COVID-19 and the Human Capital Crisis in Nigeria

Nigeria ambitious poverty reduction targets depends on the development of human capital. The many drivers of poverty are detailed in the new report:A Better Future for All Nigerians: Nigerian Poverty Assessment 2022. “Health, nutrition and education are among the most important factors in the formation of human capital.

Even before COVID-19, Nigeria had some of the worst human capital performance in the world. Based on the 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI) based on assortment of health and education markers including infant mortality, school expectancy, sand stunting – a child born in Nigeria this year will grow to be only 36 percent productivity he or she could achieve with full health and education. This was below the sub-Saharan African average of about 40 percent. Only six countries had lower HCI scores in the world.

Respectively, academic poverty, which reflects the ability of 10-year-olds to comprehend simple sentences or perform basic math tasks that have likely become prevalent during the pandemic. While learning poverty cannot be estimated directly for Nigeria due to lack of data, it currently affects up to 70 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries.

The direct health impact of COVID-19 itself threatens Nigeria’s human capital. The country reported its first case of COVID-19 on February 27, 2020, and has since experienced at least four separate waves of infection, peaking in June 2020, January 2021, August 2021, and January 2022. However, reported number of cases in Nigeria generally remained lower than in America, Europe and Asia.

However, the impact of COVID-19 on health and education delivery may have deeper long-term implications for Nigeria’s human capital development. On the healthcare front, lockdown measures may have prevented or discouraged patients from attending healthcare facilities, and the pandemic could have crowded out other healthcare services. Direct evidence of service use involves outpatient consultations and vaccination of children against other diseases suffered during the pandemic. High-frequency data collected throughout the pandemic through National Longitudinal Telephone Survey on COVID-19 in Nigeria (NLPS) reinforce this message by showing, for example, that in July 2020, about 21 percent of households with children aged 0–5 who needed or should have been immunized were unable to vaccinate their children.

The COVID-19 crisis further threatens future generations due to its impact on education. School closures in 2020 decrease in attendance by children even after opening, especially among older children (Fig. 1). Dropout rates were also higher in households most affected by income shocks, suggesting that households removed children from school to support income-generating activities. Using NLPS data combined with data on school closure timing suggests that Nigerian children have lost as much as 0.29 tuition-adjusted years of schooling due to both increased dropout rates and inadequate mitigation measures for school closures.

Figure 1. Even after schools reopened in Nigeria, not all children have returned to school

COVID-19 also threatens to widen learning disparities as access to distance learning has been uneven across households. Young children from non-poor households had better access to distance learning options—through television, computers, and smartphones or tablets—compared to children from poor households (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Children from poorer households had fewer opportunities to learn remotely

As the COVID-19 pandemic eases, rebuilding human capital is a key urgent policy priority for Nigeria. In part, this means scaling up vaccination; The broader impact of the COVID-19 crisis on human capital, livelihoods and well-being can only be addressed if the health threat is controlled and preventive hygiene practices such as handwashing and mask wearing can be limited. May 2022 only. about 13 percent of Nigeria’s population received even one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The second phase of the NLPS also suggests that vaccination rates were lower among poorer rural Nigerians, in part because they lack information about how and where vaccines can be obtained. Silence about receiving a vaccine against COVID-19 may also be distributed in Nigeria; The country’s vaccination campaign is in a race against vaccine hesitancy.

Compensating for learning losses incurred during the pandemic is also an important element in restoring human capital. Nigerians themselves are in favor of expanding face-to-face education, especially by increasing the number of hours in the school day to help children catch up. Other things being equal, encouraging children to return to school can help. However, remote options are needed that can actually work for poor households in the event that schools have to close again, given the ongoing uncertainty about the path of the pandemic. High-tech options cannot reach the poor, so low-tech solutions, including involving parents and teachers through text messages or broadcast lessons on the radio would be more appropriate.

Moreover, given that children, especially those from poor families, have fallen behind during the COVID-19 crisis, curriculum may need to be adapted so that children can catch up and that educational disparities do not widen. As evidenced by previous crises such as The 2005 earthquake in Pakistan suggests, overly ambitious curriculum can outpace children themselves, causing accumulation and exacerbation of learning losses over time. Indeed, there is growing evidence that Teaching at the right level can facilitate the catching up and basic learning that is required by carefully assessing the needs of the children and tailoring the learning accordingly.

However, human capital policies cannot be implemented in a vacuum; for example, attempts restore nigerian labor market post-COVID-19 crisis will be essential to ensure that the skills and talents of young Nigerians can be put to good use. Thus building human capital can also contribute to inclusive growth, accelerate poverty reduction and create a better future for all Nigerians.