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Finding space for Nigeria’s 13m out-of-school children

By Iyabo Lawal
25 October 2018   |   4:25 am
At the moment, Nigeria is the world capital of out-of-school children with more than 13 million of them anywhere but in the classroom.

Education Minister, Adamu Adamu

At the moment, Nigeria is the world capital of out-of-school children with more than 13 million of them anywhere but in the classroom. In this piece, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL examines the crisis of illiteracy, its causes and the best way out of the educational logjam.

The brown-eyed boy’s athleticism was extraordinary as he went in hot chase after customers in moving vehicles in Ojota-Ketu axis of Lagos. Ten-year-old Bodunde Anjorin (not real name) had the build of a 15-year-old. He hardly went to school. “I’m helping my mom to hustle,” he said pointing to an old woman likely in her 70s. He soon bolted away and never reappeared. Young Anjorin had been in Primary One in the last three years. It is not certain if he still goes to school at all.

From Lagos to Ibadan; from Ekiti to Ilorin; from Benue to Nasarawa; from Jos to Abuja; from Adamawa to Borno; from Rivers to Cross River; and from Aba to Abakaliki, the story of out-of-school children is almost similar. It has become an epidemic that the state and federal governments often see as an issue of numbers and not humans.

It was muted sigh that greeted the October announcement by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria has increased from 10.5 million to 13.2 million – the country is ranked as having the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. In April 2018, UBEC had pointed out that the previous statistics was not reliable and decided to audit the number – and rightly so because of the rising conflicts of Boko Haram and killer herdsmen.

The result of the audit expected to give the accurate number of pupils in school and children that are out of school has not been released yet. Nevertheless, the Executive Secretary of UBEC, Ahmed Boboyi, claimed that the 2015 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) showed that the figure had increased to more than 13 million.

“Over the past few years, Nigeria has been besieged by Boko Haram and a lot of children have been out of school. If you add the number of children that have been displaced and with the increasing number of birth, you find out that our source in DHS conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and published in 2015 reveals the number of out-of-school children to have increased to 13.2 million,” Boboyi had said.

If Nigerians are not so much concerned, the outside world is. The Chief Education, UNICEF, Terry Durnier, has made it clear that the world would not help Nigeria solve the problem if it did not solve it by itself as the country accounts for more than one-in-five out-of-school children, and 45 per cent of out-of-school kids in West Africa. Of the total out-of-school children, girls are in the majority, especially in the North.

Prof. Abba Haladu, the Executive Secretary, National Commission for Mass Literary, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC), believes that keeping those children in school will determine the future development of the nation – as the youngsters are the leaders of tomorrow.

Yet, the recent uptick in children dropping out of school or not being enrolled in school at all is associated with the ongoing insurgency in the North-East. Durnier further pointed out that the world can only address the problem of out-of-school children, if Nigeria plays its role in addressing the scourge of Boko Haram insurgency.

That April, Boboyi had made this telling statement: “Following the Boko Haram crisis in the North-East, how many pupils have left school? Over one million have been displaced. At the end of the day you have over 11 million and some are going back to school. We keep running away from the reality. A lot of statistics are being bandied around but let’s get something that can be relied on…. Part of the problem we’re having is conflicting figures. Let’s get something that can be reliably used.”

So what next, now that a more accurate and disturbing figure had been obtained?

In January 2018, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, had claimed that the number of out-of-school children had dropped from 10.5 million to 8.6 million in the last three years.

“When President Muhammadu Buhari came into power in 2015, UNICEF said out-of-school children in Nigeria were about 10.5 million. But I want to tell Nigerians that with the effort of this president, especially with the school feeding programme, it dropped from 10.5 million to 8.6 million as of last year,” he had stated.

While accurate statistics are necessary in stemming the rising tide of out-of-school children, experts have urged the local, state and federal governments to pay more attention to easy access to education for children. There is also the need to resolve the issue of 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 ethno-linguistic minorities. They urged the government to pay particular attention to these ones and the issue of low enrolment will be drastically reduced.

Perhaps, the government at all levels can learn something from the administration of former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan – using the Delta Education Marshals (DEM), which has been replicated, in some states of the federation as a template. The DEM policy was formulated by the state government then to eradicate ‘street culture’ and create what was called ‘learning culture’.

The EduMarshals had its mandates to detect and prevent truancy; apprehend school age children hawking or selling in shops during school hours; maintain school hours’ surveillance, arrest, return or register any child found outside during school hours. The EduMarshals were also to provide intelligence to relevant ministries, police and stakeholders on any matter relating to a child, to make a child less than 18 years of age to attend school or learn a trade (skills acquisition) and to ensure that the streets of Delta State were free of children during school hours.

The country can also copy the Osun State Education Marshalls template and there is the Oyo State government’s Education Monitoring Marshalls, introduced to arrest and discipline pupils loitering around during school hours.

Anthony Anwuka. PHOTO:

Speaking on the crisis, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, noted, “Our dream of a sustainable future cannot be realised if we do not support children’s dreams to gain an education. When we educate a child we give her more than books, papers, pencils or a calculator. We give her the tools, skills and imagination she needs to shape the world around her and to make her community, and her society, better, more prosperous and more peaceful.”

However, that is not happening in Nigeria at the moment. In March, a new World Bank report released said only about 20 per cent of young Nigerians who had completed primary education could read.
The World Development Report 2018: ‘Learning to realise education’s promise’, therefore, called for greater measurement, action on evidence, and coordination of all education actors.

“Millions of young students in low and middle-income countries face the prospect of lost opportunity and lower wages in later life because their primary and secondary schools are failing to educate them to succeed in life,” the report had stated.

“Even after several years in school, millions of children cannot read, write or do basic math. This learning crisis is widening social gaps instead of narrowing them. Young students who are already disadvantaged by poverty, conflict, gender or disability reach young adulthood without even the most basic life skills,” it added.

According to the report, when Primary Four Nigerian pupils were asked to solve a simple two-digit subtraction problem, more than three-quarters of those asked could not do so.

Prof. Steve Nwokeocha, Department of Sociology, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBU), had argued that a way out of the educational crisis is to urgently address the issues of Almajiri.

Nwokeocha, who is also an executive director at Africa Federation of Teaching Regulatory Authorities with the African Union, Addis Ababa, in July this year had said: “There will be no less than 12 million out-of-school children and nine million are the almajiri – they constitute the largest number of the country’s out-of-school children. To me, that’s the high point of what we are not doing very well on education.”

Speaking on what to do, the scholar stated: “We need collective and constructive action to deal with the almajiri system; they have to be mainstreamed into the formal educational system.”

According to him, investments in education in Nigeria are low, despite the significant impact of both national and international interventions, calling for more money to be allocated to education in the budget at all levels of the government.

It is apparent too that little premium is placed on girl education, experts have claimed. This is an issue tied with traditions and deep-rooted among Nigerian families; that a girl child does not deserve as much, if at all, education as a boy. In some regions in the country, not a few underage girls are married off before they could learn to read and write.

Therefore, analysts urge the federal government to employ a multifaceted approach to resolving the out-of-school children crisis before it snowballs into a menace beyond the grasp of the country. Some will want the government – state, local and federal – to embark on a five-year advocacy and enlightenment campaign for families to let their children enjoy the benefits of primary and secondary education.

That, they said, should be done simultaneously by providing educational facilities and human resources to support the campaign, with the needed funds adequately and timely provided.

On her visit to the country, education activist, Malala Yousafzai, meeting with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (then-Acting President) had urged the federal government – in her little wisdom – to declare “an education state of emergency in Nigeria”. The government of the day has re-echoed that sentiment several times. It is yet to be seen how seriously Nigerian governments take education and the future development of the Nigerian child.