Universal basic education in Nigeria: can non-state actors make a difference?

Date01 April 2019
Published date01 April 2019
AuthorOluwaseun Kolade
Subject MatterEducation,Educational evaluation/assessment
Universal basic education in
Nigeria: can non-state actors
make a dierence?
Oluwaseun Kolade
Leicester Castle Business School, DeMontfort University, Leicester, UK
Purpose Against the backdrop of falling standards and failing government policies in the education
sector in Nigeria,this paper aimed to investigate how and why non-state actorscan make a signicant impact
on the achievementof Sustainable Development Goals for universal basic education(UBE).
Design/methodology/approach This study draws from semi-structuredinterviews of 15 heads and
proprietors six state-fundedschools, six faith schools and three other privately owned schoolsto examine
and compare the differentmotivations, guiding principles and overall impact of theseactors in the education
Findings Religious actors, along with private providers, are making a signicant contribution to the
provision of basic educationin Nigeria. Students from faith schools tend to performbetter academically and
they also tend to be more disciplined andresourceful. However, because these schools are fee-paying, fewer
householdsare able to access them.
Practical implications The ndings highlight the needto facilitate better cooperation and knowledge
transfer activitiesbetween public, private and faith schools.It also emphasises the need for better government
commitment and investment in provisionof resources and facilities, effort in regulating the curriculum and
regular inspectionand quality monitoring of public schools.
Originality/value The study highlights, on the one hand, the superior capacity of non-state actors
especially religious actorsto deploy their vast social capitaltowards the mobilisation of funds and human
resources. On the other hand,while they have made inroads in their share of total national school enrolment,
non-stateactors have not made signicant impact on access to qualityeducation, owing to high fees and entry
barriersfaced by poorer households.
Keywords Nigeria, Access to education, Education quality, Faith schools, Private ownership,
Universal basic education
Paper type Research paper
Following a period of sustained progress between the 1950s and 1970s, when the regional
and federal governments in Nigeria implemented highly successful policies of free
qualitative education, the education sector saw a decline in subsequent decades. This
decline is partly because of the impacts of military interventions in governance, lack of
adequate public investments and a generally outmoded policy approach to basic
education. As a result of decades of decline, Nigeria was recently identied as the
country furthest away from the goal of universal primary education(Antoninis, 2014).
According to a 2012 UNESCO report, Nigeria accounts for 17 per cent of the global out-of-
school children population, despite having only 4 per cent share of the global school-age
population. In recognition of this critical need in the education sector, non-state actors,
including religious organisations, have stepped in as key providers of basic education in
Received9 August 2018
Revised15 December 2018
29January 2019
Accepted10 March 2019
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.27 No. 2, 2019
pp. 179-196
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-08-2018-0091
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
In recent years, researchers have grappled with the changing landscape in educational
policy in terms of globalisation of school governance and involvement of international non-
governmental organisations (Tota, 2014), politics of access to basic education (Little and
Lewin, 2011), politics of diversifying basic education delivery (Hoppers, 2011) and public
private partnership in the provision of basic education (Akyeampong, 2009). In all of these
conversations, there is a common recognition that development of humans via provision of
basic education is an important global agenda, and it is one that should not be left as a sole
responsibility of nation-states. As such, many countries, both developed and developing,
have formulated new policies and interventionsto incentivise and regulate the participation
of non-state actors in the provision of basic education. The new policy directions have
thrown up new challenges as well as opportunities across national contexts. Sub-Saharan
Africa, in particular, presents unique challenges in terms of funding constraints,
institutional weaknesses and political instability and policy uncertainties. The Nigerian
context represents a unique window for the illumination of the peculiar challenges
experienced by Africancountries.
This study therefore draws from semi-structured interviews of heads and proprietors
six state-funded schools, six religious organisationsowned schools and three other
privately owned schools to examine and compare the different motivations, guiding
principles and overallimpact of these actors in the education sector. The ndings contribute
to the theory and practice of basic education provision in developing countries, especially
with respect to how non-state actors can complement government-led interventions to
achieve the targets of universal basic education (UBE) as set out in the Sustainable
Development Goals. The rest of the paper is organised as follows: a review of the literature
on access and quality of basic education is followed by a description of the empirical and
historical context around Nigeria. This is followed by a brief description of the
methodological approach and then a thematic analysisand discussion of key ndings. The
paper concludes with a highlight of key points and recommendations for policy
interventions and futureresearch.
Universal basic education: bridging the gap in access and quality
The United Nations General Assembly adopted by resolution, in September 2015, a new
blueprint for 2030 Agendafor Sustainable Development. This document, popularly known
as Sustainable DevelopmentGoals highlighted in goal number four a global commitment to
ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning
opportunities for all(United Nations, 2015). The document went on to highlight a specic
target to ensure that, by 2030, all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality
primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
(United Nations, 2015). This commitment to UBE is underpinned by two key principles:
access and quality. In effect, there is a clearrecognition that, in order for basic education to
drive human capital development and contribute effectively to sustainable development, it
has to be freely accessible to all and it has to be of good quality.
The provision of free and quality UBE is a critical objective for nation-states. Formal
education is recognised as the most observableand arguably the most signicant, source of
human capital development (Acemoglu and Autor, 2011;Becker, 1964). In turn, human
capital is the key driver of labour productivity and economic growth (Nafukho et al.,2004;
Olaniyan and Okemakinde, 2008). In addition to its impact on economic growth, education
also yields signicantreturns in terms of its social impact, in terms of promotion of equality,
enhancement of social capitaland better prospects of societal cohesion and communal peace
(see Figure 1). Conversely, the cost of illiteracy and lack of access to basiceducation can be

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