Cover image courtesy of Save the Children.
Written by Haley Brown, The University of Oklahoma
This article examines Save the Children’s impact on Nigeria, as well as the faults and benefits of Save the Children’s education interventions.
Save the Children, an international humanitarian organization that originated in 1919, has many international programs in numerous countries around the world. This article examines and critiques Save the Children’s education programs and their intended and unintended outcomes in Nigeria. The negative impacts of Save the Children’s efforts result from a lack of local knowledge, poor training for teachers, and a lack of accountability. Benefits of Save the Children’s education interventions include a flexible school schedule and increases in community engagement. This humanitarian organization’s education efforts in Nigeria extend to early childhood care, early recovery, and resilience in places of conflict, community-based school programs, the Girls Education Campaign, and school-based management committees. Nigeria’s systemic problems with education result in over ten million children who do not receive a proper education. Furthermore, the impact of crisis fragile states, specifically in Northeast Nigeria, has shown to have detrimental consequences such as lack of accessibility and poor quality of education for children in these harsh situations. This article has determined that while Save the Children has made some positive impacts on Nigerian schoolchildren, the organization is in need of great improvement, especially with working in crisis fragile states.
Nigerian schoolchildren in a classroom sponsored by Save the Children .
Save the Children is an organization that was first formed in 1919 by Eglantyne Jebb in Britain to provide resources for children of the post-war blockades. The humanitarian organization developed programs around the world to help victims of violence, malnutrition, poverty, climate crisis, refugee crisis, child trafficking, and more. Additionally, Save the Children developed initiatives for global education in places where education is inaccessible or is of poor quality. Their global education efforts include but are not limited to advocacy for education, supporting community-based school programs, providing alternative learning programs to older children, improving school infrastructures, providing early childhood development programs, and developing school-based management committees and community engagement initiatives . An area of interest to Save the Children is in Nigeria where an estimated 13.2 million children do not have access to schooling . This estimate represents the largest population of children who are out of school and demonstrates the harsh reality of education in Nigeria.
Background: Nigeria’s Education Crisis
Nigeria’s education crisis stems from many factors that are related to underfunded government schools, deficiencies in school infrastructure, lack of accessibility, poor quality education, poverty, crisis fragile states, a lack of reform by the Nigerian government, and more . Out of all these factors, lack of accessibility, poor quality education, and crisis fragile states are the most reported issues in the Nigerian education crisis. A study conducted in crisis-affected countries in 2015 found several obstacles for the lack of accessibility to schools that included a lack of schools in rural areas, high costs associated with schooling, poor school facilities, lack of trained teachers, and dissatisfaction with the education provided . The issue of school accessibility drastically affects lower-income countries and crisis fragile states where poverty dictates the availability and quality of education. At the government level, there is a great shortage of funding in the education sector with only $5.8 billion out of $32.2 billion provided for governments to implement education programs . The Nigerian government, like many other lower-income countries, does not have nearly enough funding to provide quality education for all.
A lack of Nigerian government funding has resulted in a considerable shift from government schools to private schools. Research has shown enrollments in private schools to have increased to 30% of primary school pupils from 2000-2008 . The shift from government schools to private schools resulted in accountability changes that took the pressure off of the Nigerian government. Although the government has a school approval process, it can be very difficult and costly to obtain due to the requirements of large classroom sizes, a trained nurse on hand, and large playgrounds . It is ironic that most of the government-funded schools do not meet any of their own requirements for private schools. As a result of the unrealistic school regulations imposed by the Nigerian government, research in Lagos, Nigeria showed that 32% of private schools do not plan to get approved by the government and 42% of private schools were still in the process of approval . Furthermore, parents whose kids attended private schools mentioned a need for improvement with safer environments, improvements in training teachers, increasing the salaries of teachers, and expanding the school .
The quality of education has suffered greatly due to an influx of unqualified teachers in both government and private schools. A study conducted in Nigeria with over 19,000 state schoolteachers found that “0.4% of teachers had the minimum knowledge and capability to teach English and math to Grade 4 students” . This is a huge problem that limits Nigerian students’ ability to learn, especially with higher education. In regard to private schools, many teachers are unqualified with no training although teacher attendance is higher than in government schools . This demonstrates a lack of educational leadership in Nigerian teachers and has negative implications on Nigerian schoolchildren. Gender is another education disparity in Nigeria with girls having less access to a good education than their male counterparts. Interestingly, the availability of female teachers increases Nigerian girls’ access to education . However, the availability of teachers worsened recently with increased conflict in areas of Northeast Nigeria.
The Nigeria education crisis took a turn for the worse when crisis fragile states severely impaired Nigerian children’s ability to attend school. “Children in North East Nigeria are paying the heaviest price for seven years of brutal insurgency, coupled with months of intensified fighting between insurgents and the Nigerian government” . During times of conflict, basic human needs are prioritized over education which ultimately worsens the problem of the education crisis. According to “Building a Safe and Prosperous Future for Nigeria’s Children through Education”, over 2.7 million Nigerian children need assistance and protection from the conflicts in North East Nigeria . In addition, over 1 million children in Nigeria are displaced, over 400,000 children are severely malnourished, 600 teachers have been murdered, and 1,200 schools have been destroyed ; . Oftentimes, displaced children end up in rural or really poor areas where there are no schools. This poses a huge problem for children’s development and well-being as their sense of normalcy is completely thrown off by experiencing very traumatic events.
The effects of violent conflicts in Nigeria disrupt the lives of the children, teachers, family members, and everyone affected by these brutal acts. Targeted violence in schools is a direct message to the Nigerian Government and people about education. As Burde et al.  mention, “education drives conflict and conflict reduces access to education”. The schools became a dangerous place as insurgents kill and kidnap students and seize control of the school to carry out criminal, vile activities . As a result, children are undoubtedly suffering both emotionally and physically due to the loss of their loved ones and homes and a severe lack of food. It is not surprising that the average figure of schooling drops from an average of 9 years to 2 years for girls in the North East . This further illustrates the gender inequalities that female students and adult women have to face in Nigeria. With this in mind, one would think about all of the humanitarian interventions that should be organized for children affected by crisis fragile states; however, “crisis fragile states have fewer donors than other low-income countries, and they received only 21 percent of all global aid for education between 2005 and 2007, despite being home to over half of the world’s out-of-school children” . This statistic compared with Save the Children and other international humanitarian organizations’ slow responses to this crisis, raises ethical concerns for these organizations about their method of helping. Thus, an analysis of Save the Children’s intervention efforts is needed in order to determine effective ways of helping.
Save the Children’s Interventions and Their Effects on Nigerian Society
There are quite a few documented benefits of Save the Children’s education intervention efforts in Nigeria and other lower-income countries. A benefit from Save the Children’s intervention efforts in Nigeria shows that the development of school-based management committees and active community engagement benefits the quality of education. For example, Save the Children helped develop school-based management committees that have successfully trained 56,220 Nigerian members on school governance, resource mobilization, and inclusive education . Research proves that empowering and educating the local community results in a more active engagement with schools and the acknowledgment that education is a part of people’s basic rights and needs. Furthermore, Save the Children acknowledges some barriers towards obtaining an education and adjusts school schedules in their community-based schools to reflect that. Children benefitted immensely from the two to four-hour school days and from a schedule that was adapted to Nigeria’s agricultural calendar in order to leave fewer burdens on the parents so that their children could still do their daily household tasks .
Children in Nigeria not only socially and emotionally benefit from Save the Children’s education interventions, but they also benefit academically. A research study conducted in Mali compared the academic performances between students enrolled in government-based schools and community-based schools. The community-based schools were initially established with the help of Save the Children although the community was encouraged to take a more active role with their children’s education. In addition, Save the Children developed an entire revised curriculum that emphasized the children’s local knowledge combined with classic subject areas such as history, geography, language, and math that were all taught in their own language . The community-based schools prove to be extremely helpful, especially when the school is managed by teachers directly from the children’s village. The results of the research study showed that community-based students performed better on both arithmetic and language tests when compared to government-based students . The community-based students learned to read, write, and comprehend the material better when compared to government-based students.
In contrast, there were plenty of criticisms from various sources about Save the Children’s humanitarian intervention in the education sector. Save the Children has been labeled as a cluster lead agency; however, “a lack of coherence results in missed opportunities for Save the Children to demonstrate leadership in the Education Cluster, but most importantly, missed opportunities for greater accountability to children in the education sector and beyond” . The lack of organization in Save the Children has been well documented in several sources and is known to have detrimental impacts. For example, a research study found that there is a limited understanding of accountability in Save the Children which results in inadequate staffing and funding . This demonstrates a lack of knowledge and shows a level of unpreparedness that is unacceptable with this humanitarian organization. The problem with accountability and organization is further demonstrated by Dryden-Peterson , due to underinvestment of resources that limits Save the Children’s education intervention efforts in crisis fragile states and includes “limited and poor-quality infrastructure, a lack of investment in teachers, and the persistence of prohibitive school fees”. Save the Children’s education programs would benefit immensely from a better organized and better-funded education campaign that takes responsibility for their actions.
Additional criticisms about Save the Children’s schools and educational programs show negative impacts on the type of learning and how information is taught to lower-income children. Burde et al.  mention that “education responses are intertwined with political goals, both in terms of identifying states that meet the definition of fragile and in the content of the intervention”. These political goals are in Western countries’ interest and usually benefit Western countries in more ways than the country in need. The politicization of education intervention creates a power complex that is both harmful and confusing to children in need. Another source about barriers to education in areas of conflict mentioned that a focus on formal systems of schooling has resulted in problems of keeping out of school children in school . A well-rounded education for children in conflict areas is needed that meets their social, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs. A study conducted on Save the Children’s community schools in Mali found that there was a lack of local knowledge for students in community schools when compared to students in government schools . In order to accommodate children in need better, Save the Children’s education programs need to change to a more well-rounded education that includes lessons of local knowledge from their communities.
The education crisis in Nigeria is multifaceted and requires multiple forms of intervention. Numerous research studies have demonstrated that children, especially children affected by conflict, learn best in child-centered environments ; . Child-centered environments foster beneficial learning because the focus is on improving the children’s education and adapting to their individual needs. Pilar and Retamal  further debate about the “protective quality that education can provide in unstable environments” which requires a unique aspect of the curriculum to be provided that includes the recreation of habits, reestablishment of relational behaviors, and access to creative expression. The ability to express oneself through art or any activity that exposes one’s feelings helps children affected by conflict express their feelings and create a shared community with one another. This type of education program better prepares students in conflict areas who have endured considerable trauma to build resilience, self-reflect, heal from their trauma, and have the opportunity to express themselves in a safe and support-filled environment .
Additional recommended interventions for Save the Children and other humanitarian organizations are based on other successful education programs in different countries in Africa. The Equal Education program in South Africa is regarded as highly effective in engaging communities and encouraging education. Equal Education consists of South African lower-income high school students who advocate education in their communities through mass meetings, camps, and marches . This is a great way for local communities to get involved and advocate for the problems of a broken education system. Equal Education offers a new and exciting way to “participate in the democratic process and affect change in the education system and society at large” by developing a deep understanding of the education system . Another beneficial program implemented in post-crisis contexts found that Technical Vocational Education Training programs are effective in reaching out-of-school children . These programs give children vocational training that prepares them for local jobs in their community. Overall, a focus on vocational training, local knowledge, and emotional and social support has shown to have impactful benefits that could especially assist children who live in crisis fragile states.
The last set of recommendations were identified by Save the Children and will provide a comparison between this organization’s recommendations and outside research on education intervention as discussed above. Save the Children released a report about community participation and mentioned that their goals are to “genuinely inform and empower communities to create their own solutions to local issues and acknowledge their roles in improving learning” . Although, the specific methods on how to empower these communities were not discussed leaving some room for both confusion and open interpretation. The community-based schools implemented by Save the Children are particularly interesting considering the successful results of the study comparing Save the Children’s community-based schools and government schools. As a result, Save the Children gave recommendations for improvement in community-based schools such as “basing teacher training more solidly in the theory and practice of pedagogy for primary level children, strengthening the local-knowledge curriculum component, and expanding training to teachers” . Additionally, a lack of sufficient training for teachers and poor infrastructure were two barriers that Save the Children unexpectedly addressed in their reports. Teachers for Save the Children’s community-based schools had barely any experience or training when compared to Nigeria’s government schools. Finally, Save the Children mentioned a need to work jointly with the government of Nigeria, international and local nonprofit organizations, and local community groups .
In conclusion, Save the Children’s education intervention efforts have both positively and negatively impacted Nigeria and other lower-income countries. Outside research studies have found several negative impacts of Save the Children’s intervention efforts that were not recognized by Save the Children. This demonstrates a bias and lack of internal knowledge about Save the Children’s education efforts. Furthermore, the negative impacts are experienced tenfold for students in crisis fragile states and are indisputable: “poverty is compounded, discrimination is enhanced, and curriculum is politicized” . Additional care is needed for at-risk students in areas of conflict and the formal education system requires great intervention in order to accommodate the needs of these students. In comparison, the most beneficial impacts of Save the Children’s education efforts include their engagement with the community, community-based schools, and their flexible school schedules in order to assist the families of Nigerian students. With that being said, there is still plenty of room for improvement for Save the Children’s education efforts in Nigeria and other lower-income countries. Empowering communities to take education into their own hands seemed to be the most recommended intervention by Save the Children’s reports and outside sources ; . In closing, more research is needed for Save the Children’s efforts in Nigeria and other lower-income countries to learn about the long-term implications of such interventions.
This post may have been edited by admin for clarity and length.
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Dryden-Peterson, Sarah. “Barriers to accessing primary education in conflict-affected fragile states.” London: Save the Children, 17 Feb. 2009, http://www. toolkit. ineesite. org/resources/ineecms/uploads/1150/R2_Dryden-Peterson.pdf.
 “Child Sponsorship: Learn How Sponsorship Works.” Save the Children, 2021, www.savethechildren.org/us/ways-to-help/sponsor-a-child.
 “Ending the Hidden Exclusion: Learning and Equity in Education Post-2015.” Resource Centre, Save the Children, 18 Oct. 2019, resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/library/ending-hidden-exclusion-learning-and-equity-education-post-2015.
 “Building a Safe and Prosperous Future for Nigeria’s Children through Education.” Resource Centre, Save the Children, 11 June 2020, resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/library/building-safe-and-prosperous-future-nigerias-children-through-education.
 Burde, Dana, et al. “What Works to Promote Children ‘s Educational Access, Quality of Learning, and Wellbeing in Crisis-Affected Context.” Education Rigorous Literature Review, Department for International Development, Oct. 2015, pp. 1-85., https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/57a0897ee5274a31e00000e0/61127-Education-in-Emergencies-Rigorous-Review_FINAL_2015_10_26.pdf.
 Härmä, Joanna. “Access or Quality? Why Do Families Living in Slums Choose Low-Cost Private Schools in Lagos, Nigeria?” Oxford Review of Education, vol. 39, no. 4, 2013, pp. 548–566., www.jstor.org/stable/42001844.
 Burde, Dana, et al. “Education in Emergencies: A Review of Theory and Research.” Review of Educational Research, vol. 87, no. 3, June 2017, pp. 619–658., doi:10.3102/0034654316671594.
 “North East Nigeria: Children’s Lives and Futures at Risk.” Resource Centre, Save the Children, 23 Apr. 2019, resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/library/north-east-nigeria-childrens-lives-and-futures-risk.
 Dryden-Peterson, Sarah. “Barriers to accessing primary education in conflict-affected fragile states.” London: Save the Children, 17 Feb. 2009, http://www.toolkit. ineesite.org/resources/ineecms/uploads/1150/R2_Dryden-Peterson.pdf.
 “The Right to Learn: Community Participation in Improving Learning.” Resource Centre, Save the Children, 23 Apr. 2019, resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/library/right-learn-community-participation-improving-learning.
 Muskin, Joshua A. “Including local priorities to assess school quality: the case of Save the Children community schools in Mali.” Comparative Education Review vol. 43, no. 1, Feb. 1999, pp. 36-63., https://www.jstor.org/stable/1189213.
 “Accountabilities and Opportunities: Save the Children’s Leadership Role in the Coordination of Humanitarian Response.” Resource Centre, Save the Children, 10 Aug. 2020, resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/library/accountabilities-and-opportunities-save-childrens-leadership-role-coordination-humanitarian.
 Aguilar, Pilar, and Gonzalo Retamal. “Protective Environments and Quality Education in Humanitarian Contexts.” International Journal of Educational Development, vol. 29, no. 1, Jan. 2009, pp. 3–16., doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2008.02.002.