a) Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the world, and most of its primary schools are ill-equipped .
b) Low levels of education in north-east Nigeria have also been exacerbated by the Boko Haram insurgency, as a result of which 1,400 schools were damaged, more than one million children forced out of school, while 2,295 teachers have been killed [1,2].
c) Primary education is a basic right and its availability in post-conflict communities can provide life- saving information, protect children from trafficking, and recruitment by armed groups.
d) Considerable effort is needed to ensure that children deprived of educational facilities as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency are given access to alternative schools, as well as develop a long- term programme together with the Nigerian government and local communities to rehabilitate the education sector in the region.
This policy brief examines problems related to lack of access to primary education in Nigeria’s conflict-ridden north-eastern region, and highlights some of the reasons why it should be a key concern to Nigeria’s international development partners. It also provides recommendations on how to address this pressing matter with the objective of improving access to quality primary education in north-eastern Nigeria. Although basic education is ‘free and compulsory’, Nigeria’s out-of-school population is the largest in the world-of the 57 million worldwide who are not receiving a formal education, more than 10 million live in Nigeria .
The free education policy in Nigeria only implies that no “school fee”, which means there are several levies imposed by schools as well as other costs (like uniform, books, and transportation) that
pose a significant barrier to many children in accessing primary education. Another issue of concern is the serious disparities of access to education across different regions in Nigeria.
The situation is particularly bleak in the north-east, a region that has the lowest rate of school attendance and most of its schools are ill-equipped . Literacy levels in the north-east are the lowest in the country, with 91 and 72 percent unable to read after completing grades 4 and 6, respectively, and 29 percent unable to do simple arithmetic after completing primary education . This is even more worrisome among female children . For example, the most recent data from the National Population Commission indicates that 85% of female children in the North East cannot read at all, compared with 20% in the South West .
Boko Haram insurgency in North-east region further devastated an already bad education system characterized by a severe lack of infrastructure, qualified teachers, teaching materials and overcrowded classrooms. Human Rights Watch reported that as a result of the incessant attacks, over 1,400 schools were destroyed, damaged or looted, more than one million children have been forced out of school, including 600,000 who have lost all access to education . While 2,295 teachers have been killed and over 19,000 forced to flee . The abduction by Boko Haram of 276 schoolgirls (113 are still in captivity) shocked the world and attracted global attention on the impact of the insurgency on education.
In addition to the strategic attacks, the insurgents have also used schools for various purposes in areas where they temporarily seized control, including to detain captives and store looted properties. Also, research shows that between 2013 and 2015 many schools were forced to shut down and the deserted school buildings were converted into shelters for internally displaced persons or military camps, further reducing children’s right to education . In some cases, the insurgents apparently attacked the schools because of the presence of the military.
Although Boko Haram insurgency has been ‘technically
defeated’ and there has been some improvement in the last 2
years, there are still significant barriers to primary education for
many children in north-eastern Nigeria. The education needs are
overwhelming both in IDP camps and in host communities, where
more than 50% is under the age of 18 . Some informal learning
centres are established, but they are not enough to cater for all
the children in need. In its Joint Education Needs Assessment
for Northeast Nigeria, ACAPS reported that school attendance
has been affected mostly in rural areas as they lack teaching and
learning materials, teaching aids, and teachers, unlike in urban
areas, where the schools relied on temporary classrooms and
volunteer teachers . The inadequacy of qualified teachers means
that those still working are overburdened with the workload of
overpopulated and ill-equipped classrooms.
Although the North-east region’s education needs are
overwhelming, the education sector has so far received limited
funding and there are only a few international development
partners currently implementing education programmes. The
North-East Nigeria Recovery and Peace Building Assessment
(RPBA) gives a total figure for damages to education infrastructure
within the three states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe at 249 million
USD; and 721 million USD as the estimated needs for education
recovery in the 6 north-east states . Funding constraints
remains the biggest challenge for agencies to scale up and expand
coverage; only 27% of the 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan
targeted school-aged children have been reached with education
support, leaving as many as 73% of the target group behind .
The economic burden on the Nigerian government of managing
the Boko Haram insurgency has been disastrous, and the huge
spending on security has had a ripple effect on the educational
While development partner’s commitment to helping Nigeria
overcome its challenges is worthy of commendation, it does
appear that their response to the education crisis in north-eastern
Nigeria has been small relative to the overwhelming support
offered to other sectors and/or regions. Most of the interventions
are focused on providing temporary classrooms in IDPs camp and
supply of basic educational materials like school bags and books,
while the more sustainable educational programmes are mostly
located outside the affected states. For example, the USAIDfunded
Northern Education Initiative (NEI) that aims to increase
access to education for orphans and vulnerable children covered
two northern states- Bauchi and Sokoto-whose schools are not
affected by the insurgency. Also, DFID’s major education projects
in Nigeria: The Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria
(ESSPIN) and the Girls’ Education Project (GEP) did not cover
most states in north-eastern Nigeria. For example, none of the
six north-eastern Nigerian states is part of the ESSPIN and only
Bauchi and Borno states are included in the GEP. Although the
North-East Transition to Development Programme is the largest
DFID Nigeria’s planned programmes in 2017/18 , there is no
clear emphasis on improving the quality of education. The story
is the same with many other donor-funded programmes in northeast
a) Education is a basic right and its availability in postconflict
communities can provide life-saving information,
protect children from trafficking, and recruitment by armed
groups. Considerable effort is needed to ensure that children
deprived of educational facilities as a result of the Boko Haram
insurgency are given access to quality education. Specifically:
b) Development partners should encourage and financially
support Nigerian government’s effort to ensure that
humanitarian education response plans are adequately funded
so that interruptions to education caused by the insurgency
are minimised. Develop a long- term programme on education
in north- east that takes a more holistic and comprehensive
approach to rehabilitate and reboot the education sector in
c) If providing support for the reconstruction of schools or
the education sector generally, development partners should
urge the Nigerian government to adopt strong protections
for schools from military use. They should support the
government’s Safe Schools Initiative, that is aimed at
bolstering the security of schools and monitoring the quality
of education in partnership with community groups.
d) Integrated Qur’anic education (Tsangaya School
Programme) was well received by many communities in
north-east Nigeria. Thus, it can help in increasing school
enrolment, particularly in rural areas. Also, such intervention
will resonate with the Nigerian government’s policy to expand
Integrated Qur’anic education, to provide basic literacy
and numeracy for as many children as possible. Operating
under a conducive policy environment will facilitate project
e) It is clear from many successful donor-funded
programmes in Nigeria that collaborative interventions
with local communities have a more positive impact. Thus,
collaboration with community members in such interventions,
for example, engaging local skilled workers to make uniforms
or school bags can help localise solutions and build a sense of