Constructive Dialogues and the Demand for Quality Education in Nigeria

Conversations at Education Summits with key stakeholders in Nigerian education revealed the power of inclusion: having been given a voice, these stakeholders now felt a greater sense of agency and a desire to become leaders in education reform.


Image of Obi Obiwulu

Obi Obiwulu

African School of Economics

As an important part of its charge, the RISE Nigeria project attempts to fully understand the nature and dimensions of education demand in the country, to better understand the reasons for where that demand is weak.

The project has meaningfully advanced this inquiry in one of its components, the Political Economy of Education Reform (PE), where it designed an experimental system of organised dialogues between local education stakeholders and government officials around empirically determined education issues, to investigate the impact of these conversations on cumulative attitudes. The conversations have, directly and collaterally, disclosed the underlying aspirations and attitudes that drive and dissuade education demand, and have, importantly, additionally inspired and informed attitudinal transformations towards greater demand for quality education among participating stakeholders.

With these dialogues, the RISE Nigeria project is attempting to ignite a sense of stakeholder agency in the education development process; to build the expectation of, and demand for, quality education; and, crucially, to enable the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and expectations between sides, to strengthen the demand-supply process.

Education demand and quality education in Nigeria

There is clearly a significant education demand problem in Nigeria, as the country presently has the highest population of out-of-school children in the world. Most of these children are in rural areas (almost half the population of children from rural areas who work are out-of-school) and from the poorest households (almost two-thirds of the population of children from the poorest households are out-of-school). Interestingly also, education demand for girls is demonstrably lower than for boys, with 37 percent of school-age girls in Nigeria out-of-school, compared to 27 percent for school-age boys.

Again, the quality of education in Nigeria’s public elementary schools is cumulatively low—as recently as 2017, in the Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, Nigeria ranked only 120 out of 137 assessed countries in the quality of elementary school education.

To scrutinise the larger education problem, the RISE Nigeria Project selected representative samples of relevant geographical areas and populations across the country’s geo-ethnic landscape; and here, amongst other studies, vast numbers of respondents were systematically surveyed to investigate human-driven causes of the nation’s education problems.

An instance from one of those studies which is perhaps largely representative of the types of stakeholder mindsets at the heart of poor demand for quality education in these populations, is one where a respondent in a conversation with a project-enumerator had said,

“My eldest boy went to [elementary] school here [in the community] for six years and can barely write his own name. Why should I waste time and my limited funds sending his younger ones [to school]? It is better that they work with me on the farm and make money for us to feed with.”

The objective of the RISE Nigeria project was to investigate and analyse attitudes such as this one, as well as the other intangible drivers, such as aspirations, which shape education demand. Parallelly, the project gauged the quality of education in the study areas, examining how education quality was responsible for those attitudes, was an outcome of them, or both.

In the Political Economy of Education Reform (PE) component of the project, these determinations formed the bases for constructive dialogues, in Education Summits, towards solving the education problems.

The education summits and the post-summit gatherings

The RISE Nigeria Political Economy of Education Reform (PE) experiments, fittingly, put parents and communities at the forefront of the education development discourse. In each of the 3 selected study states—Enugu, Oyo and Jigawa—3 study Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 3 control LGAs were chosen, for a total of 9 study LGAs and 9 control LGAs. In each of the study LGAs, a painstaking stakeholder-mapping process identified the most prominent/influential/representative parents, community members, community leaders, and teachers themselves, to helm the determination of the most pressing constraints of their local education systems, and to subsequently converse with government representatives to address these problems.

In the data-gathering phase of the experiment, in addition to evaluating the state of infrastructure and learning at the study schools, a recorded survey of these stakeholders was used to establish those leading local education problems. The data-collection phase then segued into an Education Summit in each LGA, where these dialogues between education stakeholders and government officials were held.

Outcomes from those deliberations speak to their efficacy in engendering commitment across the aisle to participation in education reform. While government personnel in each of the education summits appended a social contract that articulated the resolutions as a gesture of their intent to facilitate the required improvements, the stakeholders themselves in these and subsequent affiliated gatherings (there were post-summit gatherings in each state, where government officials and the local stakeholders were separately convened, to assess progress on resolutions from the summits) earnestly identified possible areas for their own meaningful participation and intervention, towards quality education (among other goals).

In Enugu state for instance, at the education summits for the 3 study LGAs there—Udi, Nsukka and Nkanu West—Quality of Education was, as determined by the preceding surveys, a priority unanimously brought forward by the local stakeholders to the deliberations. On this issue, they demanded, among other things, more scrutiny of teacher qualifications, regular training, and upskilling of serving teachers, and periodic evaluation of the teachers to guarantee quality learning.

The demand-side post-summit events in Enugu state assembled these previous, and other newly selected stakeholders to measure progress since the summits, and to discuss any possible contributions by them to the development process. As it turned out, the stakeholders were quite eager to make meaningful contributions. For example, some retired teachers pledged to return to the classrooms of their local schools to teach pro-bono and thereby improve the quality of learning there. Some SBMC members volunteered to visit their local schools regularly to check for teacher attendance and punctuality. Also, some stakeholders pledged personal funds, or volunteered to help source donations from local philanthropists, towards improving the quality of education at their schools.

The results

Overall, this opportunity to effectually have a say in education development was something that these stakeholders had mostly not often been given, one that they were immensely appreciative of, and one that they were intent on utilising optimally.

Importantly, these summit and post-summit congresses revealed all the latent and predominant stakeholder attitudes that inform the demand for quality education (or the lack of it), and that weaken or prohibit stakeholder-participation in education-improvement conversations.

Even more significantly, the fact of their inclusion in this important education development process, where heretofore they were typically only disenfranchised bystanders and voiceless observers, roused a firm, collective sense of agency within the study stakeholder groups, and emboldened them to envisage and demand reform that would lead to the quality education that their children deserve but have no access to.

For them, if (as the RISE PE project has pioneered) their opinions and recommendations were fittingly incorporated in the planning of education development and intervention, then they would, as they have done in the RISE dialogues, emphatically assert their claim to needed improvements of their education systems, while conscientiously taking up their own roles in those development processes. If education policy design in Nigeria assimilates this inclusive procedural model, as is the aim of the PE project, then these underserved stakeholders will perhaps lead the charge for a renewed focus on quality education delivery in Nigeria’s public education system.

Going forward

In recognising the effectiveness of the stakeholder dialogues in transmuting attitudes and renewing aspirations towards quality education, the RISE Nigeria project infused its project dissemination with more of these events, in attempting to, with the reiteration of this participatory methodology, start to lend it the visibility that would hopefully catalyse its uptake and spread within the education sector nationwide. Furthermore, as a demonstrated stopgap for the disconnects between policy design and need in education, the dialogues of the RISE Nigeria project may even be replicated beyond that sector.

Hopefully, dialogues like these will quickly become a mainstay and yield better outcomes in Nigeria’s education system, hastening the country’s still stunted advancement towards the 4th Sustainable Development Goal of quality education for all.

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