In rapidly growing Nigeria, one of Africa’s most populous countries, providing a solid education for young people — especially girls — is no easy task. Challenges include unsatisfactory learning outcomes, poor-quality schools, unskilled and unmotivated teachers, decaying infrastructure, uneven funding of schools, weak government planning, unpredictable political leadership, and rising insecurity.
One symptom of the problem: Seven-year old Sarah Gwom used to dread going to her school in Nigeria’s Kaduna State. She didn’t think her teacher liked her because she would flog her for making mistakes. Sarah preferred to stay with her mother, doing chores or selling groundnuts.
An estimated 10.5 million children are out of school entirely, and a series of baseline studies carried out by Cambridge Education in 2010 revealed that teachers themselves were often unprepared for the classroom. These studies helped convince government officials to commit themselves to a wide-ranging agenda for change.
Introduced in 2008, the Education Sector Support Program in Nigeria (ESSPIN), managed by the Mott MacDonald company Cambridge Education, has worked strategically with all three levels of Nigerian government to pilot an effective school improvement program in some of Nigeria’s most challenging environments. The program aims to improve learning outcomes for children of primary-school age in Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, and Lagos States.
ESSPIN aims to enable more Nigerian children to complete a full cycle of basic education that has acceptable quality and leads to meaningful learning outcomes.
Recognizing that school improvement is a complex issue, ESSPIN’s approach is based on five pillars:
- Greater head-teacher effectiveness
- Increased teacher competence
- Establishment of functional school-based management committees
- Adoption of inclusive practices to meet the needs of all pupils
- Introduction of school development planning
Improvements in each of these pillars were piloted in 2,314 schools across the six States. This included training 13,000 head teachers and assistant head teachers to demonstrate better school leadership and improve teacher support.
Between 2012 and 2015, ESSPIN secured $27 million (5.4 billion naira) in funding from State and federal governments. ESSPIN actively supported the efforts of three State governments to explore other sources of funding, such as the Global Partnership on Education, which accounts for an additional $20 million per State for the next three years.
ESSPIN contributed to a 16% rise in girls’ primary school enrolment in Kaduna State between 2009 and 2012. A 2012 survey found that ESSPIN-supported schools were associated with significantly more competent teachers, more effective school development planning, and better-functioning school-based management committees that give voice to women and children’s concerns. Gross primary school enrollment increased, the biggest changes occurring among girls in the northern States where enrollment rates are traditionally low.
Today, Sarah not only attends school regularly but makes an effort to be on time. What changed?
“I always look forward to seeing my teacher use broomsticks, stones and empty cartons and cans to teach me. I now know how to do my maths at home and help my mother calculate change in her trade, I am really excited,” says Sarah. “There are more girls now in my class. This is because my teacher now teaches me in a different way. I can express myself, and even when I’m wrong I am not shouted at but corrected."
There is more to be done, but in the words of Sarah Gwom, "Things are really changing."