Improving learning outcomes in Nigeria: the urgent need to scale up education innovations

Modupe Adefeso-Olateju

In 2014, some colleagues and I sat down to analyze Nigeria’s learning outcomes. What we found was a trend that revealed a secondary-school leaving pass rate of 30%.  That is, only 3 out of 10 students who sat for these final examinations passed. In my mind, that was akin to going to the market to buy 10 oranges and returning with 3 edibles and 7 bad ones - preposterous!

Like many other educationists, we realized that for the country to truly begin to develop, things had to change, and fast.

In our country, an adage says that the definition of a mad man is one who does the same thing repeatedly but expects different results. Nigeria needed some radical change especially in the public education space, and we started thinking about how this might be done. Shortly after, we received support from R4D to explore the landscape of non-state education innovations and ascertain if the country was even innovating at all in education. What we found astounded us.

In one year, we discovered over 40 examples of innovative education models which were in their own small or significant way, making a fundamental difference in education. These models ranged from the community-based Slum-2-School providing access to holistic education and psycho-social support for children living in slums, to ESSPIN, a large donor-funded program which was supporting 6 state governments to improve the quality of schools, teaching and learning. We profiled Co-creation Hub’s Efiko, as well as Gidimo, MyLearningAcademy and Passnownow which leverage technology to provide access to curriculum and enrich learning. With the discovery of each viable model, hope for the country was renewed. Solutions to challenges facing public education were here!

Or were they?

A realization that dawned on us as we profiled innovations in the north, south, east and west of Nigeria, was the painful truth that many of these wonderful examples of good practice simply did not have the capability to reach many more children. Whilst it was great to witness what these models demonstrated, many simply did not know how to make the leap to becoming programs, initiatives and services that could reach hundreds of thousands of Nigerian children.  Through R4D, we began to engage with ExpandNet which is a network of experts in the science of scaling up. Our work with ExpandNet would continue to receive support through the MacArthur Foundation. As we collaborated, the how of systematic scaling up became crystal clear to us. This was exactly what these brilliant implementers required for them to make the leap to impact at scale.

As our appreciation of systematic scaling grew, we began to see the need to explain core principles to implementers of innovative programs (also referred to as resource teams) and the institutions that would eventually house the scaled-up innovations (also referred to as the user organization). The user organizations with the greatest potential to reach poor children across the country resided in public sector structures. We therefore decided to write a White Paper explaining to them and other audiences why systematic scaling up was a panacea to the massive challenges faced in our education sector. We then organized a summit, Nigerian Education Innovation Summit (NEDIS) 2016, where we publicly revealed and reviewed this paper.  The overarching goal of the summit was to uncover challenges and solutions for improving access to and quality of education in Nigeria. We therefore invited delegates from as broad a stakeholder base as we could think of: government ministries and agencies, donor organizations and their funded programs, civil society organizations and the private sector (including technology firms and schools). Institutions referred others, professionals referred colleagues and friends. Most of the youth delegates were A-World-at-School ambassadors who volunteered as rapporteurs.

The review of the White Paper revealed refreshingly raw honesty from a public sector official, illustrating how policy-planning could have been done differently if the notion of systematic scaling up had been understood. The keynote address, delivered by a representative of the Center for Universal Education at Brookings Institution, presented findings from the Millions Learning study, highlighting case studies of the impact of education innovations that have been scaled up in developing countries around the world. A former minister of education underscored the importance of accountability and transparency in the successful institutionalization of education innovations. A director from the Royal Society of the Arts explained how creative public leadership provides a platform for systematic and enduring scaling up. Plenary sessions discussed broad inter-related themes such as: cross-sectoral collaborations for scaling up; accountability and transparency in education policy; communication and dissemination as pillars of scaling up; and the sustainability of education innovations.

By the end of the summit, delegates were on their feet and discussing and agreeing in groups on practical next steps for action. Perhaps the most important outcome of the summit was the decision to establish an action coalition charged with identifying and scaling up education innovation in the country. This vibrant multi-sectoral network of passionate persons and committed organizations has now begun planning capacity development workshops for civil society organizations, and developing strategies to further disseminate the message of the white paper.
The summit provided the opportunity for over 100 institutions to rally behind one cause – systematically scaling the impact of successfully-tested education innovations to increase access to quality education in Nigeria. We are all driven by a desire to ensure that Nigeria’s children are not just in school, but are truly learning. As we create pathways for tested and innovative models to expand or become institutionalized in the public sector, there is need to keep up the momentum, ensuring that the conversation is sustained and accompanied by strategic action. We are confident that the action coalition, which has already been recognized by the Federal Ministry of Education, will facilitate this.

For more information about joining the action coalition, please send an email to Follow us on twitter @tepcentre

Dr. Modupe Adefeso-Olateju is Managing Director of TEP Centre.  She is an education policy professional with expertise in designing public-private partnerships in education. She leads the team implementing Nigeria’s innovative citizen-led household assessment; LEARNigeria

Photo Credit: TEP Centre

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