Despite rapid and extensive advancements in areas such as science, technology, and medicine over the past half a century, education is one of the few sectors that a time traveler from the first industrial revolution would still recognize. Apart from marginal innovations, and despite islands of excellence in research and a few experimental models, the fundamental model used in the vast majority of teaching and learning spaces has not changed for centuries. This is why the sector has been primed for disruption for decades.
Although disruption may seem negative by definition to the uninitiated or ideologically trapped, the field of innovation, however, demonstrates that systems that are receptive to disruption are rendered thus by outdated offerings, social conditions, and the needs of the market; a study of radical innovations also reveals that such disruptions are often born outside the boundaries of the traditional system. In Nigeria, that disruptor is the vibrant private sector, which has read and adapted to the societal landscape, of which education should be part.
When covid-19 struck, the system behaved the way all rigid systems do: it battened down the hatches and reverted to what it considers it’s core. Curriculum continuity and curriculum centricity were its guiding lights. And when experts in the field measured the losses, metrics were largely done against curriculum completion levels. That showed the emergence of the digital elite, as those with access to technology could continue learning while those less technologically inclined could not.
This poses some interesting questions: The mind naturally wanders to whether learning and education ground to a halt with previous crises, when technology was less evolved. Did society, at all its levels, simply stop learning? It seems unlikely. The resultant questions are even more probing: why do we even have an education system in the first place? What role should it play in society, and how may it be designed in a more agile, less fragile way? And, critically, who will lead the charge?”
Education is traditionally considered to be a public good, but to depend on the government alone for quality education is to deprive society of the potential richness of potential offerings. “This is especially critical in a country like Nigeria, where a number of significant characteristics are present to advance education beyond a government-centric paradigm, and where the public good may be served by many role players. Indeed, a vibrant society, like any healthy system, allows for requisite variety and a spectrum of diversity essential for multiple perspectives and networked stability for greater sustainability.
However, the future is often mistakenly interpreted as a single entity on a linear development path; in other words, the future is often conceived of as one thing. Consider, for example, the language of ‘the’ future of education. “But in strategic foresight or scenario thinking, multiple futures are always recognized, and one reason for this is that more than one future is always possible and the seeds of various futures already exist. As such, depending on the drivers of complexity, such as choice and speed, a spectrum of possible futures may be produced, even from the current trends alone – not to mention the trends yet to come!
Another cogent reason for assuming multiple futures is that no single reality can explain even the present: Is education today public or private? Is it online or in-person? Is it available to the rich or the poor? Is it available to all or some? In all those cases, the answer is an incontrovertible ‘both’. The future, therefore, will equally reveal a spectrum of reality.”
Education is thus entering an era of increasing privatization and therefore growing competition, and while some form of competition has always existed, even among public education providers, this new stage will see a much sharper focus and notable advancements in customer service. Primary, secondary and tertiary schools have always had to serve customers, but the power differential between customer and provider is shifting in a marked way. Increased private sector participation will lead to increased options for the customer, and that will necessitate a vastly overdue understanding of real and real-time customer needs.
The Educational Competitive Model reveals an intricate framework of seven key dimensions of educational competitiveness: the mental and intellectual domain, the physical dimensions of education, the personal, social and cultural domains, the professional domain, the educational infrastructure, the philosophical drivers and, of course, the brand and prestige. It is anticipated that these elements will operate at various levels of significance for various strata of education, but that all will be relevant to some degree for all offerings, from early childhood development through to masters and Ph.D. levels. The model proposes that a holistic competitive strategy in private education must encompass all seven elements.
There will be a rapid emergence of new brands of educational providers. In the traditional system, it was mainly the age of the institution, its geographical location and its notable alumni that established its reputation, and such a reputation took many decades, sometimes even centuries to cultivate.” Today, however, the phenomenon of ‘unicorn companies’ (privately owned with $1-billion plus valuations) have shown that reputations can be established in previously unimagined timeframes. Despite global calls for equality, status is an obdurate dimension of societal architecture, and brands in education will serve this universal human need.
Private providers will also have to keep up and will need a deep talent pool to respond to notable shifts. Already members of the new generation of ‘coronials’ have proven themselves to be autodidactic and capable of absorbing content in non-linear ways, often a-synchronous with the teaching schedule.
Even within private education itself, which will not be available to all, a spectrum of options will emerge. It may be reasonably expected that private providers will work towards differentiation, and different institutions will likely specialize in a selection of domains in order to compete. Hence, it is also conceivable that future students, at all levels, will choose different providers for different services.
In that scenario, students will not “attend” only one but many simultaneous institutions: A student may attend mental and intellectual development at an international institution while procuring physical development closer to home where physical infrastructure may be accessed more conveniently. This option will become increasingly available as international providers enter the Nigerian market, as has already started to occur. It is also a minor leap for the imagination to see that, even within the same institution, different models will be offered on the educational menu. Some will certainly offer more comprehensive menus than others and many will have modular offerings, meaning that some providers will allow students to make a selection from the domains, with a commensurate modular pricing structure.
We must admit that fact the government monopoly on education is rapidly coming to an end. Despite potential ideological entrenchment which emphasizes the risks of competition, the pitfalls of more private sector participation, and the merits of equality, the attractiveness of the opportunities in the Nigerian education sector will lead to a spectrum of disruptive and highly competitive educational offerings. Such sectoral evolution may contribute greatly to much-needed innovation. Nor will nostalgia for the school days of yore or ensconcing of the outdated model offer sustainable relief. For a system that has been disruption-receptive for decades, the perfect storm has made landfall.