The success of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme which aims to provide free education to every child in Nigeria caused the number of primary school leavers to more than double in 2007, creating a backlog that the secondary education system is struggling to cope with.
Over 49,000 children in the northern Nigeria city of Kano who completed primary school in 2006 and wish to attend secondary school may not be admitted due to a severe shortage of trained teachers and classrooms, Kano government officials told IRIN.
In the past year the number of children leaving primary school in Kano city has increased from 46,460 in 2006 to 116,205 in 2007. In 2006, 42,000 of these students went on to junior secondary school, while in 2007 66,900 were admitted, according to local government statistics.
“We can accommodate only 60 percent of the pupils who are waiting to be admitted to junior secondary school, due to the shortage of classrooms we are facing in this state,” said Musa Salihu, education commissioner for Kano State. “We are looking into the problem to see how we can overcome it.’’
Those children who do not gain admission may face missing a year, while those who do are certain to face overcrowded classrooms with up to 150 children per class, according to retired teacher Ibrahim Adamu. This goes against a Ministry of Education 2001 policy limiting class sizes to 40 students.
UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson Christine Jaulmes said increased numbers are nevertheless a positive development. “In the past in northern states, sending children to school wasn’t a priority, but now parents’ attitudes have changed,” she said.
Nigeria is part of the Education for All movement, initiated in 2000 under the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as part of which participants agreed to achieve six goals, one of which was universal primary education, later to become a 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG).
However, despite increasing numbers, still only 60 percent of Nigerian children attend primary school, according to UNICEF’s 2007 State of the World’s Children report, making the country off-track to meet these targets.
Keith Hinchcliffe, senior policy analyst on the Education for All global monitoring team, which monitors progress against the MDGs, said that given these figures, it is understandable that the focus and energy to date of a government like Nigeria’s has been on achieving universal primary education, rather than secondary.
New policies, new money
The focus on primary education looks set to change. According to a November speech by Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, the Kano State governor, the Kano State government will earmark US$107 million - 18 percent of its 2008 budget - for education.
Almost half of this will go to secondary schools and almost a quarter to primary education.
According to Hinchcliffe, building and running secondary schools is more expensive than doing the same for primary schools, and the Kano figures reflect this: US$10 million of the secondary school budget will go towards rebuilding just six schools, while US$13 million will be spent on rebuilding 82 primary schools.
Education expert Ibrahim Bello Kano, said it is not just a question of building new schools, but of making sure their construction is of good quality.
“The problem with the [schools] the government erects is that they are sub-standard,” he said. Because of this, many school buildings deteriorate after a few years, he said. “No matter the staggering amount of money the government budgets for education, as long as it is not used in the proper way, nothing will change the situation,” he told IRIN.
The next step for the government will be instituting long-term plans, according to UNICEF’s Jaulmes, who said the problem of attaining UBE can only be achieved if the government more accurately assesses the numbers of projected pupils and teachers and develops long-term plans to meet their needs in the future.
UNICEF and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) are working with six state governments, including Kano’s, to develop 10-year plans to meet the increased numbers of primary school leavers.
Hinchcliffe urged a thorough rethink of the education model in Nigeria. He suggested stretching primary school from six to nine years by incorporating the first three years of secondary schooling.
“With the expansion in primary school attendance, governments need to think about the system much more comprehensively. What is necessary is that they recognise there are alternatives to dealing with this.”
Indeed, in 144 countries, according to Hinchcliffe, a “nine-year basic” is a legal requirement, with compulsory education incorporating both primary and the first few years of secondary schooling.
“One of the incentives for [children] not dropping out of primary school is to have a chance of going to secondary. To keep that motivation up you need to create a system that gives children the reward of secondary education places.”