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Day of the African Child: Christian Aid seeks equal access to education

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Sir: The Day of the African Child was first commemorated in 1991 as a day to remember those who lost their lives in the struggle for equal access to education and to this day, serves as a day to raise awareness of the issues that African children face in accessing education.

Almost three decades after and despite the policies and actions that government at national and state levels have put in place to ensure universal basic education (uninterrupted access to nine-year formal education by providing free and compulsory basic education for every Nigerian child of school-going age), the most current statistics shows that over 13 million children in Nigeria are out-of-school.

The data from the baseline research survey of the Evidence and Collaboration for Inclusive Development (ECID) programme, a new DFID-funded programme in Anambra and Kaduna, being implemented by Christian Aid in partnership with other local Civil Society Organisations shows that of those who prioritised education across the two states, only 25 per cent find it accessible.

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Surprisingly, despite the disproportionate distribution of out-of-school children across regions, with the highest numbers being in the northern part of the country, some of the main barriers to accessing education were quite similar across both states.

While Anambra State has quite a high literacy rate and that of school enrolment, especially in comparison with Kaduna State, those in hard-to-reach and rural locations experience some of the same barriers that those in Kaduna State experience. Some of these issues include financial constraints leading to an inability to pay the high cost of school levies, insufficient number of teachers, classrooms, basic teaching and learning materials, equipment, or other facilities such as toilets as well as the limited provisions for people with disabilities.

Early marriage, enrolment in Islamic schools rather than conventional schools, and stigmatisation of people with disabilities were key barriers identified in Kaduna, while the distance of secondary schools and lack of school buses for pupils/students’ use was raised in Anambra State.

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Although both Anambra and Kaduna states enjoy political will of their respected leaderships regarding the delivery of universal basic education, a review of the education sector policy environment showed that there are challenges in education policy formulation and implementation. Different marginalised groups face different challenges and it is crucial that the perspectives of these groups are considered in the formulation and implementation of policies.

The funding challenges because of timely budget releases and the consequent negative impact on the implementation of policy are acknowledged, however, a key issue remains the disconnect between government policies and narratives and the narratives and experiences of those at the receiving end of the policies.

While several policies exist across both states to increase opportunities for basic education and reduce the number of out-of-school children, there remain key barriers faced by children with disabilities and adolescents in rural communities from low-income households that these policies do not address.

Effective behaviour change on the part of the citizens can only happen when there is a conducive policy environment and this must ensure that all groups are effectively catered for. For instance, peculiar issues that children in riverine areas in remote parts of Anambra face are not recognised by the school calendar despite having significant challenges in physically accessing school structures every raining season.

The floods usually cut these communities off and in cases where there are schools within reach, teachers and administrators are unable to reach the communities. This has implications on various sectors beyond education such as infrastructure and livelihood.

Armed with this information and the data of those affected and how it affects their access to education can help the government come up with relevant policies to address the issue of education, with a rippling effect on other sectors such as infrastructure through the provision of access roads or bridges or whatever else is necessary.

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This highlights the monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation as a key challenge. This challenge can be addressed with effective data gathering and usage, ensuring that connections are made between policies and the effects if any on citizens.

Although evidence-based policy and decision-making exist to an extent in both states (more in Kaduna than Anambra), even influencing budget allocation, government’s responsiveness and accountability to the priorities of the marginalised groups are therefore not as effective as it could be, partly because of the limited use of data for planning.

It is however good news that both Kaduna and Anambra state governments are becoming more receptive to policymaking based on evidence and that government bureaucrats are more likely to change practice based on research evidence. It will be of the best interest of marginalised groups whose needs are not usually represented for this to happen swiftly for inclusive and sustainable change.

The Evidence and Collaboration for Inclusive Development (ECID) programme aims to facilitate evidence-based policy and decision-making through the effective use of data to address the issues of marginalised groups. It will contribute to reducing poverty and improving the wellbeing of over 200,000 adolescents, poor rural women and People Living with Disabilities in Kaduna and Anambra states in the priority areas of education, health, agriculture and infrastructure.

Adebola Adeeko, programme officer, communications, Christian Aid Nigeria.

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