Improving the capacity for managing basic education in Nigeria: What can we learn from the ESSPIN Experience?

 By Ifeatu Nnodu, OPM Education Consultant

The challenges facing the education system in Nigeria have been well documented, such as in this literature review by EDOREN, and DFID-funded projects like ESSPIN and EDOREN are producing more data, research and evidence on what works for improving the education quality, access and systems in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s new APC – led government lists education as one of its top priorities, with plans already underway to recruit, train and deploy 500,000 unemployed graduates as teachers, and provide school feeding programs for primary schools across the country. In the recently concluded Nigeria Annual Education Conference (NAEC), the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo noted the need to invest in capacity building for teachers..  Furthermore, the recently launched 2016-2019 Ministerial Strategic Plan lists ‘teacher education involving capacity building and professional development’ as one of its core pillars.

ESSPIN is a DFID-funded nine-year (2008-17) basic education programme that seeks to bring about sustainable improvements in the delivery of education by building institutional capacity to support school improvement at the federal, state, local and school or community levels in Nigeria. The programme works at the Federal level, in partnership with 6 state governments (Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano Kwara, and Lagos) to deliver governance and systems strengthening reforms.

A recent study by EDOREN has examined the evidence on the results of support provided by the ESSPIN project to capacity development in basic education, and how this support may have contributed to school-level impact. The study focused on the capacity of the organisations that ESSPIN’s interventions have targeted (capacity here is defined as the ability of individuals and agents to perform their function); and drew on evidence from ESSPIN’s self-assessment reports and other programme documents, the Composite Surveys, stakeholder interviews at federal and state levels, and case-study visits to two Local Government Education Authorities (LGEAS) in Kano and Kwara states.

Lessons from the ESSPIN Project

The intervention

ESSPIN adopted a holistic approach to school improvement, delivering a package of interventions aimed at improving head teacher effectiveness, teacher competence, functional school-based management, and inclusive practises, known as the School Improvement Programme. ESSPIN has worked around four main outputs – strengthening federal government systems to support state implementation of school improvement, improving state and LGA capacity for governance and management of basic education, strengthening capability of primary schools to provide improved learning, and improving community participation in school improvement.

Evidence on capacity – building efforts

Overall, there is evidence that ESSPIN’s capacity building support has significantly improved the capacity of government to manage basic education functions, particularly at the state level. Federal level agencies have improved capacity to develop relevant policies and frameworks, and state systems for planning and budgeting, service delivery, quality assurance and community involvement in schools have been strengthened. Local government officers have received training and support to support schools and monitor quality, the capacity of headmasters for school leadership and planning has improved, and communities are more involved in school governance through the School Based Management Committees (SBMCs).

However due to institutional constraints, improved capacity has not consistently translated into ESSPIN’s ultimate impact goal – improvements in learning outcomes for children. Some of these constraints include:

  • Inconsistent high-level political commitment, and weak national coordination arrangements at the federal level. These have limited the implementation of initiatives such as the Monitoring and Learning Achievement and Quality Assurance systems.
  • Poor budget execution, and ineffective coordination and integration of functional areas within state institutions. This is a constraint to progress in implementation of state functions.
  • Inadequate financial resources and decision making authority continue to limit enhancement to capacity at the LGA level.
  • Low salaries, delayed payments, poor school infrastructure and poor teacher management processes. These undermine teacher motivation and capacity development.

Lessons Learnt

ESSPIN’s experience has demonstrated that capacity for basic education management can be strengthened, although there are significant challenges to be addressed if these capacity building efforts are to translate into improved learning outcomes for children. These findings have policy implications for the Nigerian government, other donor programmes and stakeholders in the education sector. Key lessons learnt include:

  • High-level political will and commitment from government is necessary to sustain capacity development initiatives, as there are limits to the political influence that donors can wield in pushing reforms.
  • Decentralisation of functions and resource control, and establishment of accountability mechanisms at the LGA level is necessary to allow LGEAs effectively manage schools, otherwise further capacity strengthening at the LGA level will have limited impact.
  • Human resource management in education requires greater attention, to address important performance constraints and issues related to teacher management (recruitment and deployment, compensation, professional development, and career progression processes related to performance).
  • Sustained support and training for teachers is needed to improve skills of teaching reading and writing in the appropriate language of instruction, and managing large class sizes.
  • Further evidence is needed on the potential of community-level accountability to raise school performance, drawing on the lessons from the roll-out of the SBMCs to all primary schools across the country.

See here for access to the full study report.

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