Tackling Nigeria’s Out-of-School Children Menace

Out-of-School Children

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

As both the federal and state governments in Nigeria continue to allow the rate of out-of-school children, especially in the northern part of Nigeria, to swell in number, even when it is obvious that the streets are known for breeding all forms of criminals and other social misfits who constitute the real threat in the forms of armed robbers; thugs, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to the society, Nigerians are beginning to view government’s approach to the challenge as not yielding the targeted result.

The latest of such worry came from Kogi State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Wemi Jones, who recently during a 2-day North-Central Zonal Meeting on Draft Medium-Term National Development Plan (MTNDP), held in Lokoja, called on stakeholders in the sector to find a lasting solution to the problem.

While lamenting that out of the 17 states in the country with the highest number of out-of-school children, 14 of the states are in the north, Jones said if the rate of out-of-school children can be curtailed, it would help check the insecurity that is currently bedevilling parts of the country, and would to a large extend signal goodbye to insecurity threats across the country.

Though he said it in a different way, venue and time, in the real sense of it, Mr Commissioner may not have said something new or different from what Nigerians have been worried about all these years.

To prove how successive administrations in the country have done very little in arresting the situation, a particular report in 2013, described as mind-numbing the awareness that about 10.5 million Nigerian children of school age are not enrolled in schools. Out of this number, the report explained that about 9 million are children of beggars, fishermen and other less privileged people in the society.

Again, in 2018, a UNICEF survey showed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world.

The UNICEF survey says something else; there is still a huge number of those who are in school but are learning nothing, noting that schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school, it concluded.

Indeed, going by the facts below, UNICEF in my views may not be wrong in its postulation.

With the nation’s current population of over 195.9 million, 45 per cent of which are below 15 years, there is a huge demand for learning opportunities translating into increased enrolment. This has created challenges in ensuring quality education since resources are spread more thinly, resulting in more than 100 pupils for one teacher as against the UNESCO benchmark of 35 students per teacher and culminating in students learning under trees for lack of classrooms.

Basically, there exist in my opinion about three major troubling realities that characterize the situation as a crisis.

First is the awareness that Nigeria is not in short supply of policy measures and laws to ensure that no child is left behind in education. Yet, the number keeps swelling each year.

As argued elsewhere, there is free and compulsory primary and junior secondary education to cater for children aged five to 14 years.

To explain this point, the Universal Basic Education Act 2004 is the legal framework that provides for compulsory, free and universal basic education of all children of primary and junior secondary school age in the country. There is also the Child Rights Act, which reinforces this as a basic human right by prescribing schooling up to junior secondary school.

UBEC intervention funds, as we know, are focused on collaboration with other state actors towards improving access to basic education and reducing Nigeria’s out-of-school children.

The budgetary allocation for education for example in 2020 is N671.07 billion constituting 6.7 per cent. Of the N671.07 billion allocated to the Federal Ministry of Education, the sum includes the statutory transfer allocated to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), which is N111.79 billion. Yet, most of the states cannot draw from this fund as a result of their (states) inability to provide the counterpart funding.

So what benefits is the fund?

It was such encumbrance I presume that recently prompted the Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, to call on the federal government to remove counterpart funding as part of basic requirements for states to access the federal government funding of UBEC.

The second factor fuelling the out-of-school challenge in Nigeria stems from the awareness that despite the universal declaration of education as a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the convention against discrimination in education, Nigerian governments, particularly the northern governors, failed to turn more of their energies in, or focus their creativity on the useful things that will translate to the empowerment of the people.

They made policies that view education as very narrow and restricted.

Presently, what the region and Nigeria by extension need is a restless determination to make the idle of governance a reality.

At this critical point of our nationhood, the northern governors must do this work-and in doing the work, stimulate their people particularly the youths to learn and acquire higher levels of skills and techniques for economic independence.

There are certain technical steps that must be taken.

First, it is time to recognize that any region desirous of securing the future of its people must invest in education. This is more urgent in the north where it is agreed that historical underdevelopment in Western education is responsible, more than the diversity in religious loyalties, for the social imbalance between the region and the south.

Similarly, the hour has come for the governors from the region to adopt and support the 2030 sustainable agenda- a United Nation initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)- with a collection of 17 global goals formulated among other aims to promote and cater for people, peace, planet, and poverty.

And has at its centre; partnership and collaboration, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society.

The reason for this assertion is barefaced.

A few years ago, it was reported that Mathew Hassan Kukah- a well-informed, self-contained and quietly influential Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto had during a four-day workshop tagged Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement for Christians and Muslims in Minna, Niger State that the Kukah Centre (TKC), promised to introduce skill acquisition centres in the northern part of the country where about 10 million Almajiri children will acquire vocations of their choice.

For sure, with the slow economic but high population growth in Nigeria particularly in the north, such a programme would have been an effective tool for fighting unemployment and consolidating economic growth. But for yet to be identified reason(s), no governor from the north bought into that opening provided or encouraged their youth to access such opportunity.

Regardless of what others may say, it is in the interest of the government to educate its people on different skills that create jobs for the youths as a formidable way of curbing crime and reducing threatening insecurity in the country.

It should be done not merely for political consideration but from the views of national development and sustenance of our democracy and the best place to start from should be a deliberate effort to drastically reduce the number of our school children.

When this is achieved, it will in turn bring about sustained peace; result in improved hygiene and medical care, greater educational opportunities. State governments are hereby enjoined by this piece to embark on aggressive education of their people, ensuring its compulsion to a certain level.

To catalyse this process, a shift in action is important as ‘we cannot solve our socio-economic challenges with the same thinking we used when we created it.

The governors need to bring a change in the leadership paradigm by switching over to a leadership style that is capable of making successful decisions built on a higher quality of information.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via [email protected]/08032725374. 

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