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What can data tell us about Nigerian girls' educational opportunities?

Leila Rafei's picture
You might have heard the horrific news that almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were recently kidnapped by members of the militant group Boko Haram, who abducted them from their school while decked in military uniforms.

Their offense? Going to school.

This grim story highlights the pressing issue of education in the developing world.

So I thought I’d look at the stats. First: primary completion rate, which is the number of students in the last year of primary compared to the number of children of the correct age for that year – and one of the measures that is used to assess progress to “MDG2” – to achieve universal primary education. As of 2010, the estimate for Nigeria was 76%, higher than the Sub-Saharan Africa average of 69%, but well below the world average of 91%. And Nigerian girls were almost 10 percentage points behind Nigerian boys’ primary completion rate in that year. Interestingly, in 2006, the primary completion rate was as high as 90%, putting Nigeria slightly above the world average. The rate has since declined, possibly due to a steady increase in the size of Nigeria’s youth population, which can put a strain on resources linked to education. About 44% of the population was under 14 years of age in 2012.
Primary completion rate, total (% of relevant age group)

As for adjusted net primary school enrollment rates, Nigeria ranks as the fourth-lowest in the world in 2010, coming ahead of just Eritrea, Djibouti, and Equatorial Guinea. Adjustment net enrollment measures the number of pupils of primary school-age that are enrolled in either primary or secondary school, presented as a ratio of the total population of that age group.

Although there is clearly room for improvement, Nigeria—much like the entire region of Sub-Saharan Africa—has been steadily improving in a number of other education indicators in recent years. Literacy rates continue to be higher among the youth population (ages 15-24) than for adults (ages 15 and up). The latest data show that the adult literacy rate is 50% while the youth literacy rate is 66%. However, the disparity between male and female literacy rates has remained the same across generations; women remain nearly 10 percentage points behind men in both adult and youth literacy.

If you’d like to find more data on education in Nigeria (as well as over 200 other economies), look to the World Development Indicators database and the Education topic page. These data help us to grasp the depth the story of the kidnapped Nigerian girls as well as the broader issue of education in the developing world—where culture, politics, and poverty can stop children from going to school.

“Every girl - every child - in the world should have the right to go to school to learn and pursue her dreams without fear,” reads an official statement from the World Bank Group. “Our hearts go out to these girls and their families, and we urge their swift release and safe return home.”