Niger: How to reconcile demographics and quality education?

05 May 2020



Home to the world’s fastest-growing population, Niger is bracing for a rapid rise in the number of school-aged children. In 2030, 1.2 million children will be ready for the first grade, up from 600,000 in 2020. Given this forecast, Niger has made education a top priority by allocating one-fifth of its national budget to the sector, as per international recommendations

However, many obstacles – including geopolitical instability and harsh weather – remain as the education system fights to keep pace. “Niger’s capacity to build new classrooms – providing that the funding is there – is only 1,000 per year, so there is a long way towards reaching quality education for all by 2030,” says Koffi Segniagbeto, a Senior Education Policy Analyst at IIEP-UNESCO Dakar.

Currently, more than half of children aged seven to 12 years old are out of school. For those enrolled, education stops, on average, after six years. Students – especially in rural areas –face overcrowded classrooms and limited resources. 

Quality management – a window of opportunity?

A deeper look into the quality management of education could help explain the fragility of the education system – and more importantly, offer solutions for the future. For example, the country is currently shifting towards decentralized educational policy-making – a much-needed move to enable educational resources to reach schools.  

"Decentralization helps ensure that textbooks reach the classrooms where children will need them the most,” says Segniagbeto. “It would lead to a school with learning,” which would ultimately improve literacy rates, help create formal employment, and improve the overall livelihoods of Nigeriens.  

To help with this shift, IIEP-UNESCO is working with the Nigerian government to support quality management at the school-level as a way to improve learning outcomes. This also entails guidance on how to find alternative funding mechanisms and improve educational expenditure so that Niger’s limited resources are used where they are most needed, such as for building classrooms and improving teacher training.

A focus on skills-based education?

Other progress is also on the horizon. For example, Niger is the only country in West Africa that does not employ parent-teachers, illustrating the government’s commitment to providing education to all. Gender disparity in enrollment is also slowly diminishing as access to primary school expands, according to Niger’s 2020 Education Sector Analysis

Looking to the future, Segniagbeto also expects to see Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) occupy a larger place in Niger’s education system. “We always say that education is the greatest antidote to poverty reduction but the reality is that skills are the best vaccine when you want to fight poverty and reach socioeconomic development,” says Segniagbeto.

Given this, TVET will undoubtedly play an important role in helping the country cater to the needs of its rapidly growing youth population. While it remains one of the lowest on the continent with around 200 enrollees per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a new IIEP-UNESCO paper on Niger’s demographic challenges, TVET enrollment has increased fourfold over the past decade.

The country is also working to better align skills with the actual needs of Niger’s labour market: three years after completing a TVET programme, 45% of graduates are unemployed and half of those who have found work did not cite TVET as the reason for their employment.

Despite these figures, TVET should not be underestimated, warns Segniagbeto. Going forward, policy-makers will need to continue to explore what the current barriers to TVET are – only then will stronger policies follow and enable this promising sector to reach its full potential.

With an average of seven children per woman, Niger’s population grew from 12 million in 2001 to 22 million in 2018. By 2030, it could reach 35 million, with half the population under 15 years old.