Primary education

In Nigeria, primary education is for pupils aged 6 to 12.

  • : 6 years.
  • Content: general subjects. From the 4th grade onwards, pupils are taught in English.
  • Diploma: Primary School Leaving Certificate.

Please note: education is compulsory from the age of 5, starting in the year before primary education. This year is called ‘pre-primary education’ in Nigeria.

Secondary education

Secondary education lasts 6 years. Students aged 12 to 18 complete 2 stages:

The Department of Basic and Secondary Education is responsible for primary and secondary education in Nigeria.

Lower secondary education

Lower secondary education (junior secondary education) is for students aged 12 to 15. At the end of lower secondary education, students take exams for a Basic Education Certificate. This completes their compulsory education. In Nigeria, pre-primary education, primary education and lower secondary education together are called ‘basic education’.

Basic Education Certificate

  • Duration: 3 years.
  • Content: students take exams in 9 or 10 subjects (Basic Education Certificate Examination, BECE). They need to pass 6 subjects, including mathematics and English studies. See the website of the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) for an overview of subjects. On the website, select ‘Basic Education’ from the ‘Filter by Curriculum Level’ drop-down list. Choose ‘Basic Education (JSS 1-3)’ from the ‘Sub Education Level’ drop-down list, so you can see an overview of lower secondary education subjects.
  • Function of the diploma: access to upper secondary education or secondary vocational education.
  • Diploma: Basic Education Certificate.

We compare the Basic Education Certificate to 3 years of general secondary education.

Upper secondary education

Upper secondary education (senior secondary education) is for students aged 15 to 18. At the end of upper secondary education, students take exams via the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) or the National Examinations Council (NECO). The high school chooses either the WAEC or the NECO. Upon passing the exams, students obtain a diploma from either the WAEC or the NECO:

West African Senior School Certificate from the WAEC

  • Duration: 3 years.
  • Content: 8 or 9 exam subjects. See the website of the NERDC for an overview of subjects. On the website, select ‘Senior Secondary Education‘ from the ‘Filter by Curriculum Level’ drop-down list.
  • Function of the diploma: access to higher education, usually after an entrance exam. Students have access to secondary vocational education as well.
  • Diploma: West African Senior School Certificate from the WAEC.

We compare the West African Senior School Certificate from the WAEC to a diploma if the student has passed at least 6 subjects with grade C6 or higher.

Senior School Certificate from the NECO

  • Duration: 3 years.
  • Content: 8 or 9 exam subjects. See the website of the NERDC for an overview of subjects. On the website, select ‘Senior Secondary Education‘ from the ‘Filter by Curriculum Level’ drop-down list.
  • Function of the diploma: access to higher education, usually after an entrance exam. Students have access to secondary vocational education as well.
  • Diploma: Senior School Certificate from the NECO.

We compare the Senior School Certificate from the NECO to a HAVO diploma if the student has passed at least 6 subject with grade A1, B2 or B3.

Types of exams

The WAEC and the NECO have separate exams for students and for people who no longer go to school, for example former students who want to retake an exam. The WAEC uses the term ‘school candidates’ for exams for students and ‘private candidates’ for the other exams. The NECO uses ‘internal’ and ‘external’ for the same difference. The exams for students are in May, June or July. The exams for people who no longer go to school are in November or December.

Admission to higher education

After secondary education, students can continue onto higher education. In Nigeria, the JAMB arranges admission to higher education. There are 2 types of admission:

  • indirect admission to higher education
  • direct admission to higher education

Indirect admission to higher education

Indirect admission to higher education means that students need to take the Nigerian entrance exam. This usually applies to students with 1 of the following diplomas:

Entrance exam

The Nigerian entrance exam is called University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). The JAMB arranges the UTME. The UTME consists of 4 subjects: Use of English and 3 electives. For more information about the subjects, go to the JAMB website and click on ‘eSyllabus’. Students choose subjects that are relevant for the study programme they would like to be admitted to.

Please note: the subjects and grades from both the UTME and previous education count towards admission. By selecting ‘Brochure’ on the JAMB website, students can see which subjects and grades are required for each study programme and/or higher education institution.

Direct admission to higher education

Direct admission to higher education means that students can be admitted to higher education without having to take the UTME. They do not have to take the UTME. For example, a National Diploma (ND) can give the right to direct admission in Nigeria.