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Formal Education and the Nigerian Youth: What Went Wrong?



When the late Nelson Mandela, said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and when Allan Bloom opined “Education is the movement from darkness to light”, they surely were not making a jest of words. The fact that the well educated parts of the world are the most updated and developed in virtually all spheres of life cannot be disputed.

Education can be defined as a life-long process of learning that teaches one how to live, where to live, who and what to live with, and how one can apply one`s knowledge for the betterment of the society. As John Dewey puts it, “it is a process of living and not a preparation for future living”.

Education can be grouped into two categories:

  • Formal education
  • Informal education

Formal education is the “classroom-based” type of education. It is received under the auspices of an educational institution. Informal education, on the contrary, is not classroom-based. It is the learning achieved at home, church, community-based organizations and other social gatherings.

Though both the formal and informal types of education are important, it is the formal education that is often considered as standard. The formal education system of a nation serves as a yardstick to measure that nation`s national growth and development. A defective formal education system clearly indicates an unstable national growth and an established formal education clearly indicates an enhanced and stable national growth spurt.

Nigeria, of course, is not ignorant of this fact. In recent years, the Nigerian government has made appreciable efforts in enhancing her education system. Significant among these is the YOUWIN business competition, Presidential Special Scholarship Award Scheme, Federal government scholarship scheme, Nigerian Communications Commissions(NCC) essay contest, to mention but a few. Ironically though, the rate of illiteracy in Nigeria continues to rise; the education system seems not to be helping matters as the rate of school dropouts continue to snowball. In view of this, this paper describes the current state of illiteracy in Nigeria, identifies a faulty formal education system as the root cause of the high rate of illiteracy among the Nigerian youths and offers suggestions for the way forward as regards the education of the Nigerian youth.

Illiteracy Among Youths: The Nigerian Story

Being the most populous black nation in the world with a population of about 168 million and also considered as the Giants of Africa, it is an ignominy that of the 168 million inhabitants of this nation, 65 million are illiterates, 35 million of which are adults. The National Youth Policy (2009) defines youth as all young males and females aged 18-35 years, who are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Being that the youths are one of the greatest assets a nation has, it is so pitiable that the very youthful population of Nigeria is wallowing in a sorry state of illiteracy. A lot of secondary school leavers are unconcerned about university education and the ones in the university are frustrated with the education system. Youths are taking to the streets and steps towards making quick money seems to be the best option; be it arm robbery, drug trafficking, prostitution or even street hypocritical begging. Students are dropping out of school, unemployment rate is skyrocketing and the glory of education is beginning to plummet.

Dig Deep: Finding the Root Cause

Following the preceding analysis, it is therefore imperative to identify the root cause of the alarming rise in the “education drop” among youths in Nigeria. This will go a long way in defining approaches towards mitigating the current illiteracy bane of Nigerian youths. Without mincing words, the root cause of illiteracy among Nigerian youths is no other than the atrocious state of our education system, an education system that is “certificate-oriented” rather than being “knowledge-oriented”, an education system that teaches us how to “cram” theories and principles of ancient times rather than to put our knowledge into practical application. Our formal education system has so many loopholes which have contributed to the illiteracy rise and “street take-over” of our youthful population. These loopholes will now be discussed below.

1. Method of Teaching

The method of teaching in Nigerian schools and universities is a major contributing factor to the fall in educational standards of our youths. We are taught to pass and not to know. Teaching is so theoretical to the extent that most students, even those in the sciences, do not have an idea as to what a standard laboratory looks like. We are taught about ancient principles of medieval times without being given the chance to develop our own ideas and put forward our own principles. Whether we understand or not, or if we can apply our knowledge for the good of our society is not the worry of our teachers, their worry is for them to finish the syllabus and as far as the students pass their exams, their work is done. The students who are the best “crammers” and can take in a depth of materials a night before exams and still pass are praised while the ones who cannot “cram” as much and as such do not ace their exams are left in the lurch; frustrated and dejected. Nobody cares if you really have the “stuff upstairs”, in as much as you are on your first class or second class upper, you are good to go! This method of teaching is not conducive for most students and those who cannot cope virtually end up as dropouts; taking to the streets and trying to find a means of livelihood for themselves.

2. Low Educational Standards

How can one teach a student in a school without a library? How does one expect a student to learn in a hall loaded with up to five hundred individuals with only one lecturer in front of the hall with no light, no fan and no public address system? How does one expect Nigeria to match with her foreign counterparts when she uses a curriculum which is about thirty years old to teach her students? No doubt, the low educational standards of Nigeria have dealt a huge blow to the education of our dear youthful population. Infrastructures are lacking terribly in our schools, teachers and lecturers are inadequate and the same old curriculum which was used to teach our parents is still used to teach the current generation. Learning is gradually becoming uninteresting and students continue to get frustrated. Teachers complain that failure among students is on the rise, but they fail to address the fact that our educational standards leave much to be desired.

3. Exploitation

Oxforddictionaries.com defined exploitation as “the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work”.Undue amount of exploitation on students by teachers (or lecturers) and school heads is another loophole of our former education system which is contributing to the illiteracy among youths in the country. One way in which students are exploited in school is through the unnecessary fees and dues they are mandated to pay. As a 300 level student, I cannot count the number of fees I have paid since my 100 level till now. All manner of dues, many of which we do not even know their use are being paid by students. These dues are mandatory as failure to comply means no examination for the defaulter. This have made students who do not have a strong financial source to partake in unscrupulous acts such as prostitution, theft and impersonation just to meet the financial demands of the school. Another way through which our formal education system exploits students is through the deplorable state of the teacher (or lecturer) to student relationship. Most lecturers in the universities personally threaten students. Some of them go to the extent of asking students to have sex with them if they are to ever graduate from the institution. All these acts can leave students frustrated. Some might eventually drop out or may turn into bad gangs while in school.

4. Corruption Among Educational Staff

The high rate of corruption among educational staffs is another major cause of the current illiteracy problem our youths are facing. There is an increasing case of lecturers taking bribes, so called “blocking”, from students just to award them a pass in their respective courses. The admission process is also in a “malignant” corruption state. People now pay through the nose just to get admitted into the university, questions and answers to standard exams such as JAMB, WAEC and other professional exams are “leaked” by the same personnel working in these institutions. Corruption in the education sector is more pernicious than corruption in other sectors due to its long term effects, corruption disrupts equal access to education, its consequences are particularly severe among the poor who without proper access to education, have little chances to escape a life of poverty, eventually turning to the streets where they learn to engage in myriads of devious activities, eventually contributing to high crime rate.

Formal Education and the Nigerian Youth: The way Forward

Since this essay identifies the faulty formal education system of Nigeria as a root cause for the deteriorating literacy of her youths, it is of utmost importance to offer strategic proposals and useful suggestions to address this situation. This essay therefore identifies five major approaches for tackling the problem:

1. An Efficient Method of Teaching

The method of teaching in our schools and universities needs to be rejuvenated. The following suggestions are given:

  • The method of teaching should be made proactive and pragmatic.
  • Standard teaching methods such as the use of slideshows and practical illustrations should be highly encouraged.
  • The teaching process should take a paradigm shift from being majorly theoretical to being majorly practical.
  • Students should not be tested on how well they know to pass, but on how well they know to apply and on how well they can think.
  • Room should be made for students to contribute to any topic being taught. Active class sessions should be organized where both the teachers and students are actively involved in the discussion topic.
  • Every student should be carried along in the teaching process and favoritism should be highly discouraged.

2. Sufficient Fund Allocation to Educational Sector

It is of prime necessity for the government to design strategic guidelines for fund allocation to the educational sector. The United Nations Education and Socio-Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommend that 26% of the annual budget of a nation should be allocated to the educational sector, but surprisingly, the budget allocation to education in Nigeria has never exceeded 13% since a decade.6 The education system of Nigeria will not move forward without adequate funding. Standard infrastructural and learning facilities have to be put in place in schools and universities. Standard laboratories and libraries should be made available in every public university in Nigeria. Lecture halls and classrooms need to be made adequate in our schools and all these cannot be achieved unless adequate funding is allocated to the educational sector.

3. Curriculum Development and Enhancement

No doubt the current curriculum used in schools for teaching needs to be developed and enhanced. One cannot expect a curriculum that is about fifty years old to be efficient enough in handling children and youths of this modern age. This essay therefore offers recommendations for an effective teaching curriculum:

  • Students, especially the science students and those in health related fields, should be exposed to practical sessions at least twice a week.
  • Communication skills acquisition as a course should be inculcated into the curriculum.
  • Method of testing and examining students should be changed. Examination and tests should be based on how well the students has researched on the topics taught, on how well the students can reason critically and on how well they can apply their knowledge to the good of the society.
  • Guidance and counseling section should be made available in every faculty of a particular university. Even in primary and secondary schools, this is also needed. This is important for struggling students who may be confused about their education and may need a word of advice or encouragement to get them on the right track.
  • Financial aid/assistance should also be available in every university. That is, every public university should have a standard and viable financial aid office where students can apply for financial assistance.

4. Discipline Should Be Taken into Cognizance

A high rate of discipline in the education sector is highly called for. Every act of corruption in the education sector should be mandated as punishable by the law. The cases of lecturers intimidating students through all manners of frivolous acts should be totally discouraged by the law.

Examinations should be conducted with high enough discipline. Any case of “leakage” of examination questions should be treated with all seriousness and offenders should be prosecuted according to the law. The Nigerian University Commission (NUC) and other educational bodies should see to it that each school gives thorough account of the fund allocation she was given. There should be no room for embezzlement of funds and any one found guilty of this, should be made to face the music.

5. Youth Empowerment Schemes and Seminars

Although the government has made laudable efforts in the creation of youth empowerment schemes such as the:

  • Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YouWiN)

  • Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (Sure-P)

  • Youth Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture in Nigeria (YISA) and

  • Graduate Internship Scheme,

more work has to be done in the consolidation of these efforts. The youth empowerment program currently in place should be made viable and more youth empowerment programs with a total objective of promoting education among youths should be created. Seminars and workshops which are centered on fostering education should also be organized for youths.


The increasing rate of illiteracy among Nigerian youths with the appalling state of our education system as the root cause clearly call for an immediate intervention to tackle the bane and reverse the undesired trend. Confronting these challenges though, is not the work of the government alone, all hands are to be on deck to effectively tackle the root cause and reverse the illiteracy bane among our youths. The government, teachers, lecturers, parents and the students themselves are to be jointly involved in this course. As such, the future of literacy among Nigerian youths and the glory of our education system clearly lie in our own hands.


1.Scholes0, “Education Statistics in Nigeria (Who is Going to School?).” (Aug, 2015).Online. Nairaland. Internet. 9 July. 2016. Available: www.nairaland.com/2534505/educaion-statistics-nigeria-going-school

2.Muhtar, Bakare. “65 Million Nigerians Are Illiterates – UNESCO.” (Dec. 2015). Online. Vanguard News. Internet.9Jul.2016.Available: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/12/65-million-nigerians-are-illiterates-unesco/

3 .National Youth Policy, “Second National Youth Policy Document of the FederalRepublic of Nigeria 2009,” (n. d): p. 6. Online. Internet. 9 July. 2016. Available: http://www.planipolis.iiep.unesco.org/upload/Youth/Nigeria/Nigeria_YouthPolicy.pdf

4. Oxford Dictionaries, © 2016 Oxford University Press.Available: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/exploitation

5. Alaibe, Woyinton. “Corruption in the Education Sector.” (Dec, 2013): Online. The Nigerian Observer, Bendel Newspaper Company Limited, Internet, 14 July. 2016.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Shakirah on July 24, 2019:

This is truly insightful. I just came across this write up after two years it being posted. The issues and solutions are well highlighted.

Ayuba on June 27, 2018:

This is very insightful and most times the thoughts that comes to my head. the educational system should be overhauled for the greater good of this nation.

Frances on May 22, 2017:

Nice write up... Keep it up.

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