Financing Quality Basic Education In Nigeria


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Otive Igbuzor, PhD

Country Director,

ActionAid International Nigeria

Plot 590 Cadastral zone

P. O. Box 1890, Garki,  Abuja.

Tel: +234 9 2348480 & 2









The importance of education to human beings cannot be over emphasized. Education has been defined as all efforts, conscious and direct, incidental and indirect, made by a given society to accomplish certain objectives that are considered desirable in terms of the individual’s own needs as well as the needs of the society where that education is based.[i] At the outset, it is important to point out that education goes beyond schooling. But schooling at all levels help to achieve the purpose of education.


Education is a human right that should be accorded to all human beings solely by reason of being human. There are a lot of international human rights instruments that provide for education as a fundamental human right. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981) and the Child Rights Act. The relationship between education and development is well established such that education is a key index of development. It has been documented that schooling improves productivity, health and reduces negative features of life such as child labour as well as bringing about empowerment.[ii]  It has been shown that education opens the door for all citizens to participate in development activities and when citizens are denied education, they are excluded from the development process, which in turn puts them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis their compatriots with the benefit of education.[iii] This is why there has been a lot of emphasis particularly in recent times for all citizens of the world to have access to basic education of good quality.


The importance and linkage of education to the development of any society is well known. It has been documented that:

Education satisfies a basic human need for knowledge, provides a means of helping to meet other basic needs, and helps sustain and accelerate overall development. Another important role of education lies in the fact that it helps to determine the distribution of employment and income for both present and future generations. And education influences social welfare through its indirect effects on health, fertility and life expectancy.[iv]

 It is in recognition of this importance that the international community and governments all over the world have made commitments for citizens to have access to education.  Meanwhile, it has been documented that across the globe, there are inequalities in educational access and achievement as well as high levels of absolute educational deprivation of both children and adults.[v] In order to confront this challenge, the rights based approach, which emphasizes the participation of citizens, has been advocated. Meanwhile, the Declaration of the World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA) which was made in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 stated clearly in Article 1 that every person – child, Youth and Adult – shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic needs. This declaration was reaffirmed at the World Summit for Children also held in 1990, which stated that all children should have access to basic education by the year 2000. The World Summit for Children placed a lot of emphasis on raising the levels of female literacy. In a bid to achieve education goals, the Dakar World Education Forum was held as a follow-up meeting to the WCEFA where new sets of goals were set to be attained by the year 2015. The goals include:

(i)                  Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;

(ii)                Ensuring that by 2015 all children, with special emphasis on girls, children in difficult circumstances and from ethnic minorities have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality;

(iii)               Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes;

(iv)              Achieving a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults;

(v)                Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girl’s full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality;

(vi)              Improving all aspects of the quality of education, and ensuring excellence for all, so that recognized and reasonable learning outcomes are achieved, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

Two of the Daker goals (Goals 2 and 6) address the issue of quality education. Similarly, the Millennium Developments Goals (MDGs) adopted in September 2000 at  the United Nations Millennium Declaration has two of the eight goals devoted to education. They are goal 2 (to achieve universal primary education) and goal 3 (to promote gender equality and empower women).


As noted above, the right to education is enshrined in many international human rights covenants. Similarly, the right of all Nigerians to education has always been provided for in Nigerian constitutions. Specifically, the 1999 Constitution provides in Section 18 that:

(1)               Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.

(2)               Government shall promote science and technology.

(3)               Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy, and to this end, Government shall as soon and when practicable provide:

(a)                free, compulsory and universal primary education;

(b)               free secondary education;

(c)                free university education;

(d)               free adult literacy programme.[vi]


Unfortunately, this provision is in chapter two of the Constitution titled fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, which is not justiceable. It has been argued that these rights are necessary for people to live meaningful lives and therefore there is a great need to make them (socioeconomic rights) justiceable.[vii] In any case, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in article 17 provides that every individual shall have the right to education. The African Charter has been domesticated in Nigeria and therefore has the full force of law.


While there has been a lot of focus on rights and access, little efforts have been put into addressing the question of quality. This paper is focused on the question of quality and the place of finance in promoting quality basic education.



One major question about financing education is who should finance education? The argument has always been whether the cost of education should be borne by government or by individuals receiving education. There has been a lot of debate about cost of education especially on who should bear the cost. The debate can be crudely reduced to three groups. The first group is made up of those who argue that cost of education should be borne essentially by parents with government providing the enabling environment. They are of the view that education should be subjected to free market discipline. This group posits “that families and individuals ought to pay fees in order to access nominally available public services, otherwise these services would not be available or their quality would become unacceptably low.”[viii] The problem with the position of this group is that those who are poor will not be able to pay and they will be denied access. The second group argues that education is a right, which must be funded by government. They argue that there are enough resources in the world to fund at least basic education for all children. They posit that the problem is that of corruption, misplaced priority, inequality and poor policy choices. They argue that education should not only be free but also compulsory. They are of the view that government should bear all the costs because even if the direct costs of education are borne by government, the indirect costs (such as uniform, transport and school meals) may be beyond the capacity of the family while the opportunity cost may be impossible to bear.[ix]  They argue that no right could exist without corresponding government obligation and that government is obliged to make education available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable. The third group while coming from the rights based approach like the second group posits that education is a right and government must not only endeavor to remove all the barriers to education but must also take steps to utilize to the maximum of its available resources to achieve progressively the full realisation of the right to education and other social and economic rights. They argue that there are three layers of obligations in matters of social and economic rights: obligations to respect, protect and fulfill. The obligation to respect requires states to refrain from interfering with social and economic rights e.g. refrain from forced eviction. The obligation to protect requires states to prevent violations by third parties, for example, ensuring that private employers comply with labour standards. The obligation to fulfill requires states to take appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial and other measures towards the full realisation of such rights.


Although scholars are not in agreement on cost sharing arrangement for education, there are certain costs that must be borne by government if we must achieve universal access to education. In a cost tracking workshop, organised by ActionAid from 13-17 October, 2003, in Johannesburg, development practitioners drawn from Africa, Asia Europe and Latin America discussed issues of cost of education while using Venn Diagram, recommended a cost sharing formula among the various stakeholders of education. To this end, participants allocated various costs of education to the community, government and private sector as follows:




           Recreational facilities

Oval:            PRIVATE SECTOR
           Recreational facilities

PTA/SMC Capacity Building



Transport & Uniform

Oval: PTA/SMC Capacity Building 
Transport & Uniform



Textbooks, Exercise books, Infrastructure including maintenance, Tuition,         

Salaries, Utilities, Teachers’ Training & Retraining, Curriculum Review,

School meal, Libraries, Good Roads, toilet facilities

Musical Instruments

PTACapacity building

The workshop concluded that all stakeholders have some responsibilities to ensure that children are supported to acquire quality education. The issue of who pays for what should be critically examined within particular context. Communities need to understand the various dynamics involved in national budgeting to adequately mobilize themselves to make demands while the role of ActionAid and benchmark organizations will be to facilitate this process.


In the 1960s and 1970s, African governments invested heavily in education and studies show that in Nigeria and other countries in Africa, this is the period of the most rapid expansion of education.[x]  The economic crisis of the 1980s led to the introduction of structural adjustment programmes (SAP) with prescription from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for reduction in public investment in education. The policy prescriptions were aptly captured by Bonat who pointed out that:

The Bank did not suggest that public spending on education should be boosted at the expense of servicing external debts. The World Bank prescribed adjustment, revitalization and selective expansion policies in order to address the education problems…The purpose of adjustment was to “alleviate the burden of education and training on public budgets.” Because the Bank expected continuing structural adjustment to further erode public spending on education, it recommended adjustment to diversify sources of educational finance “through increased cost sharing in public education,” and the “encouragement of nongovernmental supplies of educational services.” The Bank recommended “increased user charges” in public education, especially for tertiary education. The Bank also recommended “containment of unit costs” “especially in utilization of teachers” (low pay policy for teachers), lowering construction standards for educational infrastructure, and benefiting from “the tendency of students to repeat grades or drop out of school.”[xi]


In reality these policies led to decrease in public expenditure on education, increased participation of the private sector, commercialization of education and stagnation of salary of teachers in the face of inflation leading to decline in the quality of education. One other way that has led to declining quality of education is the neglect of tertiary institutions in Nigeria especially as from the mid-1980s. It has been documented that:

The World Bank has, since the mid-1980s, canvassed the position that Nigeria and African countries do not need higher education but only training of its youth in basic education and technical education. The UBE is predicated on the same assumption. Pay less attention to university education and fund UBE. Leave universities to private hands; re-introduce the 1986 Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) formula of cost recovery, rationalization, and commercialization and public universities will die a nautral death. But UBE will survive because the World Bank will fund it. This is the illusion of the decade.[xii]


Studies have therefore shown that education capital expenditure has declined sharply since the 1980s, and by 1988, the real value of capital expenditure on education was less than 17 percent of the average value of the 1980s. [xiii] This trend has continued and the budgetary allocations to education have been less than 10 percent of the total federal budget from 1995 to 2006. It is interesting to note that while the expenditure on education has remained low, the average expenditure on administration was 21 percent of the total expenditure between 1995 and 1999 but grew to 31 percent between 1999 and 2003.[xiv]




Although there are many international treaties, conventions and declarations dealing with various aspects of education, they are generally silent about how well education systems could and should be expected to perform.[xv]  However, in 1990, the World Declaration on Education for All noted that the generally poor quality of education needed to be improved and recommended that education be made both universally available and more relevant. The declaration went further to identify quality as a prerequisite for achieving the fundamental goal of equity. Ten years later in 2000, the Dakar Framework of Action declared that access to quality education was the right of every child. It affirmed that quality is at the heart of education- a fundamental determinant of enrolment, retention and achievement. Its expanded definition of quality set out the desirable characteristics of learners (healthy, motivated students), processes (competent teachers using active pedagogies), content (relevant curricula) and systems (good governance and equitable resource allocation).[xvi]  As at today, there is consensus on the imperative to improve the quality of education. Although there is no single definition of quality, two principles which can be found in most attempts are cognitive development and education’s role in encouraging learners’ creative and emotional development, in supporting objectives of peace, citizenship and security, in promoting equality and in passing global and local cultural values down to future generations. In addition, quality also incorporates respect for individual rights, improved equity of access and of learning outcomes. According the the EFA Global Monitoring Report (2005), there are five major factors that affect the quality of education: the Learners, whose diversity must be recognized; the national economic and social context; material and human resources; the teaching and learning process, and the outcomes and benefits of education.


It is important to note that in the last few years, many countries have put up programmes to improve access to education. Unfortunately, there has not been a concomitant focus on quality. Yet, quality is at the heart of education since it determines how much and how well students learn and the extent to which their education achieves a range of personal, social and development goals. This is why focus of this roundtable on quality is timely.



There has been a lot of debate about the quality of education in Nigeria. Using most of the known indicators, scholars are in agreement that the quality of education is falling not only in Nigeria but across Africa:

With regard to the growing problem of poor academic standards, of very serious concern is the conclusion that cognitive achievement is low in African students by world standards and that the recent further decline in supplies of the key inputs at all levels, such as books and other learning materials has had deleterious consequences in terms of quality of performance of students as identified in cross-national studies. There is every reason to believe that there is potential for substantial improvement of the internal efficiency of these systems with a reasonable increase in investment.[xvii]

The state of education in Nigeria is precarious. The Millennium Development Goals Report 2005 acknowledges that quality assurance in education is yet to be adequately addressed in terms of teachers, curricula, teachers support, teaching learning materials etc.[xviii] In order to access the quality of basic education in Nigeria, it will be necessary to look at the following indicators: characteristics of learners (healthy, motivated students), processes (competent teachers using active pedagogies), content (relevant curricula) and systems (good governance and equitable resource allocation):


a. Characteristics of Learners: It is well known that the proper development of children affects their capacity and ability to learn. Learning outcomes and educational improvement will be enhanced with healthy and well motivated students. Unfortunately, the health status of Nigerian children is in a precarious state. Many of the children suffer from illnesses that can be prevented or treated with known remedies: malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, acute respiratory tract infections and various vaccine preventable diseases leading to more than 2, 400 under five children dying daily from preventable causes and malnutrition.[xix]


 b. processes: The process of learning and teaching does not lead to production of analytical, critical and engaging products. The teachers do not have the competence and skills to use active pedagogies.


 c. Content of Education: It has been documented that the content of education in Nigeria is irrelevant to the needs of prospective job seekers, and teaching methods militate against the cultivation of desirable personality traits necessary for active and voluntary participation in economic life.[xx]  Various studies conducted in Nigeria have shown clearly that there are low academic achievements among pupils in such basic skills as literacy, numeracy and life skills.[xxi]


d. Systems: There are no good governance mechanism in the schools and no equitable resource allocation. Even the resources allocated are no properly utilized.


e. Infrastructure: The infrastructure required for delivery of quality education in Nigeria especially in public schools and in the rural areas is lamentably poor.


f. Public expenditure: As noted above the level of public expenditure on education has been on the decline.  Nigeria operates a federal system of government and education is on the concurrent legislative list with federal, state and local government providing services in this regard. However, the federal government has always taken leadership in terms of policy formulation and leadership in ensuring universal basic education in Nigeria. Although allocation to Universal Basic Education ranks next to the allocation to federal universities, there has been a consistent decline from 47.18 percent in 2000 to 37.67 percent in 2001 and then 19.0 percent in 2002; an average of 13.98 percent between 2003 and 2004 and 19.26 percent in 2005.[xxii]


5.         THE WAY FORWARD

It is quite clear that education for all cannot be achieved without improving quality. There is therefore the need for policies that assure decent learning conditions and opportunities. In our view, the following issues need to be dealt with to improve the quality of basic education in Nigeria.

More funding from Government: A number of studies suggest that cognitive achievement (as measured by standardized tests) increases as school expenditure, teacher education and school facilities are enhanced.[xxiii] There is the need for massive increase of public spending in education at all levels: federal, state and local government.


Better utilization of fund and tracking of resources: There is a great need for better budgeting process with participation of stakeholders and tracking of the use of the resources for education. Civil Society organisations and Schools Management Committee have a big role to play in this regard.


More and better trained teachers: It is well established that countries that have achieved high learning standards have invested steadily in the teaching profession. There is the need to improve teachers’ salaries and implement a sound pre-service and in-service training. This is important because how well a teacher is trained and the resultant mastery of the curriculum and the level of the teacher’s verbal skills all contribute to quality. The teacher pupil ratio is one of the indicators of quality.


Better remuneration and working conditions for teachers: It has been argued that optimal working conditions for teachers directly contribute to the good quality of public education. Every effort should be made to provide teachers who possess the necessary moral and intellectual qualities and who have the requisite professional knowledge and skills.  Furthermore, teachers’ salary should reflect the importance to society of the teaching function and hence the importance of teachers as well as the responsibilities of all kinds which fall upon them from time to time and should compare favourably with salaries paid in other professions with equivalent qualifications.


Emphasis on core subjects: There is the need for renewed focus on some core subjects such as mathematics, science and language. It has been argued that literacy is a critical tool for the mastery of other subjects and one of the best predictors of longer-term learning achievement. Reading must be considered a priority area in efforts to improve the quality of basic education.[xxiv]


Change in Pedagogy: There is the need for change in teaching style from the rigid rote learning procedure to a structured teaching procedure with a combination of direct instruction, guided practice and independent learning in a child friendly environment.


Make Learning materials including textbooks available: This is key because the quality and availability of learning materials affect what teachers can do.


Provision of facilities: There is the need to refurbish classrooms and build new ones as well as provide clean water and sanitation. In the provision of these facilities, consideration should be given to persons with disability.


Address the problem of Tertiary Education: It is important that as we push for universal basic education, we should address the problem of tertiary education for as some scholars have shown, “turning out a large number of people with high expectations and low skills can be dangerous not only to the economy but may also affect political stability.”[xxv]


Halt the Brain drain and turn it into gain: The brain drain from tertiary institutions is affecting the quality of graduates being produced. There is an urgent need to address the issues of remuneration, research, university autonomy and academic freedom in Nigerian tertiary institutions. Concrete programmes are required to tap into the resources, networks and opportunities that can be created by those who have left the country.


School based feeding: It has been proven that school based feeding increases enrolment, retention and completion and learning outcomes. There is the need for scale up of school based feeding across the country.


Tackle the HIV/AIDs pandemic: There is a lot of evidence to show that the HIV/AID pandemic is aggravating teacher absenteeism. In Central African Republic for instance, over 100 primary schools were closed down between 1996 and 1998 owing to death of teachers from AIDS.[xxvi]


Support from the international development partners: It has been documented that in order to make adequate progress towards achieving the MDGs (including the education MDGs), Nigeria for instance will require additional external financing averaging about US $6.4 billion annually between 2005 and 2008.[xxvii] Even if the resources in the country are used effectively there will still be challenges in meeting the MDGs. Meanwhile, Nigeria is seriously underaided. Nigeria receives only US $2 per capita in ODA compared to the average for Africa of US $28 per capita. In addition, meeting the MDGs will require partnership between government, the public sector and the private sector. In particular, it will require transformists from the public sector, civil society, media and private sector to build a critical movement of people advocating for and implementing change.


Making the education functional: There is the need to tailor education in the country towards the needs of the country and what citizens require to develop as patriotic, participatory and contributory members of the society.


Finally, in order to improve the quality of education in Nigeria, ActionAid International advocates for transformation in Education. According to ActionAid International,

Transformation in education means educating for change by making the classroom a place of active engagement, where children’s rights are not violated but respected. It means giving pupils opportunities to explore through active learning and discover things for themselves. It challenges the widely held view of the teacher as the repository of knowledge and the pupils as an empty slate on which the teacher writes whatever he or she likes. The teacher is rather seen as a facilitator whose duty is to collaborate with the pupils in the teaching-learning process. Transformation in education covers such issues as curriculum review and decentralization, teacher training or re-training, making the content of education more relevant or appropriate to the needs of the learners and their communities, bringing rights into the classroom and freeing education from all forms of discrimination, prejudice and indoctrination, and making it inclusive of all possible learners and exclusive of violence.[xxviii]







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[i] Fanfuwa, A. B. (2003), Nigerian Education: Yesteryears, Now and the Future” in Abayomi, F., Atilade, D. and Matswamgbe, M. (Eds),  State of Education in Nigeria: What Hope for the Future? Lagos, Ajasin Foundation.

[ii] EFA Global Monitoring Report (2002), Education for All: Is the World on Track. Paris, UNESCO

[iii] ActionAid International Nigeria (2005), Education for Change: Based on Research on Accountability, Transformation & Mobilization  in Nigerian Education. Abuja, ActionAid International Nigeria.

[iv] Kwapong, A. A. (1995), “Meeting the Challenge of Education in Africa” in Onimode, B. and Synge, R. (Eds), Issues in African Development: Essays in Honour of Adebayo at 65. Ibadan, Heinemann Educational Books Nig. Plc p. 182

[v] Subrahmanian, R. (2002), “Citizenship and the Right to Education” in IDS Bulletin Vol. 33 No. 2

[vi] Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria 1999

[vii] Igbuzor, O. (2002), “Making Democracy Work in Nigeria: The Civil Society and Constitutional Reform” in Bujra, A and Adejunmobi, A. (Eds), Breaking Barriers, Creating New Hopes: Democracy, Civil society and Good Governance in Africa. Trenton, NJ, Africa World Press Inc.

[viii] Tomasevski, K. (2003), Education Denied: Costs and Remedies. London, Zed Books. P72

[ix] Tomasevski, K. Ibid

[x] World Bank (1988), Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policies for Adjustment, Revitalisation and Expansion.  Washington, D. C. , World Bank

[xi] Bonat, Z. K. A. (2003), Resource Distribution and the Quest for Gender Equality in Nigeria: A Gender Analysis of Federal, State and Local Government Education Budgets 1992-2002. A Research Report. Abuja, Centre for Democracy and Development and Centre for Population and Development.

[xii] Fasina, D. (2003), “Building the Future on Sound Education: the Problems and Prospects of Universal Basic Education Programme” in Abayomi, F., Atilade, D. and Matswamgbe, M. (Eds), State of education in Nigeria: What Hope for the Future. Lagos, Ajasin Foundation.

[xiii] Civil Society Coalition for Poverty Eradication (CISCOPE) (2005), Liberalisation, Deregulation and Privatisation of Education Services in Nigeria. Abuja, CISCOPE

[xiv] CISCOPE (2005) Ibid

[xv] Education for ALL (EFA) Global Monitoring Report (2005), Education for All: The Quality Imperative. France, UNESCO.

[xvi] Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report Ibid

[xvii] Kwapong, A. A. (1995), Meeting the Challenge of Education in Africa” in Onimode, B. and Synge, R. (Eds), Issues in African Development: Essays in Honour of Adebayo Adedeji at 65. Ibadan, Heinemann Educational Books Nigeria plc.

[xviii] Nigeria Millennium Development Goals 2005 Report. Abuja, National Planning Commission.

[xix]  Nigeria Millennium Development Goals 2005 Report ibid

[xx] Ukeje, B. O. (1985), “Programming Even Development through Educational Policies” in Nwosu, E. J. (Ed), Achieving Even Development in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects. Enugu, fourth Dimension Publishers. P. 308


[xxi] See Falayajo, W., Makoju, A. E., Okebukola, P.,  Onugha, D. C. and olubodun, J. (1977), Assessment of Learning Achievement of Primary Four Pupils in Nigeria: National report. Lagos, Federal Ministry of Education/UNICEF/UNESCO and Universal Basic Education (2003), UBE Digest- Newsletter of Basic Education in Nigeria. Volume 4, Abuja.

[xxii] Commonwealth Education Fund (2005), Study on the Nigerian Federal Education Budget Performance 2003-2005.

[xxiii] Education for All (EFA), global Monitoring Report Op. Cit

[xxiv] Education for All (EFA), Global Monitoring Report ibid

[xxv] Ukeje, B. O. (1985), Op. Cit  P. 297

[xxvi] Otive-Igbuzor, E. J. (2002), HIV/AIDS, Human Rights and Women in Nigeria. Lagos, Women Empowerment and Reproductive Rights Centre (WERRC).

[xxvii] Country Partnership Strategy (2005). World Bank Group and Department for International Development (UK)

[xxviii] ActionAid International Nigeria (2005), Op. Cit.



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