How to solve Lagos State's education conundrum?

Posted on 02 July 2018

Private schools are now a major player on the Lagos education scene, dominating at the pre-primary and primary levels. Approximately 18,000 schools have opened, with the majority unapproved by the government, and offering varying standards of education and facilities. As many as 1.4 million children are spread across these private schools, against just 1.1 million children in 1,600 public schools. The success of this new sector is critical for Lagos’s aspirations of becoming a major player on the global stage.

In 2013, the state government invited DFID Nigeria to fund a five-year programme to address the market constraints faced by private schools, providing support and guidance to help them become a formal contributor to the city’s future.

Fast facts

  • More than 525,000 children from across nearly 5,000 schools have directly benefitted from DEEPEN’s interventions
  • Of these schools, half have received loans, and over a third rate their financial position to be ‘stronger’ than what it was 12 months ago
  • Over 200 episodes of education radio programmes have been broadcast with an average of 800,000 listeners monthly


New private schools are opening almost every day in Lagos, sometimes with inadequate facilities and substandard teaching. However, parents are prepared to find the money, as these private schools are perceived to offer better quality education when compared to government schools. Overall, the poor levels of numeracy and literacy in Lagos remain a significant barrier as the city tries to adjust to rapid population growth.

While private schools give a potential solution for the growing problems of access to education, they face stark financial hurdles that threaten to disrupt their development, especially at the lower end of the market. Unregulated by the government, banks are reluctant to offer credit. Parents with informal employment often pay late or not in full. The proprietors may bring enthusiasm for education, but many have little experience in financial planning or cash flow management. The severe arrears can destabilise the sustainability of the school as a business and deprive them of the means to invest in improving educational quality.


Cambridge Education is the managing partner for DEEPEN (Developing Effective Private Education Nigeria), an initiative by DFID to improve learning outcomes in Lagos’ private schools. Using a market-development approach, the programme continues the progress from the Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN), with a particular focus on improving learning outcomes of children from low-income families.

Our team conducted a detailed market analysis to identify the main constraints for improved private education in Lagos, with subsequent interventions classified into four priority areas:

  • Rules and Standards: Improving the formal regulatory framework and informal cultural practices that undermine the private education sector. In particular, this looked at improving the approval system, eliminating multiple taxation and working with the school associations to improve their organisational capacity.
  • Information: Addressing the lack of reliable information available to parents, schools, and policy-makers for making informed decisions about education. Interventions centred on media development, quality and more frequent reporting by journalists, and engagement with local communities on education issues.
  • Finance: Confronting inaccessibility of financial services and products to meet the needs of schools and their parents. DEEPEN has run pilots to improve fee payment systems and access to credit, as well as business development services.
  • School Improvement Services: Tackling the absence of affordable and effective services for low-cost schools to improve their academic leadership and teaching practices. This involves working closely with school leaders and teachers to raise standards of both management and teachers.

What is an M4P approach?

DEEPEN adopted a market systems – or ‘making markets work for the poor’ (M4P) – approach. It works by understanding the structures, rules and incentives around which the core of a market, i.e. ‘supply and demand’ works – and then unblocking the main constraints that prevent it from working better for the poor. What a market systems approach does not do is provide short term fixes in the form of funds, goods and services that may undermine market systems and do long term damage. For example, encouraging new financial services aimed at better fee collection from parents are more sustainable solutions to the problem of school financing than simply offering one-off grants for school improvement.

M4P is grounded on the principle of ‘doing no harm’: every proposed intervention considers what impacts – negative and positive – it may have and ensures sustainability. This approach builds on recent successes for DFID in Nigeria, South Africa and Bangladesh.


By conclusion of the programme in 2018, DEEPEN aims to have helped establish a vibrant and dynamic market for private education especially low-cost schools. While DEEPEN was designed to focus on Lagos State, the programme has recently expanded into Kano state in the North East and Anambra state in the South East.

What would sustainable success look like?

  • Increased access to, and use of, low cost school improvement services
  • Improved consumer understanding of education quality
  • Increased capacity to invest in education as a result of increased profitability and creditworthiness
  • Improved capacity of private school associations to serve their members and lobby government
  • Competition between public and private systems based around quality by ensuring access to the public examination system
  • A government that is increasingly supportive of private education

Landmark initiatives to date include the introduction of a government-validated grading system - the Graded Assessment of Private Schools (GAPS) – which aims to raise standards of teaching and ‘mobile money’ pilots which have highlighted the opportunities and challenges in changing the way that parents pay their fees. Another finance pilot has paved the way for greater access to credit through partnership between the school associations and Accion Microfinance bank. Now, other financial institutions are crowding into this growth sector, with its proven high rates of return on investment.

The programme’s work around school improvement services is proving sustainable, with clear evidence of crowding in from competitor providers not involved in the original scope. Likewise, work to increase peer-to-peer information sharing among schools and support for business development are expected to prove sustainable against the benchmarks listed above.

Girls' Education South Sudan

Posted on 02 July 2018

Barriers to success

South Sudan, a young nation where 51% of the 10M population live beneath the poverty line, faces huge practical challenges in rebuilding itself following decades of civil war and now new internal conflict. By giving an education to girls, communities gain a tool to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Yet, the barriers to success are high in a country where only one girl in ten completes primary education, and girls comprise just a third of the secondary school population.

The primary aim of Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) is to transform the lives of a generation by improving teaching and learning in schools, and increasing access, retention and completion among primary and secondary schoolgirls. A key challenge has been changing perceptions about female education in patriarchal communities.

Girl-friendly learning

GESS is rooted in a communication campaign, which aims to bring changes in social and individual behaviour towards girls’ education, and a whole-school development approach. Working with schools and community-based organisations, our specialist team is helping to build partnerships with governments to create safe, girl-friendly learning environments in schools.

A key component of GESS is to encourage enrolment and retention of girls by providing cash transfers to girls in education. In addition, capitation grants to all not-for-profit schools help supplement running costs and improve learning environments to make them more attractive and student-oriented. So far, 120,000 girls have received direct payments, freeing them to stay in school by supporting their families, while over 3000 schools have received grants.

Rapid progress

The programme aims to benefit at least 150,000 girls in primary school and 50,000 girls in secondary school, and share the lessons nationwide. To date more than 240,000 girls and 300,000 boys have benefited from the programme’s broader package of support, a million other girls will be reached through communications to families, communities and leaders, while learning outcomes will improve and drop-out and repetition rates will decrease across South Sudan.

Progress has been rapid. On 7 July 2015, National Girl Education Day in South Sudan, the combined enrolment at primary and secondary schools broke the 1M barrier for the first time, of which 417,116 were girls.

Education Quality Improvement Programme (EQUIP) Tanzania

Posted on 02 July 2018

In 2002, the Tanzanian government introduced free and compulsory primary education, resulting in more than 1.6 million children attending primary school for the first time. Since this time the primary school population has continued to steadily increase.

However, despite significant increases in enrolment, education quality remains low in too many areas. Low exam pass rates are due to factors at every level of the education system - inadequate resources, absence of teacher and school leadership training, low teacher morale, sub-optimal district stewardship of schools, a lack of perceived relevance of education and limited participation by communities in their schools.

Managed by Cambridge Education, EQUIP-Tanzania is four-year, UK aid-funded, Government of Tanzania programme which aims to improve the quality of primary education, especially for girls, in seven relatively educationally-disadvantaged regions of Tanzania. These regions represent approximately one quarter of the primary education system and 47 districts, 4,450 schools and over 50,000 teachers. Through these schools EQUIP-Tanzania will support more than two million girls and boys to have an equal opportunity to access and benefit from quality education. The eventual goal of the programme is to replicate successful interventions across the whole of Tanzania.

EQUIP-Tanzania engages with all sectors of government, schools, parents, pupils and civil society, drawing on their energy and expertise to strengthen the education system at every level. EQUIP-Tanzania is:

  • Enhancing teacher performance
  • Enhancing school leadership and management
  • Strengthening district management
  • Strengthening community participation
  • Strengthening education performance data, learning and dissemination of results

EQUIP-Tanzania’s work in the first five regions of Dodoma, Tabora, Kigoma, Shinyanga and Simyu began in 2014. Lindi and Mara were added to the programme in 2015 as were four additional municipal Local Government Authorities following a Government of Tanzania request. In all regions EQUIP-Tanzania is working increasingly closely with Regional and District Education Offices and in many locations now shares office space. The decentralisation of the majority of programme funds in August 2015 will further strengthen EQUIP-Tanzania's ability to support them lead the improvement of education systems in a sustainable way.

Prioritising early primary literacy and numeracy

The programme has been supporting the Government to deliver on its priority area of early primary literacy and numeracy, known as 3Rs, or KKK in Kiswahili. EQUIP-Tanzania has developed and is implementing a low-cost and replicable model for in-service (INSET) teacher development on literacy and numeracy. Effective teaching of girls will be further supported by professional development on ‘Gender Responsive Pedagogy’. The focus on early primary is supported by a new initiative, called the School Readiness Programme, which was developed by EQUIP-Tanzania in partnership with the Tanzania Institute for Education, and provide a 12-week preparation for primary school in areas where pre-primary is lacking and Kiswahili speaking at home is limited. All schools are also benefitting from the provision of much-needed supplementary classroom numeracy and literacy resources.

Involving the whole community

In addition, EQUIP-Tanzania has developed competency frameworks for teachers, head teachers and whole schools. Head teachers are receiving capacity building on leadership and management in a number of areas including school performance data and school planning. EQUIP-Tanzania is also working to bring greater positive community involvement in schools through the successful establishment of Parent Teacher Partnership and school clubs as well as the development of community education needs assessments which will feed the community voice in to school planning. Furthermore, EQUIP-Tanzania is using paper and tablet-based performance monitoring systems to help to strengthen the quality of data being produced across the education system . This data will support better planning and management and provide focus for the increased number of school visits and therefore conversations on quality improvement that are taking place due to the enhanced mobility of Ward Education Coordinators now that they have received motorbikes through the programme.

Our school is part of the community. Our success is the community’s success. The Parent Teacher Partnership is the glue that means the Ilole Primary School, parents and community members stick together putting the children’s needs and their education first.

Head teacher, Ilole Primary School, Tabora Region