How to Promote Equality of Educational Opportunities


The desire to promote equality of educational opportunities has been a major theme in the method, content, and organization of our education. This is based on our national objective of education which aims at integrating the individual Nigerian into a sound and effective citizen and provision of equal educational opportunities for all citizens at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels both inside and outside the formal school system, (National Policy on Education, revised, 1981, p. 71) This is also in line with our ideology of justice and egalitarianism of our society.

Different and sometimes conflicting views have been expressed on how we can achieve this desire in practice. The practical provisions that have been advocated and implemented have varied enormously from evolving the quota system alongside with special consideration of the so-called educationally disadvantaged states to the location of teachers, (all based on geographical spreads), and to moderation of examination results to help failing students whose marks can still be upgraded to pass, arks, as well as to issues like harmonization of the curriculum contents, methods, and activities at a national level.

The notion of equality in education

The main reason for the discrepancy and confusion is that the notion of equality in education, and even the more precise notion of equality of educational opportunities, are too general and vague to provide any clear directives as to how education should be organized to achieve them. A system can provide equality in opportunity if all pupils have the same chance to compete for a place in say, a college of education, a university, or a polytechnic. They don’t need to all gain such places. Indeed, equality of opportunity would exist in a sense even if it amounted to no more than an equal opportunity for everyone with five credit passes at the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination to take a University Matriculation Examination (UME) or a Polytechnics or Colleges of Education (PCE) to decide whether or not he/she should be given admission to the university, polytechnics or college of education.

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The distinction between a strong and meritocratic interpretation of inequality

For this reason, Crosland (1861) distinguishes the strong or meritocratic interpretation of equality which would provide educational opportunities for all who are capable of taking advantage of them, and the weak or democratic interpretation which demands suitable provision for everyone. Another author, Lieberman (1961, p. 142) suggests two meanings for equality of educational opportunities. He said we can interpret this to mean:

  • Musa and Bayo have equal educational opportunities when they live under conditions that do not provide either person with any material advantage over the other in selecting or pursuing his educational goals. Lieberman argues that such equality is almost non-existent, though many people imagine that exists. There is no way we can have a situation whereby two people will be equal in the real or descriptive comparative sense of the word.
  • Amaka and Toying have equal educational opportunities when the material advantages that one of them possesses over the other in selecting and pursuing his educational goals cannot be removed without endangering other important values. It is when everybody has free access to the level of education which his/her capability can carry him/her, and when every process of education is made available to free competition that it might be said that there is an equal educational opportunity.

We can understand that the principle of equal educational opportunities demands that all structural obstacles to achievement be removed so that individuals can rise by merit. We cannot claim that because we make passing the PCE JANM Examination the only prerequisite to gaining admission to either the polytechnics or College of Education, all the students have been so given an equal opportunity. This is because other social-economic factors determine success in such an examination. Unless these factors are seen to be of equal proportion in all the JAMB candidates, the examination will only select the brilliant ones from among them.

Differences in educational opportunities

We mean that people differ in taking advantage of educational opportunities for various reasons which can be said to include the following:

  • Pure economy, even the out-of-pocket costs of education may not be affordable to some students. Also, the financial inability of some states and local government administrators to hire competent teachers or to pay them regularly.
  • Lack of genuine interest in the educational opportunities being offered.
  • Elements in the upbringing of each include linguistic competence and the value attached to being educated. Children from illiterate homes where parental encouragement and stimulation are lacking because the parents are not aware of the importance of education.
  • The distance-from-school factor
  • Other social-environmental factors include: the intellectual development of each individual, assess to television, radio, and video, educated parents, exposure to nursery education, academic guidance, and aspirations in life.
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All these may affect both the level of preparedness of individuals to participate in equal examination opportunities provided, and each person’s chances of realizing his/her potential and talents. This leads us to conclude that the demand for equality is not a demand for similarity of treatment at all but a justification for differential treatment. A justification must take the form of demonstrating that our reasons for discriminating between people in certain contexts are relevant, and therefore, arguably, fair just, and impartial reasons, For example, the difference in educational provision is to be justified by appealing to differences exhibited by pupils in their ability to profit from education or what appear to be differences in their educational needs.

Implications for Nigerian education

As important as the objective of equal educational opportunities for all Nigerian citizens is, there are certain things that one has to bear in mind. If we force all the children to go to school to ensure equal opportunity for them, we will be infringing on their freedom of choice, just as conducting entrance examinations or posting students to schools other than their choice, or even creating the same learning environment for every student irrespective of their abilities and backgrounds, are ways of ensuring equal opportunity which is rather capable of depriving them of the coveted equal opportunities.; therefore, include:

  • A teacher should recognize the individual abilities and weaknesses of his students to help them get equal benefits from his teaching.
  • The teachers’ attitudes toward students and their expectations of them should be such that they will not favor students against one another. No student should be allowed to see himself as superior to others.
  • The ideas of the quota system and consideration for educationally disadvantaged states should be pursued in such a way that the equals will not be treated unequally just as the unequal should not be treated equally (Aristotle).
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The government will be fostering equal educational opportunities if the Federal, State, and Local Governments (a) site schools in equal numbers according to acceptable consideration, just as we now have federal universities and colleges of education, cited in each of the states of the federation, (b) distribute educational materials equally to the number of schools in each ward or local government areas, (c) post teachers with similar qualifications and experience to all the schools equally and (d) ensure that the different commissions for universities, colleges of education, polytechnics, secondary schools, and primary schools, are given the free hand to maintain their role as quality controller in ensuring common curriculum and scheme of service for each level.


To achieve relatively equal educational outcomes based on the available opportunities, teachers should (i) apply teaching methods that enable students to learn like one another so that a good majority of them can develop positive attitudes and motivation toward learning, and (ii) also maintain a kind of interaction with students home (through visitation or facts finding from students) so that the teachers can have some opportunity to correct any deficiencies in the students home which could adversely affect their learning. This will remove or remedy certain factors acting as barriers to equal educational treatment and attainment (achievement). Factors, which were felt to be unconnected with education itself, and were, therefore, regarded as irrelevant, unjust, and unequal.

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