STEM TO ROOTS

Nigeria 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: STEM EDUCATION

Rapid population growth brings challenges, of course, but if leveraged correctly, Nigeria has the chance to harness an explosion of human capital unmatched in the modern world.

Nigeria's hopes for the future are heavily dependent on its education sector. Already the world's seventh-most populous country with more than 185 million residents as of 2016, UN projections anticipate that it will become the third-largest country in the world by 2050.

Industry and governmental leaders acknowledge there is work to be done: exponential population growth has placed new demands on an already-overextended education system, leaving millions without the opportunity to attend school. Despite this, however, enrollment rates have increased steadily and baseline statistics such as literacy rates have risen accordingly in youth populations. Today, Nigerian educators are looking to take the next step and improve STEM education by using its international connections to install rigorous curriculums and increase knowledge transfers.
Nowhere in the Nigerian education system is the gap between current and needed standards as large as in the STEM sectors. Introducing new and more rigorous curriculums is one of the central goals of the Nigerian government. Many of the students who make it to primary and secondary school are underserved because of the lack of available materials such as textbooks and teachers unprepared to teach technical material. In 2015, Nigeria ranked 103rd out of 118 countries in UNESCO's Education for All movement, in large part due to the quality of education. Funding is a major cause of the disparity in this regard; one 2015 report by a Nigerian university found that education has consistently made up around 10% of the Nigerian government's budget, well below the 26% budgetary proportion recommended by UNESCO.
Nigeria sees its wealth of well-established international relationships as the possible solution to its funding and quality problems in the educational sector. Over the past few years, international investors have flocked to the country, drawn by the economic opportunities available. At the same time, Nigeria has initiated a number of collaborative programs in which it draws upon the technological experience of these countries to build new STEM learning opportunities for Nigerian students. These partnerships have been made with both individual countries and international development organizations. The US-based Global Partnership of Education has given Nigeria more than USD100 million in grants to raise the quality of education, with an emphasis on the underdeveloped northern regions of the country.
In 2017, the US announced the creation of an education academy that functions as a robotics-training suite for more than 450 Nigerian students as well as a general STEM education center for teachers and researchers. Located in Lagos, the center expects to donate more than 100 robots to schools in Lagos and Ogun states, giving students an opportunity to apply design and programing skills in a hands-on environment. Faculty at the center will be international, with American and European leaders in technology lending their expertise to the project.
China, too, has taken an interest in the Nigerian education sector. 2017 saw the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation donate three classrooms to the Lagos state government, part of a larger educational investment project that has seen China carry out 11 projects focused on improving Nigerian social infrastructure since 2013. China has also announced a plan to open a chemical technology university in Nigeria and further improve exchange programs with Nigerian public universities to help meet growing demand.
Projects such as these bode well for the future of the country. If effective, they should help increase the technological literacy needed to create a knowledge economy and plug the brain drain of talented Nigerians studying and working abroad. As of 2015, there were more than 75,000 Nigerians studying abroad, largely due to a lack of adequate space and classes at domestic universities. Building a world-class education system able to meet the needs of its population will take time and effort, but collaborations such as these will go a long way toward bringing Nigeria up to speed.