July/August 2011  Volume 24, Issue 6
  International Education Intelligence   
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The Educational System of Nigeria

By Jennifer Onyukwu, Educational Advisor, EducationUSA Nigeria

Nigeria operates on a 9-3-4 system:

  • Primary School — 6 years
  • Junior Secondary School — 3 years
  • Senior Secondary School — 3 years
  • University First Degree — 4 years

Education System and Qualification Structure

Source: Federal Ministry of Education

OVERVIEW

The Federal Republic of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country is in the West African sub-region, bordered by Niger in the north, Chad in the northeast, Cameroon in the east, and Benin in the west. Nigeria currently has 36 states with a Federal Capital Territory and a population of over 150 million people. Of this population, approximately 30 million are students. The country is rich in petroleum and many other natural resources. The three dominant tribes are Yoruba in the southwest, Ibo in the eastern region and Hausa in the north. The official language is English, although most people speak their native languages in addition to English.  English is the only language used in schools, for reading, writing and speaking.

Education in Nigeria is the shared responsibility of the federal, state and local governments. The Federal Ministry of Education plays a dominant role in regulating the education sector, engaging in policy formation and ensuring quality control. However, the federal government is more directly involved with tertiary education than it is with school education, which is largely the responsibility of state (secondary) and local (primary) governments. The education sector is divided into three sub-sectors: basic (nine years), post-basic/senior secondary (three years), and tertiary (four to seven years, depending on the major or course of study). Education in Nigeria is provided by public and private institutions.

According to Nigeria’s National Policy on Education (2004), basic education covers education given to children 3-15 years of age, which includes pre-primary programs (ages three to five), and nine years of formal (compulsory) schooling consisting of six years of primary and three years of junior secondary.

Post-basic education includes three years of senior secondary education in either an academic or technical stream. Continuing education options are provided through vocational and technical schools.

The tertiary sector consists of a university sector and a non-university sector. The latter is composed of polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education. The tertiary sector as a whole offers opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, vocational and technical education. There are currently (2011) 117 federal, state and private universities accredited in Nigeria as degree-granting institutions. Information on all accredited universities is available on the National University Commission’s website. The academic year typically runs from September to July. Most universities use a semester system of 18 - 20 weeks. Others run from January to December, divided into 3 terms of 10 -12 weeks. 

Annually, an average of 1.5 million students take the Unified Tertiary and Matriculation Examination (UTME) for entrance into Nigerian universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Universities have the capacity to absorb less than 40 percent of these test takers. The other 60 percent tend to go to their second and third choice categories of institutions—polytechnics and colleges of education. Many Nigerian students also apply to institutions abroad. In 2011, 40 percent of the students who sat for the UTME made the minimum cut-off grade of 200 (out of 400) for entry into Nigerian universities.

There are currently various government reforms and initiatives aimed at improving the Nigerian educational system. These include the upgrade of some polytechnics and colleges of education to the status of degree-awarding institutions, the approval and accreditation of more private universities, and the dissemintaion of better education-related data, including the recently published Nigerian Educational Statistics (a publication assisted by USAID among others).

However, with the recent announcement by Nigeria’s National Population Commission that Nigeria’s population is expected to hit 166 million by October 31, 2011 and that approximately 60 percent of this population will be between the ages of 13 and 45, the recent government initiatives fall far short of addressing the educational needs of the country. As a result, an increasing number of families and students are looking at alternative educational opportunities within the region and further abroad.

EDUCATION

Primary and Secondary School

Primary education (grades 1-6) is free and compulsory, and offered to children aged 6-12. The curriculum is geared toward providing permanent literacy, laying a sound basis for scientific, critical and reflective thinking, and also in equipping children with the core life skills to function effectively in society.

In 2009, the gross enrollment ratio at the primary level was 89 percent (95 percent male and 84 percent female) according to UNESCO statistics. The net enrollment rate (as a percentage of children in the 6-12 age group) was a much lower 61 percent (male children 64 percent, female children 58 percent) in 2007 (UIS) suggesting that many students outside of the primary age group are attending primary school. In 2008, the primary to secondary transition rate was 44 percent, according to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) EdData Profile.

Under the new Universal Basic Education (UBE) system of 9-3-4, which replaced the former universal primary education scheme of 6-3-3-4, students attend six years of primary school and three years of junior secondary, thus nine years of compulsory and uninterrupted schooling. This is followed by three years of senior secondary schooling. Until 2006 entry to junior secondary education was based on the Common Entrance Examination, but entry is now automatic. 

The Junior Secondary School Certificate is awarded at the end of junior secondary school. Students who pass the Junior Secondary Certificate Examination (JSCE) at the credit level (see the grading system below) in not less than six subjects may proceed to senior secondary school (grade 10) at either the same institution, or they may transfer to another institution of their choice.

Core subjects at the junior secondary level include: English, French, science, technology, Nigerian language (Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba), mathematics, and social studies. Students may also choose to study a number of elective subjects. A prevocational stream is also available to students looking to pursue technical or vocational training at the senior secondary level.

A majority of senior secondary school students proceed in the academic stream from junior secondary school. However, there is also a technical stream, in addition to vocational training outside of the school system, or apprenticeship options offering a range of terminal trade and craft awards.

Private organizations, community groups, religious bodies, and the federal and state governments establish and manage secondary schools in Nigeria. All private and public schools offer the same curriculum but most private schools include the Cambridge International Examination curriculum, which allows students to take the IGSCE examinations during their final year in high school. It is also important to note that some private schools offer GCE A-levels, which usually serve as a gap year after graduation for students that are interested.

The common core curriculum at the senior secondary level consists of: English, one Nigerian language, mathematics, one science subject, one social science subject, and agricultural science or a vocational subject. In addition students must take three elective subjects, one of which may be dropped in the third year.

Students take the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) at the end of grade 12. The Senior Secondary Certificate (SSC) is awarded to successful candidates. The certificate lists all subjects in which the student is successful. The SSCE replaced the West African GCE O and A levels in 1989, although those examinations are still available to students who wish to take them (see above).

The SSC is issued by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) or the National Examination Council (NECO), depending on the examination board used. An average grade of ‘credit’ level (C6) or better is required for access to public universities; however some require higher grades for admission. The standards of the two examinations are essentially the same. Students register for a maximum of nine and a minimum of seven subjects, which must include mathematics and English.

A student must get at least a C in English and four other courses relevant to his or her major in order to sit for the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination. A student applying for admission to study medicine, computer science or accounting, for example, will be required to have a minimum of a C in mathematics as well as in English whereas a student applying for a program in history will not necessarily require a C in mathematics.

A maximum of nine grades are assigned to each subject in both WAEC and NECO examinations.

Grading System

A1 75%-100% 5 EXCELLENT
B2 70%-74% 4 VERY GOOD
B3 65%-69% 3 GOOD
C4 60%-64% 2.75 CREDIT
C5 55%-59% 2.50 CREDIT
C6 50%-54% 2.00 CREDIT
D7 45%-49% 1.50 PASS
E8 40%-44% 1.00PASS
F9 0%-39% <1.00 FAIL

WASSCE/NECO Confirmation of Results: It is now possible to access student results through the West African Examinations Council (WAEC)/or National Examination Council (NECO) websites. The student must provide the PIN number that they purchase for the equivalent of $3 (available at any post office, bank or WAEC regional office). With the PIN number it is possible to retrieve a printable copy of their WAEC results. This is the fastest and most reliable way of verifying a student’s results from Nigeria.  

Technical and vocational education is available for graduates of junior secondary school. A two-tier system of nationally certified programs is offered at science technical schools, leading to the award of National Technical/Commercial Certificates (NTC/NCC) and Advanced National Technical/Business Certificates. The lower level program lasts three years after Junior Secondary School and is considered by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board as equivalent to the SSC.

The Advanced program requires two years of pre-entry industrial work experience and one year of full-time study in addition to the NTT/NCC. The advanced degrees are typically considered equivalent to an undergraduate degree. All certificates are awarded by the National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB).

Tertiary Education

Presently there are 117 universities; 36 federal, 36 state and 45 private universities. The National Universities Commission (NUC) is the government umbrella organization that oversees the administration of higher education in Nigeria.  The 36 federal universities and dozens of teaching hospitals and colleges are under its purview. State governments have responsibility for the administration and financing of the 36 state universities. The NUC approves and accredits all university programs.

In addition to universities, there are 59 federal and state polytechnic colleges and several privately owned polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education across the country. These were established to train technical, mid-level manpower and teachers. Currently, there are plans to upgrade some of these colleges to allow them to award degrees. The colleges are evaluated and accredited by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). A list of approved polytechnics and other technical colleges is available here and approved teaching colleges here.

Admissions
For entrance into a Nigerian institution of higher learning, students are required to take the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). Each student can choose up to six institutions: two universities, two polytechnics and two colleges of education at the point of registration for the examination. The minimum mark required on the UTME for admission to university is 200 (out of 400). In addition, each institution has cut off marks for various programs, so a minimum of 200 marks does not guarantee admission, especially for high-demand programs and institutions. Universities also conduct additional screening before a final admission decision is made. For the UTME, students must take exams in English and three subjects related to their proposed major.

All admissions to bachelor degree programs at all Nigerian universities are organized through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).  

According to statistics released by JAMB with the results of the 2011 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), federal universities are the preferred choice of a majority of test takers, followed closely by state universities. Private universities are far less popular. The University of Lagos was the most popular choice with 99,195 applicants (for 6,106 places), followed by Ahmadu Bello University (89,760), the University of Nigeria Nsukka (88,177), Nnamdi Azikiwe University (84,719) and the University of Benin (80,976).

Programs
The duration of undergraduate programs in Nigerian universities depends largely on the program of study. Programs in the social sciences, pure sciences and humanities are typically four years; engineering- and technology-related programs are five years; architecture, medicine and veterinary science require six years (and have longer sessions); and law is five years (two semester sessions per year).

Students may take either a single-subject honors degree or combined honors. In the former, students study three subjects in the first year, two in the second year and one in the third. In the combined honors program students take three subjects in the first year and two subjects in both the second and third years. In the fourth year, single subject honors students take one subject and combined-honors students take at least two subjects.

Postgraduate degrees are awarded upon completion of one year of full-time study after the bachelor degree. These programs are generally offered in education and public administration.

Master’s degrees are typically open to holders of a First or Second Class bachelor degree and usually require one year of full-time study see grading equivalent below. A research thesis may be required and if so, the program is typically two years in duration.

Doctoral degrees are open to holders of a master’s degree in a related field and usually require two to three additional years of study beyond the master’s.

University Transcripts

A typical transcript from a Nigerian university should have the student's name, registration number, year of entry, year of graduation, GPAs, & CGPA, and semester-by-semester entry of all the completed courses and scores. Transcripts also include the signature of the Registrar or Deputy Registrar and an official stamp (some universities may attach student photographs and a university seal to strengthen the document.) Students are not given copies of their transcript. Universities send all transcripts directly to requesting institutions.

To verify a Nigerian university transcript, schools are advised to contact Nigerian universities directly through regular mail or email with addresses that can be found on their websites or on the NUC website. The EducationUSA Advising centers may also be able to assist with contact information to facilitate verification of documents from some Nigerian universities. Some of these universities charge a fee for verification of transcripts. Charges are based on institutional decisions.

NIGERIAN UNIVERSITY GRADING SYSTEM

5 grade system:

  • First Class (4.50- 5.00)
  • Second Class Upper Division (3.50 – 4.49)
  • Second Class Lower Division (2.40-3.49)
  • Third Class (1.50 -2.39)
  • Pass (1.00 – 1.49)

Technical and Vocational Higher Education

Higher technical education is provided at technical colleges, polytechnics and colleges of education. Entry to colleges and polytechnics is based on JAMB-administered entrance examinations combined with results from secondary and vocational schools.

The National Diploma is a two-year program and grants access to Higher National Diploma programs.

The Higher National Diploma (HND) is a two-year program that typically requires one year of work experience after the National Diploma, which is required for admission. The HND is the equivalent to a university degree and offers access to university graduate studies. HND graduates may also decide to take a one year postgraduate diploma certificate before applying for a master’s degree.

Colleges and specialized training institutes offer various certificates and diplomas that may be obtained after one, two or three years. The Nursing & Midwifery Council of Nigeria awards the Diploma of Midwifery after one year of theoretic and clinical postsecondary studies and the Registered Nurse Certificate after three years of postsecondary study. The Institute of Medical Laboratory Technology awards the Associate Diploma of Medical Laboratory Technology and the Fellowship Diploma on a 4+1 basis of postsecondary education.

WES GRADING SCALE

Scale 1 Scale 2 U.S. Grade Equivalents
A/AB 70 - 100 A
B/BC 60 - 69 B+
C/CD 50 - 59 B
D 45 - 49 C
E 40 - 44** C
F 0 - 39 F
** The minimum passing mark may be lower depending on the year of graduation and the institution.

Nigerians in the United States:  According to the Institute of International Education’s 2010 (IIE) Open Doors report, there were 6,568 Nigerian students enrolled at regionally accredited U.S. institutions of higher education in academic year 2009/10, making them the largest national contingent of students from Sub-Saharan Africa.  

Educational Advising:  The EducationUSA Advising Centers in Abuja and Lagos under the Public Affairs Section of the United States Embassy serve over 65,000 students per year in a wide range of programs designed to strengthen student applications and their readiness for U.S. higher education.  We are eager to work with U.S. institutions to help boost Nigerian enrollments within the U.S. system of higher education. Please contact the Educational Advisors, in Abuja and Lagos, and refer your Nigerian applicants to us for any assistance that we can provide. The advising centers host annual College and Career Fairs in October that attract over 3,000 participants. We would like to invite your institution to participate in our fairs. For further information on how to contact the advising centers, please use details below:

Abuja:
Jennifer Onyukwu onyukwuj@state.gov
Folashade Adebayo adebayoso@state.gov
Hamza Dalhatu hamzad@state.gov
Phone: 234-09-461-4000

Lagos:
Ifeanyi Olagbaju olagbajui@state.gov
Margaret Anyigbo anyigbom@state.gov
Phone: 07031502444

The centers would appreciate two copies each of your catalogue, view book, video and CD-ROM, mailed to:

Abuja: Educational Advisor – PAS; Department of State, 8320 Abuja Place
            Washington, DC 20521-8320

Lagos: Educational Advisor – PAS; Department of State, 8300 Lagos Place
            Washington, DC 20521-8300

At the centers, we welcome recruiting visits and can readily assemble an audience for your presentations. Come and visit, and let us show you the Nigerian hospitality!

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