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Concerns over growing army of out-of-school children

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At the moment, Nigeria is the world capital of out-of-school children with more than 10 million anywhere but in classrooms.

From Lagos to Ibadan; Ekiti to Ilorin; Benue to Nasarawa; Jos to Abuja; Adamawa to Borno; Rivers to Cross River; and Kano to Kaduna, the story of out-of-school children is almost similar. It has become an epidemic that state and Federal Governments often see as an issue of numbers.

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In January 2021, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, said the number of out-of-school children had dropped from 10.1 million to 6.9 million. Adamu claimed that 3.247,590 million children, who were not in school, were enrolled within the space of a year and seven months, due to several activities undertaken by the Federal Ministry of Education.

Adamu disclosed that the government had secured a credit facility of $611 million from the World Bank to support Universal Basic Education (UBE), in 17 states.

However, relief over Adamu’s claim was short-lived as his deputy, the minister of state for education, Emeka Nwajiuba the raised alarm that the country currently has more than 10 million out-of-school children, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. He described the situation as one that has “left much to be desired.”

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To address these challenges, Nwajiuba stressed the need to strengthen the quality of the nation’s basic education by confronting head-on, those factors depriving children access to basic education.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria despite the fact that primary education is officially free and compulsory.
The organisation said about 10.5 million of Nigeria’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school; only 61 per cent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school while 35.6 per cent of children aged three to five years receive early childhood education.

“Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge. Gender, like geography and poverty, is an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalisation. States in North-East and North-West have female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 per cent and 47.3 per cent, respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school,” UNICEF said.

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Statistics showed that in North-East, 2.8 million children are in need of education in three conflict-affected states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its senior secondary school enrolment data for the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) between 2016 and 2017, showed a decline in enrolment within the period.

According to the NBS data, while total public senior secondary school enrolment was 3,563,748 in 2016, a total of 3,424,175 students enrolled in 2017, showing a decline of -3.91 per cent.

For private schools, while enrolment in 2016 was 911,561, about 899,172 students enrolled in 2017, indicating a decline of -1.36 per cent.

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With Nigeria having the highest number of out-of-school children, especially in the north where religion, culture, kidnapping, and displacement of people by insecurity has made the situation worse, the issue of those left behind as a result of the system also calls for concern. The displacement and kidnapping of school children, especially in the north have significantly increased the problem of access to education.

While accurate statistics are necessary for stemming the rising tide of out-of-school children, experts have urged local, state, and Federal Governments to pay more attention to easy access to education for children.

They also stressed the need to address issues of an inadequate number of qualified teachers, materials, and schools, particularly for children in rural and remote places.
 
Often found among out-of-school children are orphans and kids living with disabilities, children in Internally Displaced Persons’ camps, and ethnolinguistic minorities. They urged the government to pay particular attention to these ones to reduce the problem of low enrolment.

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UNICEF’s panacea to tackling the issue of out-of-school-children is hinged on improved planning and meeting provisions of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4), which is focused on not leaving anyone behind in terms of access to quality education.

This, the organisation said could be achieved by creating an enabling environment for education, improving quality, as well as increasing demand and humanitarian assistance.

Children living with disabilities and those that require specialised training and teaching procedures due to their unique learning needs are usually left out in Nigeria’s educational system, adding to the number of out-of-school-children.

Also, children from nomadic groups are not carried along in the education system. According to statistics, despite government interventions, such as the National Nomadic Education Commission (NNEC) over 5.2 million nomadic children are still out-of-school, while about seven million children in the Almajiri education system in northern Nigeria are also excluded from quality education.

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Experts have asked the government to review the educational system to make it more inclusive and make policies that would clearly capture all groups. Besides, they urged the government to increase funding to schools and create awareness on the need for all children to be in school, while lawmakers should make adequate legislation to make this a reality.

A PROFESSOR of Geography at Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Adamu Tanko blamed the problem of out-of-school children on lack of national planning.

He said: “We don’t seem to plan for anything that we do in the country, nobody cares how many people are there, and the necessary provisions that should be made. Most times we cry that our population is too high but how do we plan to address that if it’s a problem? For the government to say it is going to educate all children in the country is a lie. I completed my primary education in 1979 and when I went back some years ago, I realised that the school is housing six other schools, three of them are at senior secondary school level, two at junior level and one is called Education Primary School, all from that particular structure we left. If you look at the number of additional children in that locality, that is multiplying by a big factor but the infrastructure provided is shrinking. Looking at this, you would see that there is no plan at all to absorb children being born. That is a fundamental problem.”

Prof Tanko also lamented the state of public schools across the country, saying most of them are unattractive.

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“Public schools are not attractive at all, if you register your children in the school you graduated from, you are only committing an act of wickedness. Three years ago, when I visited my primary school, I looked at where I used to sit, I could not recognise it because there were no tables at all, in fact, the floor was in a very deplorable state. I wouldn’t want to identify myself with that kind of school.
That is the crisis we are in, for which nobody has a solution since the schools are not attractive, how would you be inviting other children?

“We don’t plan or think of the future. People who governed this country in the 60s and 70s, and possibly early 80s were adequately planning to absorb some of these children and I think our situation was better in those early years, but presently, the crisis is getting worse.”

Prof Tanko noted that apart from poor infrastructure, there are not enough qualified teachers. “Teaching by my understanding is a profession where people have to learn to impact knowledge. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough trained and qualified teachers, that is why the schools are not attractive. Until we go back to begin to plan, train, make adequate provisions for the development of our schools, I think we will continue to get it wrong, Prof Tanko added.

PRESIDENT, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof Biodun Ogunyemi said more schools are being closed because of security issues and the kidnapping of school children.

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Ogunyemi said the number of out-of-school children would increase for as long as poverty continues in the country. Even when the government declared free primary education, how do parents pay for other forms of support for education, he queried.

He said: “Children of illiterate parents would ultimately become parents of illiterate children, it is a cycle that has been going on, if you educate a woman, she could control the family size, stay longer in school and become an agent of enlightenment to others, but because our environment has not planned enough for children and family, we would continue to move in that cycle of inter-generational poverty, leading to generational illiteracy, intergenerational misery, and violence.

The ASUU chief said both the Federal and State Governments should take proactive steps to address the menace.

FORMER Education Minister, Chinwe Obaji said the increase in the number of out-of-school children has reached an alarming state, with the kidnapping of school children by bandits.

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Obaji said the fact that school children are being kidnapped in their dormitories showed that the government has failed to provide a conducive environment for learning.

Apart from kidnapping, the former minister said a lot of children have been orphaned due to war and deprived of the opportunity of going to school.

“Human trafficking has also contributed to keeping children out-of-school. In most parts of the country today, you find a lot of children trekking five kilometres to school and when they even get there, the teachers are not there. Most of the trek to school hungry, most of them are vulnerable and ended up being abused,” Obaji added.

She disclosed that the Federal Government is working with NAPTIP to see how to combat cases of human trafficking, while also addressing problems of infrastructure and learning facilities.

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PROF Jonah Onuoha of the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, identified poverty, lack of commitment from the government, and poor infrastructural facilities as some of the problems responsible for the increase in the number of out-of-school children.

Prof Onuoha noted that some parents are unable to train their wards due to lack of money, while the environment does not encourage children to go to school.

He said the government should show concern by introducing scholarships and grants, empower parents and focus on infrastructural development to make learning smooth and exciting for learners.

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