Education in Nigeria is the shared responsibility of the federal, state and local governments. The Federal Ministry of Education plays a dominant role in regulating the education sector, engaging in policy formation and ensuring quality control. However, the federal government is more directly involved with tertiary education than it is with school education, which is largely the responsibility of state (secondary) and local (primary) governments. The education sector is divided into three sub-sectors: basic (nine years), post-basic/senior secondary (three years), and tertiary (four to seven years, depending on the major or course of study). Education in Nigeria is provided by public and private institutions.
According to Nigeria’s National Policy on Education (2004), basic education covers education given to children 3-15 years of age, which includes pre-primary programs (ages three to five), and nine years of formal (compulsory) schooling consisting of six years of primary and three years of junior secondary.
Post-basic education includes three years of senior secondary education in either an academic or technical stream. Continuing education options are provided through vocational and technical schools.
The tertiary sector consists of a university sector and a non-university sector. The latter is composed of polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education. The tertiary sector as a whole offers opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, vocational and technical education. There are currently (2011) 117 federal, state and private universities accredited in Nigeria as degree-granting institutions. Information on all accredited universities is available on the National University Commission’s website. The academic year typically runs from September to July. Most universities use a semester system of 18 – 20 weeks. Others run from January to December, divided into 3 terms of 10 -12 weeks.
Annually, an average of 1.5 million students take the Unified Tertiary and Matriculation Examination (UTME) for entrance into Nigerian universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Universities have the capacity to absorb less than 40 percent of these test takers. The other 60 percent tend to go to their second and third choice categories of institutions—polytechnics and colleges of education. Many Nigerian students also apply to institutions abroad. In 2011, 40 percent of the students who sat for the UTME made the minimum cut-off grade of 200 (out of 400) for entry into Nigerian universities.
There are currently various government reforms and initiatives aimed at improving the Nigerian educational system. These include the upgrade of some polytechnics and colleges of education to the status of degree-awarding institutions, the approval and accreditation of more private universities, and the dissemintaion of better education-related data, including the recently published Nigerian Educational Statistics (a publication assisted by USAID among others).
However, with the recent announcement by Nigeria’s National Population Commission that Nigeria’s population is expected to hit 166 million by October 31, 2011 and that approximately 60 percent of this population will be between the ages of 13 and 45, the recent government initiatives fall far short of addressing the educational needs of the country. As a result, an increasing number of families and students are looking at alternative educational opportunities within the region and further abroad.
Primary education (grades 1-6) is free and compulsory, and offered to children aged 6-12. The curriculum is geared toward providing permanent literacy, laying a sound basis for scientific, critical and reflective thinking, and also in equipping children with the core life skills to function effectively in society.
In 2009, the gross enrollment ratio at the primary level was 89 percent (95 percent male and 84 percent female) according to UNESCO statistics. The net enrollment rate (as a percentage of children in the 6-12 age group) was a much lower 61 percent (male children 64 percent, female children 58 percent) in 2007 (UIS) suggesting that many students outside of the primary age group are attending primary school. In 2008, the primary to secondary transition rate was 44 percent, according to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) EdData Profile.
Under the new Universal Basic Education (UBE) system of 9-3-4, which replaced the former universal primary education scheme of 6-3-3-4, students attend six years of primary school and three years of junior secondary, thus nine years of compulsory and uninterrupted schooling. This is followed by three years of senior secondary schooling. Until 2006 entry to junior secondary education was based on the Common Entrance Examination, but entry is now automatic.
The Junior Secondary School Certificate is awarded at the end of junior secondary school. Students who pass the Junior Secondary Certificate Examination (JSCE) at the credit level (see the grading system below) in not less than six subjects may proceed to senior secondary school (grade 10) at either the same institution, or they may transfer to another institution of their choice.
Core subjects at the junior secondary level include: English, French, science, technology, Nigerian language (Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba), mathematics, and social studies. Students may also choose to study a number of elective subjects. A prevocational stream is also available to students looking to pursue technical or vocational training at the senior secondary level.
A majority of senior secondary school students proceed in the academic stream from junior secondary school. However, there is also a technical stream, in addition to vocational training outside of the school system, or apprenticeship options offering a range of terminal trade and craft awards.
Private organizations, community groups, religious bodies, and the federal and state governments establish and manage secondary schools in Nigeria. All private and public schools offer the same curriculum but most private schools include the Cambridge International Examination curriculum, which allows students to take the IGSCE examinations during their final year in high school. It is also important to note that some private schools offer GCE A-levels, which usually serve as a gap year after graduation for students that are interested.
The common core curriculum at the senior secondary level consists of: English, one Nigerian language, mathematics, one science subject, one social science subject, and agricultural science or a vocational subject. In addition students must take three elective subjects, one of which may be dropped in the third year.
Students take the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) at the end of grade 12. The Senior Secondary Certificate (SSC) is awarded to successful candidates. The certificate lists all subjects in which the student is successful. The SSCE replaced the West African GCE O and A levels in 1989, although those examinations are still available to students who wish to take them (see above).
The SSC is issued by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) or the National Examination Council (NECO), depending on the examination board used. An average grade of ‘credit’ level (C6) or better is required for access to public universities; however some require higher grades for admission. The standards of the two examinations are essentially the same. Students register for a maximum of nine and a minimum of seven subjects, which must include mathematics and English.
A student must get at least a C in English and four other courses relevant to his or her major in order to sit for the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination. A student applying for admission to study medicine, computer science or accounting, for example, will be required to have a minimum of a C in mathematics as well as in English whereas a student applying for a program in history will not necessarily require a C in mathematics.