Two of Utomi’s claims hit the bull’s eye – about 42% of Nigeria’s population is younger than 15 and he was right that most states struggle to draw from the Universal Basic Education Commission’s fund in order to improve education standards.
But for the most part his numbers missed, including those on the national budget.
Utomi’s comments about the teacher-to-pupil ratio in the country could not be proven and his appeal to the authority of Unesco was incorrect.
In an article about the “menace” of Nigeria’s out-of-school children, columnist Jerome-Mario Utomi made several claims about education in the country.
The article was published in at least four newspapers, including the Punch, a national daily. According to the bio, Utomi is the media and policy programme coordinator at the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, a non-profit organisation based in Lagos.
Among the claims in the article were that one teacher attends to more than 100 pupils and that several states were unable to improve education.
We took a closer look at eight of the claims.
Utomi told Africa Check that his statistics came from online research. “They are figures published by newspapers and given out by government officials,” he said.
To start his argument about the teacher-pupil ratio, Utomi claimed that Nigeria’s population was “over 195.9 million”, 45% of whom were younger than 15.
But Leo Sanni, a statistical information officer at the statistics bureau, told Africa Check the agency had projections to 2022. This data showed that Nigeria had an estimated population of 211.5 million in 2021. Those aged 14 and younger were estimated at 89.96 million, or 42% of the population.
The UN estimated 43.3% were under 15. Utomi’s claim is within range of all of these, and given the evergreen debate about the size of Nigeria’s population, we rate it mostly correct.
The large under-15 population and the high demand for learning opportunities meant it was difficult for Nigeria to offer quality education, Utomi argued.
This, he said, meant there were “more than 100 pupils for one teacher” in the country’s schools. But he did not clarify if the ratio was for public schools or if private schools were included.
The federal Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) has 2018 data on the ratio. It gave the national average as 31 pupils to a teacher, worsening to 49 when only qualified teachers were considered.
The data covered six years of primary school and three of junior secondary, which are considered both free and compulsory.
‘Nigeria has not submitted recent data’
The Institute for Statistics (UIS) is the official statistics agency for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). Its most recent data showed there were about 58 pupils to every qualified teacher in 2013.
“There is no recent published data for Nigeria for pupil-teacher ratios because the country didn’t recently submit the necessary data to calculate these indicators,” Bertrand Tchatchoua, an adviser at the UIS, told Africa Check.
Comfort Edemenang is a professor of educational administration and planning at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi in northeastern Nigeria.
She told Africa Check that in some public primary schools in the north, a teacher was handling more than 100 pupils, sometimes up to 150.
“But this is not the case in private schools where you would normally find between 35 and 40 pupils in a class,” Edemenang said, noting that she could not speak to the situation in southern Nigeria.
“But generally, when you have such situations where a teacher is faced with over 100 pupils, the quality of education is eroded.”
The basic education commission’s data for 2018 shows ratios of more than 80 pupils to one teacher in some geopolitical zones in the country.
Utomi claimed in his article that one teacher to more than 100 pupils in Nigeria should be compared to a “benchmark” of 35 pupils to one teacher, “recommended” by Unesco, .
Has the UN agency recommended such a ratio? “Unesco has no benchmark for the pupil-teacher ratio,” Friedrich Huebler, the head of education standards and methodology at UIS, told Africa Check.
Tchatchoua said the UIS had discontinued publishing these indicators since September 2020. This was because it had since adopted other indicators. In 2013, it recommended a ratio of 58 pupils to a teacher.
According to documents from the country’s budget office, the funding allocated to the commission in 2020, whether in the initial or amended budgets, does not match the figure in this claim.
The basic education fund gets guaranteed funding from the federal government, in addition to donor grants.
For any of Nigeria’s states to qualify for the guaranteed funds, the law requires it to contribute at least 50% of the total cost of identified projects, such as classrooms and laboratories, as a commitment that they will be completed.
Utomi claimed that most states in Nigeria did not access these federal funds because their governments were unable to meet their end of the deal.
Oriyomi Ogunwale, who is the project lead at Eduplana, a civic technology organisation that uses data to promote quality education in Nigeria, told Africa Check how it worked.
“For a state to access the universal basic education fund, the state government approaches the Universal Basic Education Commission with a proposal for projects that would improve access to basic education.”
“A needs assessment is done and the state commits to providing half of the budget and then UBEC would provide the other half.”
States not accessing funds, governors want law changed
As of July 2019, none of the states had accessed the fund, while at least 19 had not accessed 2018 funding.
In April 2021, the commission’s executive secretary Hamid Bobboyi said it had about N41 billion in matching grants that hadn’t been accessed.
State governors have over time shown they are unwilling to provide matching funds, and have pushed for changes to the law to remove or reduce the percentage states have to provide, Ogunwale said.