By Shannon May, Co-Founder of Bridge International Academies
Nigeria has the biggest economy in Africa and in a recent London Stock Exchange report entitled Companies to Inspire Africa, Nigerian companies were listed among the fastest growing in Africa.
While Nigeria’s economy shows strength, its foundation for the future is weakened by an education system that is not keeping up. According to UNESCO, of the 260 million out of school children in the world, 9 million of them are in Nigeria, of which 4.7 million are primary school children. Unsurprisingly in this context, official figures reveal exceptionally low literacy rates of Nigerian adults and youths.
These are staggering statistics, and they require a committed response. Not least because of the consequences for continuing economic development. With some industries not able to find the right skills, there is a struggle to produce the goods and services that Nigerians need. Given this situation, it is not surprising that 60% of 15 – 24 year olds in rural areas are unemployed, and 35% of even 25-34 year old’s are unemployed or underemployed. With 78 million children under the age of 15 in Nigeria, focusing on making education the engine of growth for the next generation is critical to unlocking Nigeria’s potential demographic dividend.
Thankfully, the Nigerian federal and state governments are committed to addressing this challenge. In the context of such a growing economy, it is not surprising that the government is seeking to do this by embracing the advantages of technology and partnerships.
Sadly, the reason that Nigeria is on the minds of many outside its borders is not for its dynamic young population or its growing ecosystem of innovation and enterprise, but because of continuous news reports about the activities of Boko Haram and the plight of the Chibok girls. This must be frustrating for Nigerians who know that there is much more to their country than is seen through this one lens. This public exposure has partly been down to the incredible activism of NGOs and individuals who have worked tirelessly to draw attention to this issue, a consequence of which has been to bring education to the forefront of the national and state agendas.
Fortunately, Nigeria is making a renewed commitment to education reform. This commitment has the promise of transforming the prospects of young people and enabling them to enter the national and international labor markets.
Global research strongly suggests that educating the next generation will help reduce the likelihood of future conflicts and improve economic prospects for individuals, communities and whole economies. Inequality is a driver of unrest and when educational inequality doubles, the chance of conflict more than doubles. Today, the number of people displaced by conflicts is at an all-time high. Where economic, technological, demographic, and geopolitical trends collide with weak education systems, the risks of instability and economic decline are at their greatest.
Recently, a report backed by USAID and DFID was launched at the World Economic Forum on Africa. It called for more education partnerships between governments and the private sector. The report advocates the potential benefits when these two sectors utilize and combine different skills and experiences to improve outcomes for children. Partnership models are not new to Bridge and we already operate one in Liberia as part of the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) initiative, and in Andhra Pradesh in India. These partnerships seek to replicate learning gains evidenced by Bridge in Kenya, delivered through an innovative technological model. In two consecutive years, Bridge pupils scored on average significantly higher than their peers in national exams.
In this context, Bridge is committed to working in partnership with the government of
Nigeria and their state governments. In Lagos, Bridge manages 37 schools in areas where government service is limited and weak, including in the impoverished areas of Alimosho and Ojo, serving over 7400 children. Bridge also partners with Lagos State and its vanguard program CodeLagos, a programme that aims to equip one million young people with coding skills and transform the state into a major technology hub over the next decade. In Edo state, the governor has said that his ‘agenda is to improve the quality of education, especially at the primary school level’, believing that ‘If you do not get it right at the primary school level, such pupils will struggle all through life.’
Innovative partnerships that take the best from the public and the private sectors and use it to deliver results are common in other sectors such as health, education and energy. So, it is only logical that education also consider this approach. The question now must be how the public and private can best work together to deliver effective outcomes together – and see children thrive and the nation rise.
Dr. Shannon May is Co-Founder of Bridge International Academies