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Nigeria’s out-of-school children’s quagmire

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
29 December 2022   |   3:59 am
Ndianiche Uwakonye is a village setting in Arondizuogu located in Onuimo Local Government Council of Imo State. This community has just one school as primary educational facility for hundreds of children.

[FILES] Out-of-school children . (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read. ~ Mark Twain

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. ~ Frederick Douglass

Ndianiche Uwakonye is a village setting in Arondizuogu located in Onuimo Local Government Council of Imo State. This community has just one school as primary educational facility for hundreds of children. Many more whose parents have no resources to procure uniforms and writing materials for them are roaming about in the village wasting their childhood in unproductive plays.

The structures in the community primary school can at best be described as not suitable for human habitation. Most times the school is overgrown with weeds as there are no workers to cut the grass to enable the children learn in a good environment.

The school built through communal effort but along the line, was handed over to the Imo State government. Hundreds of kids go to that school just as the numbers of teachers working on full-time basis are few. I can’t personally vouch for the qualifications of the few teachers there.

This appalling poor standard of facilities in this school is replicated in virtually two third of the rural schools in Nigeria due to neglect by the government. Ironically, primary schools in the Federal Capital Territory are not that great and different from the poorly maintained and poorly funded primary schools in the rural communities.

This criminal neglect and outright corruption on the part of government officials paid to run the education ministry, are in place despite the fact that the Nigerian Constitution recognises that free primary to early secondary school education is compulsory and free.

Besides, Nigeria also has an agency known as the Universal Basic Education Commission but yet this Commission has failed to offer the needed intervention towards delivering quality education to our kids especially in the rural schools.

That said, it is a universal fact that the developmental challenges of Nigeria remain the growing rates of out-of-school kids of Nigerian origin.

Another reality that correlates with the menace of out-of-school children in Nigeria is the poor quality of school facilities and the shortage of qualified teachers to teach the children.

The combine effects of not having all of the children of school age in schools in Nigeria and the dehumanising standards and poor quality of schools in Nigeria and abundance of poorly trained and remunerated teachers is that Nigeria will continue to see millions of her citizens turning out as adults without the faintest credentials from any organised formal educational platforms.

These two issues aforementioned about early childhood education in Nigeria promote backwardness, lack of creative talents to solve intractable economic, scientific and daily life problems that are capable of derailing sustainable growth and development in Nigeria.

Poor teaching and appalling standards of schools in Nigeria are major disincentive to enrollment into formal school system by so many of our kids.

A trending report has it that with 65 million illiterate Nigerians, it is time for government, schools and individuals to take action.

UNESCO’s National Programme Advisor on Education, Dr. Mohammed Alkali recently revealed the results of a UNESCO survey that showed that despite improvements to the country’s education system, 65 million Nigerians remain illiterate.

These statistics are alarming for a number of reasons. Illiteracy has adverse impacts at both an individual and societal level. People who are illiterate are far more likely to live in poverty, facing a lifetime marred by poor health and social vulnerability. Economically, the impacts of illiteracy are also sizeable; a country’s literacy levels affect all workplace productivity, unemployment rates and even national GDP.

With Nigeria’s illiteracy rate standing at just over 50 per cent, experts say it is a matter of national urgency that Nigerians work to redress our literacy crisis. How can we make real changes that have a measureable and tangible impact on Nigerian learners, asks an analyst?

The analyst concludes that of course, governments and policymakers need to play a critical role in any solution. Illiteracy will never be overcome while 10 million Nigerian children remain out of school. Providing quality schools and quality teachers are therefore a vital component in improving national literacy levels.

Equipping schools with the necessary resources – libraries, books and classroom facilities – and providing adequate training for teachers, rightly, are all essential to making literacy widely available to all Nigerians. However, access to classrooms and books is only part of the answer. As parents and citizens we all have a responsibility to promote literacy amongst our young people.

But with 35 million Nigerian adults illiterate, how do we instill a love of reading in our children when so many of us can’t read ourselves? Children of illiterate parents are far more likely to be illiterate themselves, therefore education programmes that target adults as well as school children are key.

Relatedly, Nigeria now has about 20 million out-of-school children, according to the latest global data on out-of-school children by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

UNESCO, which says a new and improved methodology was used to arrive at the latest figures, said there are “244 million children and youth between the ages of 6 and 18 worldwide (who) are still out of school.”

According to the statistics, India, Nigeria and Pakistan have the highest figures for out-of-school children globally. The figures in Nigeria have oscillated between 10.5 million and around 15 million for more than a decade, with the situation growing worse due to the degenerating security situation in the country.

UNESCO announced the figures in a statement issued by Dafalia Dimitra, a media specialist, with the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM), which is developed by an independent team and published by UNESCO and obtained by Premium Times.

The global organisation said the team developing the report “has the official mandate of monitoring progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goal on education, SDG 4.”

The report says the region with the second highest out-of-school 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.

As the above scientific details are, the fact is that Nigeria has at different levels made efforts to bridge these gaps educationally. But poor implementation has been the bane of most of these programmes that ought to work as quick win interventions to check this deterioration in the quality of education and reduce the numbers of out-of-school kids.

For instance in 1999, the Nigerian government introduced Universal Basic Education, a programme to provide free primary and secondary education for all.

This programme was reportedly initiated after several unsuccessful attempts at improving education in the country.

Unfortunately, although there has been some improvements in enrolment in recent years, its results have been limited and Nigeria’s educational system still rates very poorly in most international rankings.

The initiative under the UBE programme only took off effectively with the signing of the UBE Act in April 2004.

The main beneficiaries of the programme are children aged 3-5 years, for Early Children Care and Development Education (ECCDE); Children aged 6-11+ years for primary school education; Children aged 12-14+ years for junior secondary school education.

However, report has it that school enrolment was still low at the beginning of 1990s – as of 1990, gross enrolment ratio in primary school was at 86%, but it had dropped to a mere 25% by the time children reached secondary school.

Also, experts reckon that as of 2015, Nigeria ranked 103 out of 118 countries in UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) Development Index, which takes into account universal primary education, adult literacy, quality of education, and gender parity.

UNESCO’s 2015 review of education in Nigeria found that enrolment at primary and junior secondary levels had greatly increased since 2000. However, transition and completion rates remained below 70%.

Enrolment rates reportedly increased by 130% for secondary education in the period from 2000 to 2013, (based on the latest available statistics from the World Bank), but decreased by 4% for primary level.

Media report said that in its latest review of Nigeria’s educational standing in 2015, UNESCO has concluded that although progress has been made in basic education, much more remains to be done, both in quantity and quality.

Participation in primary education is still low in comparison with primary school age population. The quality of the national school curriculum is undermined by the generally low quality of teachers who implement it, which translates into low levels of learning achievement.

Infrastructure, toilets and furniture are inadequate and in a dilapidated state. The system of collecting comprehensive, relevant data for planning is weak. There are social and cultural barriers that are hindering female participation;

Although there is a clear responsibility and involvement of state actors in terms of implementation and funding, there is no evidence of communication or consultations between institutions at the federal and state levels in the design of the UBE programme, which led to misalignment later in the implementation phase. This is so true and the earlier this yawning gap is filled the better for the educational wellbeing of Nigerians.

Shocking as these negative educational ratings of Nigeria is, we are now in a period whereby we can collectively reshape the prospects and future of education for all Nigerians.

This is the campaign season, which will ultimately usher in a new set of political leaders by May 29, 2023 if the early February elections go on successfully as envisaged.

This is the time to demand from aspirants campaigning to be voted for by the voters, to tell Nigerians what agenda for the advancement of education that they have captured into their manifesto.

Not so much is said in the manifestos of majority of these politicians currently campaigning regarding what they will do to bridge the educational gaps aside the Presidential candidate of Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi who has articulated a workable framework on delivering quality education for all if he wins.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu who claims to be a university graduate has avoided public debates like a plague just as he hasn’t told Nigerians where exactly he underwent primary school education. Tinubu’s educational credentials are marred in unnecessary controversy as this information remains a top secret.

Luckily, 14 out of the 18 persons jostling to be Nigeria’s president are university graduates, the final list of candidates released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has shown. One has an Ordinary National Diploma.

It is one thing to parade certificates but another important leadership quality is to be able to put into good use, top level educational policy that will lift Nigerians to their better selves and end the perennial out of school menace which is now a hydra-headed monster.

Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission Of Nigeria.