Reducing The Number Of Out-Of-School Children In Nigeria

Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children. Image: Reuters

The alarming increase in the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria needs urgent attention by the government and other education stakeholders. A recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) revealed that Nigeria has a surprising 13.2 million out-of-schoolchildren, the highest figure the world over. Gabriel Chy Alonta examines this shocking development in the acclaimed giant of Africa and the way out of the trend.

It is a sad development that, over the course of just five years, the number of out-of-school children has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million. Nigeria, ranked as having the highest such figure in the world, needs to make concerted effort to deal with this embarrassing statistic and get our children back to school for their intellectual development and the ultimate good of this society.

Tackling this issue should, ordinarily, be the major focus of discussions in the nation, especially at such occasions like Children’s Day celebration in Nigeria and similar ones like the International Day of Families and Global Day of Parents. The Nigerian Children’s Day celebration would have been more fruitfully celebrated with such discussions instead of the vainglory of march pasts and other exhibitions for the few privileged children in school.

Recall that Section 15 (1) of the Child’s Rights Act as captured in Cap. C50, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, bestows on every Nigerian child the right to free and compulsory basic education.

According to the provisions of the Act, every child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education the provision of which shall be the duty of the government of Nigeria. Every parent or guardian shall ensure that his child or ward attends and completes his/her primary school education and junior secondary education.

The Act also provides that every parent, guardian or person who has the care and custody of a child who has completed basic education, shall (read ‘must’) endeavour to send that child to senior secondary school except, as provided for in subsection 4 of the section; the child shall be encouraged to learn an appropriate trade and the employer of the child shall provide the necessities for learning the trade.

It is, therefore, obvious that Nigeria has laws that protect the interests of the child, especially their right to free and compulsory education as indicated in the Act. This law also implies that there should never be any circumstance under which a child is not enrolled in school to acquire basic education.

To what extent do Nigerian governments at the various levels, parents and guardians comply with the provisions of that Child’s Right Act? Have the governments and parents done enough to implement this Act? Why are there an outrageous 13.2 million of out-of-school children in Nigeria?

The Education Chief, UNICEF, Terry Durnnian, was quoted as saying that the world would not help Nigeria to solve the problem of out-of-school children if it does not solve it by itself.

“The number of out-of-school children calls for serious concern. Nigeria should take on the challenge of reducing out of school children. UNICEF will only lead and support the process of reducing out of school children”, he said. He said Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children and 45 per cent of out-of-school children in West Africa.

Available statistics from United Nations show that about eight million children in 10 of Nigeria’s states do not go to school. The UN children’s fund also revealed that the average school enrolment rate in these areas was just 50 per cent and that the majority of those out of school are girls; the states most affected are in northern Nigeria.

Most fingers are pointing to northern Nigeria, particularly the North-East, as having the highest number of out-of-school children and critics have attributed this unfortunate scenario to the terrorist attacks in the north.

UNICEF said that more than 10 million children were unable to access safe education, largely due to an Islamist insurgency in the northern part of the country where hundreds of girls and boys have been abducted from their schools by Boko Haram jihadists.

Experts have also noted that over the last few years, Nigeria has been besieged by Boko Haram and lots of children have been put out of school, thus impeding the socio-economic progress of the country. They emphasised on the importance of engaging traditional rulers, who are custodians of culture to help in tackling the high incidence of out-of-school children.

According to the chairman, House Committee on Education, Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon. Timothy Ifedioramma, there is need for increased enlightenment on the dangers of school dropout. He regretted that, despite the efforts of the state government to reduce the number of out-of-school children, the situation keeps worsening.

Ifedioramma said that the rise in cases of school dropout in the state was usually eclipsed by the high performance of the state in external examinations, revealing that Anambra, indeed, had a significant number of out-of-school children parading the streets.

“Until we identify that this problem exists in our state, we will not get it right. We are always quick to look at the North to say that they are mostly affected, but we need to tackle our own problem to reduce the percentage in the long run. Education is not all about the government. It has to do with parents, society and other stakeholders; we all should contribute to the solution”, he said.

He recalled that despite the federal government’s School Feeding Programme, aimed at attracting out-of-the-school children back to school, the number kept increasing.

The house committee chairman harped on the need to re-engineer the society and increase the value of education, adding that “we are losing the value for education and encouragement that should be given to the younger ones to see education as really the foundation for success”.

Similarly, many of those who thought that the school feeding programme initiated by the Buhariadministration would lure out-of-school children back to school may have been proven wrong due to failure of the programme to yield the desired goal. Critics also argued that the programme was compromised. According to them, many of those who were assigned to manage the programme across the states of the federation failed to utilise the funds provided them for the project, and rather channelled it to their selfish interests.

Others were of the opinion that the failure of the school feeding project was a result of the lackadaisical attitude adopted by government towards supervising the implementation of the programme. They averred that the government did not do much to ensure that the project was optimally implemented.

It would also be recalled that the outgoing minister of education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, had during his valedictory press conference, admitted that the federal government failed in the last four years to fulfil its promise of reducing the population of out-of-school children by half, and regretted the worsening situation of the education sector which, instead of improving significantly, has deteriorated, to the dismay of watchers and stakeholders of the sector.

Also, reports in many rural communities in the Federal Capital Territory, revealed that most parents refuse to send their children to school despite the fact of the free basic education available to them The major but curious reason given by these parents was that their children were not born to go to school but to help them on their farms. They also attributed their decision to abject poverty and lack of basic life’s necessities.

It won’t be out of context to attribute government’s failure to tackle the teeming number of out-of-school children to outright negligence of the education sector. This given the lack of the much-needed attention, especially in terms of funding. The incessant industrial actions embarked upon by academic unions at different levels of education are ready proofs of this assertion.

Also, the United Nations’ recommendation that 26 per cent of the annual national budget of a country be assigned to education, has been grossly neglected by the Nigeria government, who only allocates a little above 7 per cent of the country’s budget.

There is the need to increase the budgetary allocation for the education sector, at least, to 15 per cent to better fight infrastructural deficiencies and other rots in the sector. There is also need to re-emphasise that universal basic education is free, requiring the little contribution of parents through the Parents Teachers Association scheme.

Just last week, President Muhammadu Buhari, at the inauguration of the National Economic Council (NEC) for the year 2019-2023, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, declared that “it is now (a) crime for parents to keep children out of school or deny them basic education.”

He also stressed the need to take very seriously and enforce very rigorously the statutory provisions on free and compulsory basic education. He noted that the first nine years of basic education were crucial for the development of any child and thus could not be toyed with.

The president urged state governors to make a firm commitment to be personally involved in ensuring that every child of school age actually went to school throughout the crucial nine years of basic education.

The extent to which federal government will implement this resolution remains unknown as there are fears already that it will end up as one of the several lip-service projects associated to the regime. The need to curb the number of out-of-school children certainly requires a concerted effort from all the relevant educational stakeholders. All hands must, therefore be on deck.