At the beginning of 2022, Opportunity International CEO Atul Tandon and Head of Education Finance Andrew McCusker reminded us of one of the most severe long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic:
“Education is one of the best tools we have to break the cycle of poverty,” they wrote. “But millions of children are at risk of never returning to the classroom. The challenge we face as a global community is figuring out how to get these children back in the classroom as soon as possible—and improving the quality of education for those that have already gone back to school.”
This is especially true in Nigeria, where more children are currently out of school than anywhere else in the world. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures worldwide in 2020, the World Bank reports that in Nigeria, students became even less likely to return to school after they reopened—and an estimated 13.2 million children are out of the classroom.
The Challenge of Education in Nigeria
Nigeria is positioned for educational failure with a rapidly growing youth population and a school system that cannot keep up. USAID notes that in Nigeria, “the quality of basic education is extremely poor, leading to low demand and unacceptably low academic performance.”
BBC noted that “schools are crowded, dilapidated and ill-equipped…and parents can’t afford to put their children in school.” Further, “teachers are untrained and not paid enough…and the education system needs better investment.”
Nigeria also faces the unique crisis of Boko Haram—a terrorist group whose name translates to “Western education is forbidden.” Since 2009, the group has killed tens of thousands of people and has displaced more than two million more.
Given this context—a youth bulge, economic poverty, a failing school system, poorly equipped teachers, and terrorism against education—it is unsurprising that Nigerian children are struggling to go to and stay in school.
But the best way we know to break these hurdles is by investing in the very thing they are stacked up to prevent: high-quality education for all.
Responding to Educational Challenges through EduFinance
Educators and families in Nigeria face a complex and critical task: enrolling students in school and maintaining student attendance. Since 2019, Opportunity International has remained dedicated to supporting education in Nigeria, and now our work is more important than ever.
When Opportunity initially launched EduFinance, we created school improvement loan and school fee loan products. These specially designed loans help families cover the fees to send their children to school—even if they have unpredictable cash flows—and provide schools funding to support core improvements to their infrastructure.
But we didn’t stop there.
In 2016, we launched EduQuality in Ghana and Uganda in response to findings that showed school leaders we served often worked in isolation, without peers to share best practices or explore solutions. We found that teachers shared common challenges like delayed salaries, classroom management, and lack of training but didn’t have a place to brainstorm solutions with others.
Our EduQuality program was designed to solve this problem.
Through EduQuality, schools commit to a three-year program and join a cluster of 6-12 other schools within their geographic area. An Education Specialist from Opportunity International works with each collection, providing guidance, resources, and support around the common issues schools face. Ultimately, these groups become self-sustaining as members increase their expertise and rely less and less on the Education Specialist.
In addition to the clusters, school leaders and teachers receive professional development and training to support their day-to-day work. School leaders attend business and financial management, school marketing, teacher retention, and child protection sessions. This training helps school owners improve their schools, both as businesses and places of learning. Meanwhile, teachers are connected with mentors who help them with their approach to teaching and learning, classroom management, and literacy.
Opportunity EduFinance ensures that students can access education, and Opportunity EduQuality ensures the education they receive is as powerful and effective as possible.
Quality Education in Nigeria
Opportunity launched EduFinance initiatives in Nigeria in 2019. From an original six partners, the program has grown to work with 12 financial institutions—and has plans to expand to 18 partners in the year ahead. Opportunity also plans to launch our EduQuality program in Nigeria within the next few months, as staffing and local conditions allow.
By investing in low-cost private schools, we are making education available and accessible to more students. And by investing in EduQuality, we are ensuring that this education actually teaches students the skills they need to grow and thrive.
Through school clusters, teachers will be able to learn new skills, share concerns, and brainstorm with their peers—dramatically improving the quality of education they can provide. For teachers who feel under-resourced and ill-equipped, these clusters can be transformative.
We know that education is a key to unlocking opportunities for the future and breaking the cycle of poverty. So, we continue to innovate and address educational needs as they arise, especially in places like Nigeria, where the challenges are incredibly severe.
Through it all, we remain determined to make education in Nigeria both accessible and high-quality. As the country continues to seek a future beyond the devastating effects of terrorism, under-investment, and COVID-19, Opportunity’s programs will be there to provide support to the country’s schools, teachers, and students.