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Rescuing Nigeria’s 13.2m out-of-school children

By Tope Templer Olaiya
08 November 2018   |   4:17 am
That Nigeria has one of the highest number of children without access to education with about 13.2 million out-of-school children is no longer news.

That Nigeria has one of the highest number of children without access to education with about 13.2 million out-of-school children is no longer news. The statistics are staggering and hard to deny given the number of children hawking or begging on the streets everyday.

Last month, an official of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) disclosed that 69 per cent of Nigeria’s out-of-school children are located in the northern part of the country.

Also, according to UNICEF’s Deputy Representative in Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, Bauchi State has the highest number with 1.1 million children that are out of school followed by Katsina State with 781,500.

Corroborating the grim statistics, the Executive Secretary of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Hamid Bobboyi, added that the girl-child constituted over 60 per cent of children out of school. In essence, Bobboyi’s statement means that of the 13.2 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, 7.93 million are girls while 5.28 million are boys. The 13.2 million children who are not in school represent 6.67 per cent of Nigeria’s estimated 198 million people.

What keeps the kids largely out of school? Apart from the Boko Haram insurgency currently ravaging the northeastern part of the country, poverty is the underlying factor. In February this year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that 50.8 per cent of children, ages between five and 17, are involved in child labour.

The implication would be dire for Nigeria if a solution is not urgently found. Many of the children, on whose shoulders the leadership of the country will rest in a few years, risk being illiterates, unable to compete with their peers in matters of economy, innovation and technological advancement. Illiteracy has also been identified as the leading cause of social vices ranging from vandalism to terrorism.

An education expert, Dr. Dayo Ogundimu, expressing concerns over the rising number of children out of school in the country, said governments at all levels must act now to address the situation. Ogundimu, who is also an Education and Development Consultant for the United Nations Children’s Fund, noted that with the rising figure of children out of school, especially in the north, it signifies a looming calamity for the country.

“Access to education by millions of Nigeria remains hindered diet lack of political will, poor planning and infrastructure, corruption, irregular payment of teachers’ salaries. Education is fundamental to the development of any country and the percentage of out-of-school children in Nigeria portrays a grim picture of our country’s future. If we really want the best for the future of these children, we should stop acting as though the palliative measures they badly need are a rocket science.”

As part of its efforts to make children love reading and education across the country, Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, recently disclosed that the Federal Government “at current numbers spends more than $1.8 million every day on the National School Feeding Programme,” adding that $183 million had so far been invested in the programme.

Osinbajo stated this in his keynote address at the 20th Annual Global Child Nutrition Forum held in Tunis, Tunisia. He said more than nine million primary school pupils were benefitting across 26 states where the programme had taken effect.

“By tackling the broader issues of eradication of poverty, food and nutrition security, and increasing school enrolment. It is becoming clearer that the 21st century will be defined by knowledge and skills.”

Borne by the need to make its mark in this critical sector, Lafarge Africa, the construction and building solutions company, has identified the need for an urgent intervention in the sector and through the Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition (LANLC) in complementing government efforts to raise the standard of literacy in public primary schools.

Now in its fifth year, the competition is one of the company’s leading corporate social responsibility investments. Students between the ages of 9 and 13 years in public schools are the primary target with participants undergoing essay writing, spelling bee, comprehension and literacy assessments. Since inception the competition has impacted more than 500,000 primary school pupils in 886 schools across 544 local government areas (LGAs).

LANLC is organized and delivered across all 109 senatorial districts in all 36 states of the federation and the FCT working with implementation partners – State Universal Basic Education Commission (SUBEBs) across Nigeria and the Ovie Brume Foundation. Educational grants are given to winning pupils to support their primary and secondary education while indigent students, get to have exposure and travels out of their communities for the competition.

LANLC has been endorsed by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Education in charge of Basic Education across the country, for its nationwide education intervention and outstanding contribution to the development of literacy in the country’s primary schools.

According to Temitope Oguntokun, Head, Sustainability and Brand, Lafarge Africa, over N300 million of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility investment in 2017 was invested on various education initiatives to enhance the country’s literacy level. At the launch of this year’s competition, she reiterated that the competition is aimed at encouraging literacy in a sustainable way among Nigerian primary school children.

“When it comes to CSR, we are quite strategic in our approach because we want to grow our social impact year on year. This is one of the reasons we are reaching out to deepen collaboration and partnerships with other organizations in our vision to bridge the literacy gap together. We are starting on that journey this year with UNESCO, Oando foundation and other like-minded organizations.

The National Literacy Competition initiative aligns with the LafargeHolcim 2030 Plan, which articulates our efforts to improve our impact in the communities we work in while driving the performance of our operations.” she said.

Past winners and participants in the competition have affirmed the competition’s positive impact in their lives.

Nweke Chinyere from SUBEB Primary School, Elerinla, Ondo State was first runner-up in the maiden edition of the competition in 2014. She said the experience from the competition has motivated her to remain focused in pursuing her dream of becoming a leading pharmacist in future. She holds that being able to read and write is the door to achieving many great things.

According to Chinyere, “The knowledge of English is very important for science courses. The literacy competition has helped me to understand the big science words better. It has also made me more interested in finding meaning to every word I come across,”

“I think all schools should introduce activities like Spelling Bees that will aid learning of new words which can improve the speaking vocabulary of students in schools,” she added.

For 12-year-old Usman Said from Model Primary School Kano State, the second runner-up in last year’s competition, the literacy competition is a gateway to greater things. Although he didn’t win the star prize, he has employed the knowledge gained through the stages of the competition to participate in other competitions where he has performed excellently.

“If everyone can get the type of training we got while preparing for the competition, I think nobody would be failing any exams,” he said. Usman held that if the teachers in primary schools can get more adequate and constant retraining, they could do a lot more in the basic education sector.

In the case of Okikie Miracle Chimdindu, who represented Enugu State in the 2016 event, participating in the contest was like a rebirth. He now believes he can achieve more by being determined and focused. Even though he was second runner-up, the reception he returned to at his Hilltop Primary School, Ngwo, Enugu North LGA was a hero’s welcome. He reasoned that if the feat achieved through diligent studying can earn him the type of welcome he got, there must be more to come if he continues on this path.

“When I got to school that morning, the headmistress was the first to see me. She ran and gave me a hug while other students ran after her. They carried me up and started to call me, “hero! hero!! hero!!!” During the assembly, she called me out and I stood in front of the whole school. She advised them to work hard like me, because it was due to the hard work and effort that I won the competition,” he recalled.

Idowu Ayomikun and Lawal Kehinde who would be participating in the 2018 finals on November 15 as winners of the South-West regional competition already have a lot to say about the impact of the contest after making it through the regional stages.

“The competition has touched my life in a unique way, the gains and memories will stay with me forever,” Kehinde said.

“The whole experience has improved my spelling, reading and writing; it has convinced me that I can do whatever I want to and I can succeed. I thank Lafarge Africa for sponsoring this competition,” Ayomikun said.

Kehinde and Ayomikun will compete with other regional winners – Emmanuel Jacob and Janet Bitrus (North-Central), Amina Aminu and Ibrahim Dalhatu (North-West), Melody Joseph and Destiny Endwell (South-South), Ogbu Monday Chukwudi and Otu Precious Chiamaka (South-East) and Yusuf Isa and Rumaisau Waziri (North-East) – in the grand finale in Lagos.

In addition to the National Literacy Competition, Lafarge Africa has a platform called the Lafarge Reading Project, a volunteer programme through which Lafarge Africa staff help public primary schools students to improve their vocabulary and literacy skills. Between 2013 and 2015, Lafarge Africa employees have volunteered 6,212 hours of their time to the project.

Corporate initiatives that support and complement the government efforts like the Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition will go a long way in ensuring Nigeria’s economic growth and its sustained development.