Monday, 29th May 2023

Tackling menace of out-of-school children in Nigeria

By Kanayo Umeh, Abuja
26 February 2023   |   3:30 am
Despite the combined efforts of the Nigerian government, international development partners and non-governmental organisations to tackle the pervasive issue of out-of-school children in Nigeria, the country is still struggling to find solutions.

Out of school Children

Despite the combined efforts of the Nigerian government, international development partners and non-governmental organisations to tackle the pervasive issue of out-of-school children in Nigeria, the country is still struggling to find solutions. Regardless dedicated campaigns and collaboration between stakeholders, the number of out-of-school children continues to be a persistent challenge.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) cites that the total of Out-of-School Children (OSC) in the nation is more than 20 million, whereas the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) states it is slightly above 10 million. According to UNESCO, the data is based on those aged six to 18 years, ranging from Primary One to Senior Secondary School three (SSS III), while UBEC’s figure is related to those aged six to 11. Whatever numbers one looks at, the reality remains that Nigeria has one of the highest number of OSC in the world.

A 2022 UNESCO report noted that approximately 20 million Nigerian individuals of its approximately 200 million population are not enrolled in school. This amounts to 20 per cent of Nigeria’s entire population and is more than the overall population of various countries in Africa. The report said there are 244 million children and youth between the ages of six and 18 worldwide who are still out of school and “the region with the second highest OSC population is Central and Southern Asia with 85 million.” The top three countries with the most children and youth excluded from education are: India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

But the Federal Ministry of Education in an unpublished response tagged, “UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2022 and the Phenomenon of Out-Of-School Children in Nigeria,” obtained by The Guardian, said: “Though UIS has attempted to justify the methods used in arriving at the 20 million figure, the fact remains that this report is capable of misinforming the public, misrepresenting the actual situation of the out-of-school children in Nigeria and underrating the significant efforts made by the government in addressing the OSC challenge.”

While noting that it is the responsibility of states and local governments to provide primary and secondary education in Nigeria, the report said that the federal government has been working closely in partnership to develop the sub-sector generally and address the OSC challenge. “The federal government provides financial and technical assistance to the states and local governments as part of its intervention in the delivery of Universal Basic Education (UBE) which covers primary and junior secondary,” the report noted.

The report showed that the 2018 Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA) study established the number of OSC, age six – 11 (Primary School-going age), at 10.193,918, regionally distributed as follows: North Central: 1,329,111; North East: 2,0012,038; North West: 3,490,671; South East: 713,176; South South: 1,208,1832 and South West: 1,451,740. Similarly, the figure of 6,192,081 was established for age 12– 14 for Junior Secondary School going age. “The 2018 NPA took cognisance of Nigeria’s designated age bracket for Universal Basic Education (primary and junior secondary, age six – 14) and did not extend to the Senior Secondary cadre (age 15 – 17) and the post-secondary school age of 18, which are both part of the UNESCO’s 20 million figure.”

The report, however, said in the proper context that the 2018 NPA provides an authentic representation of the OSC population in Nigeria, within the confines of basic education (primary and junior secondary school) as defined by the UBE Act 2004. “Culminating in the National Policy on Education (NPE) 2004 and passage of the Child Rights Act 2003. This mandates nine years of compulsory schooling for children. Tellingly, some states have failed to domesticate the CRA. Not surprisingly, all are in the North; the region that hosts the largest number of out-of-school children and other dismal human development indices.”

Similarly, the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEC) said that efforts are being made to reduce the figure and get as many OSC as possible back to school. It was in the light of this that UBEC, few months ago, held a four-day training workshop in Lagos for chairmen of SUBEB from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

Speaking on the occasion, the Executive Secretary of UBEC, Dr. Hamid Bobboyi, urged state governors to sustain the tempo of basic education in their various states to ensure that pupils get quality education and also charged SUBEB chairmen to address the issues of corruption, lack of furniture and quality teachers.

Out of school Children

The UBEC boss also stressed the need to restrategise to enhance better service delivery, saying the commission is working with SUBEB to reduce the number of out-of-school children who are mainly found in the North.

According to him, statistics from UBEC indicate that out-of-school children from ages six to 11 decreased from 10.2 to 9.6 million between 2018 and 2021 and have been projected to reduce further to 9.5 million in 2022. He observed that global data on out-of-school children between ages six and 18 years released by UNESCO, shows that Nigeria now has about 20 million out-of-school children. He noted that people do not understand the nature and how UNESCO arrived at the figure of 20 million saying: “UNESCO has adopted a new methodology with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in mind that was used to arrive at the figures that were added to ages six to 18, which is from primary school to senior secondary level, to reach the 20 million mark. “UBEC has its own statistics and has presented the same to UNESCO, which has been validated with figures, and the only thing we need to do is to push and ensure that we reduce the number of OSC in the country.”

Bobboyi called on UBEC, SUBEB and other relevant stakeholders to synergise to move basic education forward in the 36 states and the FCT. “Basic education has its challenges in the country, and we are in a difficult financial situation in the country. The quantity of resources that are available has started to decline; they are not what they used to be and this is creating some problems.
“With up to 50 million children in basic education from primary to secondary school, various states have been able to at least provide for the pupils in a manner that is commensurate with the resources available, so we must continue to use the tools and resources at our disposal to make sure there is a sustainable improvement in basic education,” he noted.

The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has also blamed the rising figure of out school children on “state governors’ lukewarm response to the suggestion for the declaration of emergency on education, especially at the basic education level.” The minister who disclosed this recently in his keynote address at the meeting of the National Council on Education, said that upon assumption of office seven years ago, he wanted a declaration of emergency in basic education, but the decision could not be taken at the Federal Executive Council because he said it was state government’s responsibility.
“I said we should declare an emergency on education, especially at the lower level. A decision could not be taken on this because the issue of emergency on education at the level of primary school is a state’s responsibility,” he said. Adamu also listed his ministry’s efforts at reducing the number of OSC to include the development of e-learning portal to cater for students in basic and senior secondary schools across the country, the development of Nigerian Learning Passport designed to close the learning gaps and to enable continuous access to quality education.

The minister said his ministry has trained over 200 almajirai by the National Arabic Language Village, to be integrated into formal basic schools in Borno State. He also stated that there was the implementation of Adolescent Girls’ Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) in seven pilot states with $500 million funding support from the World Bank. The AGILE programme supports the provision of secondary education, critical life skills and digital literacy to adolescent girls.

In an interview with The Guardian, Educationist, Dr. Babajide Ayodeji, explained that the Government of Nigeria has responded to the urgent crisis of OSC by initiating multiple programmes and initiatives to ensure that every child has access to basic education.

According to him: “In addition to the Out-of-School Child Education and Care programme that provides the much-needed educational, nutritional, clothing and social care services to the OSC, the government has also made efforts to establish makeshift schools to give such children access to essential education in areas where existing school infrastructure may be inadequate.

“However, much still needs to be done to adequately address the problems. Measures must be taken to overcome financial and social barriers to education, to ensure access to quality education, and to address the underlying causes that are driving children out of school. We must create a conducive, supportive and enabling environment to ensure that all our children get the chance to access education and reach their full potential.”