With recent statistics of 20 million out-of-school children in Nigeria by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), stakeholders in the sector have expressed concern over the consequences and called on the Federal Government to save the sector.
In its latest data, UNESCO said the new methodology used showed that 244 million children and youths between ages six and 18 are out of school globally.
This mind-boggling figure, which was 13.5 million based on last report released by World Bank, has raised fresh concerns on the state of basic education and role of successive governments in boosting the sub-sector.
Among policies initiated by the present administration to boost enrollment, was the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP). The government, through a strategic document launched in 2018, had expressed readiness to recover 70 per cent of children who had dropped out of school.
It promised to double primary school enrollment from 46 to 90 per cent, and double both female and secondary school completion rates from 42 to 80 per cent.
Even the introduction of Better Education Service Delivery For All (BESDA) targeted at reducing number of out-of-school children seemed not to have reduced the figures.
The report said Nigeria holds unenviable position of being the country with largest population of out-of-school children of primary school age: 6.4 million in 2000; 7.5 million in 2010; 9.6 million in 2020 and 13.5million in 2021.
Bauchi, Kebbi, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa and eight other states housed most of Nigeria’s out-of-school children. The 12 states at the top of the chart have about 8.739 million of the country’s out-of-school children.
Bauchi State had the most with (1, 239,759), Zamfara (883,952), Kebbi (877,677); Katsina (873,633); Kano (837,479), Jigawa (784,391), Kaduna (652,990) and Gombe (567,852) followed closely.
Other states that ranked high on the list are Adamawa (489,855), Niger (478,412), Oyo (463,280), Sokoto (462,164), Yobe (405,100), Benue (383,022), Taraba (338,975) and Borno (266,478).
They also include Osun (260,522); Plateau (258,256); Lagos (229,264)
Nasarawa (204,771) and Rivers (196,584).
States with the lowest number of out-of-school children were Edo (76,446), Abia (86,124), Bayelsa (86,124), Anambra (92,332), Ekiti (99,778), Ondo (113,746) and Enugu (117,091).
Others are FCT (121,587), Imo (125,414), Cross River (140,944), Kwara (141,325), Ebonyi (151,000) and Ogun (158,797).
Issues of insecurity, kidnapping and poverty
STAKEHOLDERS identified insecurity, kidnapping and schools closure as some of the factors responsible for increase in number of out-of-school children.
Some major school abductions include the April 14, 2014 kidnap of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State; 110 pupils from Dapchi, Yobe State; 344 pupils from Kankara, Katsina State; 276 pupils from Jangebe, Zamfara State; 140 students from Chikun in Kaduna State and 102 pupils from Yauri, Kebbi State.
According to UNICEF, a total of 11,536 schools were closed for specific periods last year, with 5,330,631 students, whose schooling was disrupted and learning severely impacted.
“When schools are attacked, children and parents see them as places of danger, making parents afraid to send their wards to school and affecting their mental health. Those directly impacted are traumatised and are slow to recover from the shock of an attack on their school.”
Despite accessing its funds for basic education from Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), most northern states still boast of highest number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. Programme Assistant on Education Youthhub Africa, Kebbi State, Peter Ogah, blamed the rising figure on poverty.
Although Kebbi, for instance, is not plagued with much insecurity as other states, Ogah said some parents prefer to survive than send their wards to school, while there is a gradual decline in interest for education. The children are used for economic ventures, rather than being sent to school.
Based on UBEC’s guideline, he pointed out that a huge chunk of funds accessed are used for renovation and construction with just a fraction going into teachers’ training and retraining, curriculum development and other factors that truly drive education quality.
Public Analyst, James Nkpong, lamented that most governors who access UBEC funds for basic education end up diverting such into something else.
Nkpong said: “If you look at budgets of most states, you will see that there is little provision for education. When classrooms are not well-equipped, the environment is not conducive and people find it difficult to send their children to school.
What stakeholders say
A Professor of Adult Education at Ekiti State University, Olubukola Olaniyi, attributed the situation to a variety of issues.
She identified insecurity, poverty, ill-health, death of parents, hunger and lack of fees, as major problems responsible for the current figure of out-of-school children.
According to her, “Many parents who have more than three or four children in school and living above poverty line may not be able to see them through school.
For instance, she said more than 150 million children between ages five and 17 are victims of forced labour and often leave school because of this, while 73 million do hazardous jobs, which affect their schooling.
“We cannot distance the attitude of society from all of these. Now ASUU is on strike for several months and some students, whether we like it or not, may not go back to classrooms.
She stressed the need for government to put necessary machinery in place to tackle insecurity, especially in the north, and need to embark on aggressive enlightenment campaigns on importance of education.
Olaniyi also called for more sensitisation about school and for successful old students who they look up to as role models and mentors to be brought back to talk to students.
According to her, parents, society, school and government should come together to ensure that children go to school and those already schooling do not drop out of school.
A former Director of Institute of Education, University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Prof. Lasiele Yahaya, said all stakeholders must play their part to address the menace.
He said: “The school should provide support or counselling services to encourage students to stay in school because dropping out may be due to family or parental problems.
“It can also be due to beating or flogging by the teacher instead of encouraging the students, forcing them to run away. We can also attribute it to poverty, leading to not getting the desired materials, or paying fees late, which may ultimately lead to dropping out.
“Some parents don’t even know the value of education and have more children than they can cater for. Some students also drop out and become bullies, especially if the school is not properly organised.
“The society itself is not helping matters as there are no support services for orphans as we have in other climes,” Yahaya stated.
She also tasked parents to be more responsible as government has many responsibilities and may not be able to address all issues pertaining to education.
“Then there should be counselling services and every school must have one counsellor to take care of students’ emotional challenges. The school must be monitored, while provision of learning facilities must be a priority.
“It’s not every time that teachers should flog or punish students. And it is very necessary for parents to plan and work. Poverty should not be used as an excuse. People should plan and work hard,” he said.
A professor of Geography at Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Usman Adamu, identified poverty, proximity to school, and inadequate facilities, among others, as factors hindering retention in school and completion of education in the country.
Prof. Steve Nwokeocha of the Department of Sociology of Education, University of Calabar, had argued that a way out of the educational crisis is to urgently address issues of Almajiri.
Nwokeocha, who is also an executive director at Africa Federation of Teaching Regulatory Authorities with the African Union, Addis Ababa, had said: “Almajiris constitute the largest number of the country’s out-of-school children. To me, that’s the high point of what we are not doing very well on education.”
Speaking on what to do, the scholar stated: “We need collective and constructive action to deal with the almajiri system; they have to be mainstreamed into the formal educational system.”
According to him, investment in education is very low, despite the significant impact of both national and international interventions, and called for increased allocation to education to provide the needed facilities to bring back those who are out of school.
“It is apparent too that little premium is placed on girl-child education, this is an issue tied with traditions and deep-rooted among Nigerian families; that a girl- child does not deserve as much education, if at all, as a boy. In some regions in the country, not a few underage girls are married off before they could learn to read and write,” Nwokeocha added.
On his part, Prof Adetayo Olusina of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, urged the Federal Government to employ a multifaceted approach to resolve the out-of-school children crisis before it snowballs into a menace beyond the grasp of the country.
He advised government at federal, state and local levels to embark on a five-year advocacy and enlightenment campaign for families to let their children enjoy the benefits of primary and secondary education.
This, he noted, should be done simultaneously by providing educational facilities and human resources to support the campaign, with needed funds adequately and timely provided.
An educationist, Mrs. Tomisi Olayori, described the latest figure as a national disgrace that demands urgent action. She decried the fact that this was amid the crisis rocking universities with the over seven months strike by Academic Strike Union of Universities (ASUU), which has forced many students out of school as well.
In line with global best practices, Olayori said it is imperative to engage families and communities, provide social and economic incentives to bring children back to school; while creating and strengthening safe school initiatives to make every child safe in school.
“Where the environment is unsafe for schooling, government can create community school clusters as an emergency measure with the deployment of virtual learning where possible.
“Through targeted investment in education, social and economic support for families, government can reduce out-of-school population by 80 per cent in the next four years,” she said.
Chief Executive Officer of international charity organisation, IA-Foundation, Mrs Ibironke Adeagbo, described the figure as worrisome and distressing.
Adeagbo pleaded with the Federal Government to rise to the challenge and give priority attention to education to secure the future of the country.
“Education in Nigeria is in a state of emergency. Government must proffer strategic solutions to save the future of our children,’’ she said.
On her part, Dr Yinka Olopade, called on the Federal Government and those at the sub-national levels to be intentional in investing in education.
Olopade said: “We don’t even need UNESCO to let us know. It is something that is obvious; we all see these things happen in our communities.
“The government should be very intentional and deliberate in their planning. It’s unfortunate that government has nonchalant attitude to education and so, one of the things it should do is to be intentional.
“Do you want Nigerians to be educated? If yes, then government should begin to plan. It should ensure that schools are funded adequately, qualified staff are recruited, continuous training is done and we have heads of schools that know what they are supposed to be doing and let there be proper monitoring and supervision.
“The government should build more schools or collaborate with private schools. It can take some children to private schools and give those schools grants,” Olopade said.
Founder of Little Saints School, Lagos, Dr Elias Thomas, urged government at all levels to increase budgetary allocation to the sector.
He said: “Government needs to increase funding for education. The budgetary allocation is too low over the years; it has never met the 26 per cent recommended by UNESCO.
“Allocations for ridiculous expenses in the executive budget should be used in funding basic education. This will help in repairs and construction of classrooms, and access roads.
“There should be incentives to boost school enrollment, especially in rural areas. The Ministry of Education should also liaise with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) on the need to educate the people on benefits of education, especially primary education,” Thomas said.
Head of Department of Mass Communication, University of Ilorin, Dr. Kehinde Kadiri, blamed poverty for the increase.
She noted that an average Nigerian does not have money to eat three square meals per day, let alone financing children’s education.
Besides, she said cultural beliefs and tradition that education is not important are also contributing to increase in number of out-of-school children.
For instance, Boko Haram adherents believe western education is evil and are against sending children to school. According to her, not sending children to school will reduce labour capacity of the country.
Besides, she said such children would be easy prey to terrorist groups as they are not knowledgeable enough and could be easily brainwashed. Kadiri also cited girl-child marriage as one of the major factors responsible for low enrollment.
According to her, “Some of the out-of-school children, especially girls, are forced into early marriage. When a girl-child is married, to a large extent, that person will not be able to contribute to national development”.
To address this, Kadiri advocated that a law should be implemented to punish parents who fail to send their wards to school.
“Law punishing parents who fail to put their wards in school should be revived and implemented. But before the law can be executed, it is also important for government to put everything in place by making sure that schools are well catered for, “ she said.
To further address the problem, Kadiri urged the government to pay primary and secondary school teachers well, so that they can give their best in training of the children.
“When children are out of school, it has a multiplier effect. It affects economic, politics and social class. Even the child of the rich will not be able to enjoy his/her life if majority of people are not educated because those who did not go to school will always constitute nuisance and disrupt peaceful co-existence between them and the rich family,” she explained.
Prof. Adepoju Tejumaiye of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) expressed fears that with the latest figure of out-of-school children, the future may not be bright enough for the country.
“It is simple logic because for a large number of people to be dropping or are not going to school, where do we place national development?” he queried.
To return students back to the classroom, Tejumaiye advocated compulsory primary and secondary education for all children in the country, calling on government to enact a law that would make it compulsory.
He also tasked enlightenment agencies like National Orientation Agency (NOA) to initiate campaigns educating parents on the values of education.
Prof. Adamu Tanko of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), blamed the increase on poor handling of the sector by successive governments.
He lamented that Nigeria’s education system has not been made functional and effective over the years. “If we do not make our education very viable and effective, the crisis will continue to get worse.”
Tanko appealed to the government to fund education, saying every sector played huge part in national development. According to him, “while every sector is important, there is a sector that develops all other sectors.”
“We need to refocus our system. Our governance and education policies need to change. I think the problem started when we elected bad leaders who did not understand what national development is, “ he advised.
HOWEVER, the Federal Government has disagreed with UNESCO on the latest figure of out-of-school children. Director of Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Benjamin Goong, said government conducts yearly school census.
He said: “From the National Population Commission (NPC), we get the birth rate. The birth rate tells us how many children are born in Nigeria every year. The school census tells us how many are in school. When we minus the birth rate from how many that are in school, then we say the rest are not in school.
“We have these schools, we reach them, conduct census and go to NPC and work on this template and come up with the figures. Where is UNESCO getting its own figures?”
According to him, the figures indicated that Nigeria had not seen improvement in the number of out-of-school children in the last five years and should begin to improve in this area, which is not true.