“It’s a mess.”
“I’d rather not have my children go through this system.”
“Students are not really learning, they’re only doing la cram la pour.”
Ask an average Nigerian what they think of the Nigerian education system and you are likely to get comments such as those above. It is not difficult to find something negative to say about the state of education in the country, and for several reasons. Perhaps you expect me to rant about all the challenges associated with the Nigerian education system. Okay, the truth is, I will. The aim isn’t to add to the flood of (dis)information that’s readily available, but to show that despite everything, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, back to the challenges. The education system has long suffered from infrastructural inadequacies, misused government funds, and poorly trained teachers, to name a few. With the quality of education still below global standards, it is no surprise that Nigerians are quick to say, “Don’t go and drop out because you think you’ll be the next Mark Zuckerberg. A Harvard dropout is not the same as a Nigerian university dropout.” Frankly, they are not the same, and that’s just the truth. From primary to tertiary level, many schools in Nigeria are largely under-resourced and lacking in the infrastructure needed to deliver high quality education. Similarly, outdated curricula present a disconnect between the education system and the needs of the 21st century labor market.
Majority of these challenges are linked to the government’s lack of funding commitment to education. UNESCO recommends an international benchmark of 15-20% for budgetary allocation to the education sector. The Nigerian government’s 2021 proposed budget has an allocation of 5.6% to education – less than half the recommendation by UNESCO whereas the Oyo State Government presented its 2021 Fiscal Budget with an allocation of 21% to its education sector, well above UNESCO’s recommendation. A report by EdTech Hub revealed that government allocation to education technology in most Nigerian states majorly covers personnel salaries, with about 98% of budgetary allocation spent on salaries alone. As a result, there is little left for the actual development of the education sector. Most of these states depend on NGOs and international partners such as the World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF for other education expenditures. Similarly, it can be argued that the same NGOs and startups are slowly leading the Nigerian education system to that light at the end of the tunnel I mentioned earlier. How? Well, let me show you.
Over the past decade, there has been a growing trend with regards to the use of technology to enhance educational outcomes in Nigeria, a term widely known as Education Technology (EdTech). Through the use of hardware, software, and processes, EdTech blends technology with traditional education to create a system that procures high-quality learning both within and outside the classroom. In Nigeria, education technology has the potential to transform the education system, improve methods of learning, and enable the country make its way to a higher standard of education.
EdTech previously did not have much traction in Nigeria but is now gradually being adopted across the country. Initially, the federal government did have targeted plans to stimulate the adoption of ICT in education. This was mainly seen in the introduction of the National Policy on Information and Communication Technologies in Education (ICT) in 2010. The policy was later reviewed and updated in 2019 due to significant advancements in technology and education.
While this policy was approved with good intentions, little progress has been made to see the plans become actions. Activities that were planned for the first year of the policy’s implementation are yet to be carried out, and still, there are barely any checks and balances to see that these processes are implemented.
NGO-Led Interventions in EdTech
This is not to say that the government has been dormant when it comes to EdTech in the country. There are a number of EdTech initiatives led by NGOs which have government backing as described below:
This is one of the two online learning platforms approved by the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) during the Covid-19 pandemic. The portal offers both online and offline video learning and materials to students of all levels. The two government partners backing SchoolGate are the FME and the state ministries of education.
Targeted at primary and secondary schools, Digistem was a pilot project implemented by STEMRES, RIMFEHT, and World Bank (SEPIP), and was aimed at increasing the digital literacy of students. The project which reached over 10,000 students had an implementation period between 2017-2019, with Ekiti State government being the main government partner.
Implemented by Microsoft and Tech4dev, the Basic Digital Education Initiative (BDEI) is an experiential-learning, computer education and STEM program targeted at young people in rural communities aged 8-18. Between 2020 and 2022, the program aims to reach 500,000 students across 12 selected states in Nigeria. As a result, the state governments of the 12 selected are partners of this project.
This is a Programme launched as “one of Federal Government’s key initiatives that will empower innovators and entrepreneurs with skills required to thrive in our emerging digital economy”. The Programme is a key component of the Digital Literacy and Skills Pillar of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria.
The Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy partnered with the African Development Bank, Microsoft, IBM, Huawei, VMWare, Oracle, amongst others to enable Nigerians acquire cutting edge digital skills within the comfort of their homes.
The training covers areas like Digital Literacy, Productivity Tools, Web Development, Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Database Administration, Networking, Programming and Internet of Things. There is also training on soft skills like entrepreneurship, research, marketing, business and how to create excellent resumes. The aim is to create digital entrepreneurs, develop skills for jobs and to foster innovation.
Private Sector Led EdTech Interventions
However, there has been a larger response from the private sector as various EdTech interventions have been introduced to help bridge the gap between education and technology in Nigeria, and ultimately, improve the quality of the education system. Let’s look at 11 of such privately-led EdTech interventions, shall we?
This is a Nigerian EdTech startup that provides online stack learning for coding/programming. Through specialized programs and syllabi, the platform equips Nigerian students with firsthand experience with programming. By the end of 2020, Ustacky launched it’s Microdegree Scholarship Program to empower 1000 students to pursue careers in tech and programming.
Utiva is a leading education technology training school in Nigeria that provides Nigerians with a platform to learn technology skills virtually. The organization offers a number of programs such as the Design School, AI School and Programming School, some of which combine in-class and virtual apprenticeship.
Stutern is a digital skills development and job placement platform that offers courses to young Nigerians to prepare them for the needs of Nigeria’s evolving labor market. The platform offers courses in data science, UI/UX, and software development, as well as the Stutern Graduate Accelerator program for tech skills.
Flexisaf provides new teaching and learning experiences to educators and students in Nigeria through a number of innovative software solutions for schools, tertiary institutions, young individuals and the government. Their solutions include Education Management Information System (SAFSIMS, SAFAPPLY, SAFTIMS, SRMS, SAFLEARN, Skool, Distinction), Training and Capacity Building, Supporting Infrastructure, E-learning, Connectivity Solutions, Web Portal Development and Consulting and Professional Services
Their online classroom offers real-time collaboration, engaging online materials and assessments and reporting mechanisms for analysing students’ performances.
In partnership with Airtel Nigeria, edtech startup ScholarX recently launched a digital learning platform called LearnAm. The platform provides digital skills training, earning opportunities, assessment to measure competency, and a marketplace that connects users to jobs, customers and/or apprenticeships. The strategic partnership with Airtel serves to empower Nigerians with an improved quality of education and the skills they need to be self-sufficient. The LearnAm app will be available with content in local dialects such as Pidgin English, Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa.
Devcenter is an online networking community that connects software developers, creatives and technology professionals in Nigeria. The platform also provides a job platform for its software developers to further bridge the gap between tech talents and clients.
This is an online network of tech enthusiasts across Africa. The program connects individuals who are dedicated to learning to solve problems through technology. Learners from all over Africa can apply to join the program and advance their careers as software engineers.
uLesson is a Nigerian EdTech startup that provides an improved method of learning for Nigerian students in junior and secondary schools. The organization uses media, technology and in-class teachers to offer students quality learning in their standard school subjects, and also helps senior secondary school students prepare for their national senior exams.
Gradely is an educational technology company that helps schools and parents deliver a personalised learning experience for K-12 students in Nigeria.
The learning platform offers a personalized solution that helps parents and teachers know each student’s learning gaps and fill those gaps in efficient ways.
Pass is a web, desktop and mobile-based CBT examination preparatory and testing platform catering to K-12 (Kindergarten to 12th grade) students.
One of its laudable solutions is its offline CBT software that allows students practice without internet
Edves is an academic portal that automates operations in schools and colleges from admission to transcript generation.
The platform reduces teacher and administrator workload and gives them opportunities to mark attendance and prepare classroom lessons using AI algorithms.
When all is said and done, it is clear that privately-led organisations are leading the way to a new education system in Nigeria. While the government has shown some form of effort towards promoting EdTech, my take is that the government could do a lot more, not just from the budget allocation stage, but in partnering with the private sector to achieve greater reach of EdTech solutions to Nigerians. So yes, the Nigerian education system is far from international standard, but with a deliberate focus on EdTech, that light at the end of the tunnel could be much closer than we imagined.
Jointly written with Kenstonia Edende.