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Out of school children, still depressing

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[FILES] Large number of out-of-school children

Contrary to the optimistic impression recently given by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu that more children in Nigeria are being enrolled into schools, there may be no cause to cheer after all, going by the more current declaration, this time by the Minister of State in the same ministry, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba that the country still holds the continental record of children who are out of school.

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Specifically, Nwajiuba lamented, only three days ago that Nigeria has more than 10 million out-of-school children, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. This contrasts sharply with Adamu’s declaration, about a month earlier, that many more Nigerian children are in school than ever before. Adamu in fact stated that the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in the country had dropped to 6.946 million from 10.1 million; claiming that as at December 31, 2020, a total of 3,247,590 children, who were not in school, were enrolled within the space of a year and seven months, due to several activities undertaken by the Federal Ministry of Education, particularly, Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) being implemented in 17 states of the Federation.

Incidentally, Nwajiuba spoke at the launching of BESDA by Jigawa Government in Dutse. His words: “With an estimated 10,193,918 children out-of-school, Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in Sub-Saharan Africa.” To this end, Nwajiuba urged stakeholders to strengthen the quality of education by addressing factors that denied children access to basic education.

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The disparity in the figures of out-of-school children is certainly huge, and raises questions, as well as doubts on the veracity of the minister’s claim. For instance, is it practicable, given the social, economic and particularly security situation in Nigeria, that the country could enroll more than 3 million children in schools, in a period of Coronavirus pandemic? Is that claim not opposing to the wide closure of schools over security concern, coupled with the psychological impediments of parents, students and teachers who no longer feel safe going to school?

Certainly, there are serious challenges facing schooling in the country, and Nwajiuba is aware of them to have posited that, “we must strengthen the quality of basic education in Nigeria by confronting head-on those factors that deny our children access to basic education”. He noted that the current challenges affecting the educational system in the country have left much to be desired.

The BESDA programme is designed to create better life for all children with the aim of increasing equitable access for out-of-school children, improve literacy and strengthen accountability for results at the basic education level in the focus states. The programme targets 17 states, which include the entire 13 states of the North West and North East geographical zones as well Niger, Oyo, Ebony; and Rivers. Selection of the states was based on the prevalence of the number of out-of-school children in the country.

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Nevertheless, Nigeria has a moral and legal obligation to eliminate OOSC, in line with the 2003 Child Rights Act, which recognises access to basic education as part of the rights of a child. “Learning is not only a moral and legal obligation, but also a productive investment that will guarantee the future of our children and ensure that their rights are protected as enshrined in the Child’s Right Act of 2003,” the minister of state said.

The link between education, democracy and development was duly emphasized by Nelson Mandela, when he noted that: “An educated, enlightened and informed population is one of the surest ways of promoting the health of a democracy.” Essentially, education is a leveller, makes citizens to have choices, strengthens the office of the citizen, and develops critical minds needed to question duty bearers and bring them to account, which is essential for social justice.” Ipso facto, education is a productive investment that is worthwhile; and one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development.

As government strives to improve school enrolment, a large disparity still remains. For instance, children from the poorest households are more likely to be out of school than those of the richest households. Similarly, disparities between rural and urban areas also remain high, particularly during the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, because some learners, especially those at the rural areas were unable to continue learning through online facilities due to major challenges of internet access and electricity.

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If judiciously utilized, the credit facility of $611 million from the World Bank to support Universal Basic Education (UBE), in 17 states, which will be used to implement BESDA in the entire 13states of the North West and North East as well as Niger, Oyo, Ebony; and Rivers states; and $500 million loan secured from World Bank credit facility to drive the Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) programme, aimed at ensuring that girls were taken off the streets, trained and empowered to live normal and quality lives, should translate to a ‘bumper harvest’ in terms of school enrolment and retention.

While the federal government should work harder to minimize challenges, including security of schools, militating against full enrolment of children in all categories, the various states and local governments should step-up interventions to promote children education, since education is on the concurrent list. All hands must be on deck to address and eradicate OOSC in Nigeria.

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