Nigerians love Coursera, but skill deficiencies show the need for urgent reforms

December 13, 2023
4 min read
Photo Credit: Maya Maceka-yW-IJCg-unspalsh

Key takeaways

  • 1.7 million Nigerians learn on Coursera, while the country ranks third for enrollment in professional certificates. 
  • Despite its immense popularity, Nigerians still perform poorly, sitting at the bottom of the table among the 100 countries that were surveyed.

Nigerians are flocking to the massive open online course provider, Coursera, as they attempt to bridge the gap between their education and business demands. 

According to the recently released 2023 Global Skills Report, 1.7 million Nigerians use the platform. Coursera offers degree programs, master's programs, and professional certificates, but it is the latter that has seen growing interest from Nigerians. 

Coursera says demand for professional certificates from learners in Nigeria is among the highest in the world, at 140% year-on-year. 

With 142,000 learners, the West African country is third in enrollments for professional certificates behind the United States (1.3 million) and India (654,000). However, despite its appeal to users from the country, when skill proficiency is compared, learners from Nigeria perform poorly. 


Of the 100 countries surveyed in the report, Nigeria finds itself at the bottom of the table. 

Like many learners in developing countries, learners from Nigeria heavily favour business courses. Some of these courses include accounting, finance, marketing, sales, and entrepreneurship. They also favour technology courses such as user experience, graphic design, and software testing.

How the lack of an enabling environment affects Nigerian learners

Despite the obvious interest in studying on the platform, as seen by the high number of enrolled students, the abysmal performance of learners from the country requires a look into some factors that could be responsible for this showing. 

Reflecting on some of the causes for this, Victor Onyekere, founder of Nigerian edtech startup, Talemia, argues that the state of Nigeria’s education system plays a huge role in the performance of learners. 

Across industries, a common complaint from business leaders is that many Nigerian graduates lack the skills they desire. 

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Much of this comes from an outdated teaching curriculum that prioritises rote learning over innovation. As a result, students often leave the university unable to link the knowledge they’ve received in lectures to the workplace. 

This problem begins to show up in primary schools, where 75% of enrolled pupils are unable to read or solve a math problem, and continues through to secondary schools, where they are faced with a severe shortage of teachers and classrooms. 

Nigeria’s Minister for Education, Tahir Mamman, recently revealed that the country has 950,000 fewer teachers and 20,000 fewer classrooms, while promising that his administration intends to tackle this. 

“We are going to rejig the curriculum for basic schools. We want to strengthen some level of critical thinking at that level. The teaching has to be in a way to nurture their capability at that stage to think critically,” he said. 

Incessant strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities also hamper learning in many of the country’s universities. Students in the country have lost more than 700 days to these strikes since 2010, and they show no signs of ending. 

Beyond the challenges of the country’s education system, learners from Nigeria also have to grapple with significant infrastructural deficits. 

The Global Skills Report shows that learners from developing economies are more likely to enrol in business courses compared to technology courses, and Nigeria is not left out. Its learners rank 79th on the business skills proficiency test but are at the bottom of the table for technology skills. 

For a country that has one of the largest concentrations of tech talent on the continent and arguably the largest startup ecosystem, this may come as a surprise. However, the answer may lie in another data point that the report uncovers. 

A whopping 79% of learners from the country do so using mobile devices, a high figure compared to countries like Peru, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, and Brazil, where less than 50% of learners use a mobile device for their studies. 

While this is unsurprising given that Africa is a mobile-first continent, it undoubtedly plays a role in how learners perform. For example, while students may be able to follow and practice content from their business classes, the same cannot be said of technology courses, where a laptop is often required, which perhaps explains why graphic design and user experience courses are highly popular among learners. 

There’s something to be said for Internet access, which covers 35% of the population but is often unreliable and expensive for most individuals. 

Why governments must make education a priority

Over the last five years, much of the focus in the startup ecosystem has been on fintech startups. 

However, the success of Andela has also inspired a new generation of startups looking to fill the gaps left by the country’s educational system. Decagon, AltSchool Africa, Gradely, and uLesson are a few of these startups, but a lot more needs to be done if it is to meet the demand of 30 million new jobs that the World Bank says it needs to create by 2030. 

Collaboration between the government and private sector is required to provide or subsidise the cost of critical infrastructure. From an overhaul of its curriculum to adequate staffing for its schools, governments must work hard to create an enabling environment that gives everyone access to opportunities. 

“There are those that go beyond some of these challenges and try to find a way around them, but in a working system, we shouldn’t be having these kinds of outliers. Everybody should have access to the right tools and resources to learn,” Onyekere says. 

Accidental writer, covering Africa's startup landscape and its heroes. Find me on Twitter @chigo_nwokoma.
Accidental writer, covering Africa's startup landscape and its heroes. Find me on Twitter @chigo_nwokoma.
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Accidental writer, covering Africa's startup landscape and its heroes. Find me on Twitter @chigo_nwokoma.

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