What needs to change in the Nigerian education system
19-year-old teacher Aramide Akintimehin describes the barriers preventing her students from completing their education.
As a teacher in Nigeria, I see how my students are fighting to go to school — and I see how our education system is failing them.
I teach math, English and science for grade two in Ota, a largely low-income community in southwestern Nigeria. My students range from age 6 to 13 — some started school at a late age because their parents couldn’t afford their education until now. Often my students hawk on the streets after school to help fund their notebooks, textbooks and tuition fees. Many of them do not receive three square meals a day. These challenges increase absenteeism and dropout rates.
I work to change the status quo for my students. Sometimes I raise funds from family and friends to cover the school fees of my pupils or to purchase notebooks for my classroom. I use technology to engage my class and teach them basic digital literacy so that they can participate in the digitally driven world. I teach them skills valued in the 21st century job market — like creativity, public speaking, critical thinking and moral values — through puzzles, riddles, art projects, presentations and group work. I help them see what life is like for their peers around the world by connecting them electronically.
I work to change the status quo for my students, but there is only so much I can do when the Nigerian education system is so flawed. The issue is not only lack of funding (although that’s a big part of it!) but also lack of quality and standards. The system is just like a factory that is producing unfinished outputs. It produces individuals who know the concepts but cannot apply them. This is because there is too much emphasis on standardized testing rather than how to apply the knowledge practically. Most college and university graduates have to attend additional trainings after their degrees before they are finally fit to work. A quality education should create graduates who are prepared for the labor force, have the capabilities to solve problems and add value to their communities.
We need more trained educators in Nigeria — only two-thirds of teachers have the minimum qualifications. Exacerbating the issue is the shortage of Nigerian teachers in general. The country requires 400,000 more primary school teachers between 2012 and 2030 to meet demand and that’s not even taking into account the needs of secondary schools.
To correct Nigeria’s education system, the government needs to invest in more teachers and more training for educators at all levels. The standards of the teacher certification should be raised so teachers are better equipped to take on the challenges of leading a classroom. Teaching 21st century skills is also paramount in preparing kids to be active participants in the labor force. When we don’t educate our kids with the skills they need to achieve their ambitions, we lose out on the value they can add to our economy in the future.
The government should also ensure that school is truly free for all students — and that there aren’t hidden additional fees for families. Children shouldn’t have to hawk in the streets in order to pay for their education. Nigeria needs to expand the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act through secondary school so students are better prepared for the careers of their choosing.
Every day, I am blown away by the intelligence of my students. I know that if they are given access to 12 years of free, quality education, they will be forces to be reckoned with in the future. They are the leaders of tomorrow — we just need to give them the tools they need to thrive.
This piece is also available in Hausa.
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About the author
Aramide Akintimehin is a 19-year-old teacher and founder of Talent Mine Academy, an organisation that provides free, quality education for out-of-school children. She holds a first-class degree in economics from Covenant University and is a 2018 Teach for Nigeria fellow.