, still under the target for the Ministry of 1:40. Despite these positive numbers, UNESCO estimated that in 2012 one in five Nigerian children were not enrolled in school. At the junior secondary level, which lasts for three years and is also considered compulsory, the Ministry reported that there were 5.90 million students enrolled in 2013, while the senior secondary level hosted a further 6.41 million.

Another factor complicating enrollment numbers is the high number of students who attend either formal or informal Almajiri schools, which are based on the traditional Quranic education model. Most of the students engaged in Almajiri schools are found in the northern states of Nigeria, with some analysts estimating that up to 10 million students of school age could be in this system. Over recent years, the federal government has tried to improve the level of education provided by these Almajiri schools by creating 125 model schools, formally called Tsangaya schools, across the country by the end of 2013, with the majority being in the north; though they are present in 27 of Nigeria's 36 states. However, the reach of these schools will be small at first, but remain a necessary step in attempting to raise basic educational standards at the national and regional level.

The federal government has also launched two separate initiatives to improve the education system. Under the Early Childhood Care Development Education (ECCDE) program, the authorities have managed to enroll 2.99 million students in a “pre-school" concept that lasts for one year prior to the start of primary education. At the secondary level, the government has sponsored the creation of 104 “elite" Federal Government Colleges, which hosted 123,765 students in 2013, with 6,594 teachers, giving a teacher/pupil ratio of some 1:20.


Approximately 1.7 million students sat for university entrance exams in the 2013/2014 academic year, competing for the 520,000 places available. The university sector is divided at the federal, state, and private sector level. At the federal level, the National Universities Commission (NUC) lists 40 accredited universities, with another 39 state universities, and 50 private universities. The federal Ministry of Education approved three new private universities in 2013, while only one new state university, Jigawa State University, received approval for its foundation. Federal universities recorded the presence of some 466,000 students in 2013, state universities hosted around 337,000 students, and private sector universities had 39,887. While the female participation rate in federal universities was the highest at 41.12%, the rate in private universities was a more limited 20.48%, according to Ministry of Education figures for 2013.

Other key institutions in the tertiary sector are the polytechnical schools, colleges of education, and monotechnical schools. In 2013 there were 281 colleges of education, 78 polytechnical schools, and 27 monotechnicals. Although student enrollment information for colleges of education was not provided by the Ministry in 2013, the comparable figures for polytechnics were 270,000 students, with nearly 21,600 students attending monotechnical schools. Another alternative for those looking to access tertiary education is provided via the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), which in 2013 boasted of having 250,000 students engaged in open and distance learning programs. While the number of universities and their student capacity is on the rise, there remains much to be done to not only ensure that more well-educated Nigerians are ready to take on the challenges of the global economy, but that basic education needs are satisfied for all in this highly diverse nation.