By Suzan Edeh
One of the major challenges rocking the northern part the country is the problem of out-of-school children. Even though the government of Nigeria has increasingly recognised the right of children to education and development, efforts by respective state governments in the north have not necessarily translated into equitable advantage for the out-of-school children in the region.
The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF report shows that out of the 10.5 million out-of-school children in the country, 6.5 million are in the northern part of the country. The most worrisome aspect of the report is that 40 per cent of Nigerian children aged 6-11, do not attend any primary school with the northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country.
Another area of challenge in the North is the issue of girl-child education. The gender gap remains particularly wide and the proportion of girls to boys in school ranges from one girl to two boys, to one to three in some states.
Despite increased enrollment rates of children into schools in the country, literacy rate among children between the ages 5-16 is relatively low at 41 per cent with the North-East region ranking 8.7 per cent for boys while that of girls ranked 7 per cent.
Insecurity, a contributing factor:
One major challenge giving rise to the challenge of out-of-school children is the current wave of insecurity bedeviling the north. Activities of insurgency has discouraged many parents from sending their children to school, hence enrolment is relatively low in the region.
Since 2012, teachers and students have been increasingly targeted by insurgents, resulting in killings, abductions and threats.
Many schools were bombed, set on fire or attacked by insurgents in the north and increasingly, insurgents have turned their attention to students and teachers, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack in 2013.
Additionally, the Borno State Ministry of Education estimated that 15,000 children in the state stopped attending classes between February and May as a result of attacks.
School teachers appeared to be targeted specifically, with some 30 reported to have been shot dead, sometimes during class, from January to September 2013. A number of teachers also said they had been intimidated by Boko Haram elements or subjected to close surveillance by the group in remote towns in Borno State.
Abduction of school girls – April 2014:
More than 200 girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, Borno State since April 2014. Recent reports have also stated that eight more girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in May.
Stakeholders in the country have continued to call on the abductors to immediately return these girls unharmed to their communities, and for those with influence on the perpetrators to do everything they can to secure the safe return of the girls and to bring their abductors to justice.
Other factors militating against basic education in the northern part of the country range from the fact that many children do not attend school because their labour is needed to either help at home or bring additional income to the family. Many families cannot afford the associated costs of sending their children to schools such as uniforms and textbooks. For others, the distance to the nearest school is a major hindrance.
Another cause of low enrollment and completion in the north due to cultural bias, parents preferring to send their children to Qur’anic schools instead of formal schools, poverty and early marriage for girls.
UNICEF calls for action by stakeholders:
It is against this backdrop that UNICEF D Field office in Bauchi in collaboration with the Bauchi Radio Corporation, organised a one day media interactive session to mark the Day of the African Child (DAC).
The DAC is a resolution passed by the African Union Assembly in 1991 to celebrate June 16th of every year in commemoration of the 1976 protest by school children in Soweto, South Africa. The students protested against an education designed to further the purposes of the apartheid regime. The brutal response of the apartheid security agencies to the students’ protest resulted in the death of a number of them. The protest eventually led to the collapse of the apartheid regime.
The aim of the interactive session was to update education stakeholders on the state of basic education in the north, the interventions of donor agencies towards education, and to address bottlenecks/challenges militating against basic education in the region.
The meeting was facilitated by the UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Dr. Abdulai Kaikai, Managing Director of Bauchi Radio Corporation, Mohammed Ahmed Abdullahi, UNICEF D Field Education Specialist, Mariam Dikwa and UNICEF Field Communication Officer, Samuel Kaalu.
The facilitators harped on the need for respective state governments in the region to complement efforts of donor partners like UNICEF and DFID by ensuring the timely release of budgetary allocations for the funding of basic education in the north in order to address the problem of out-of-school children.
At the meeting, Dr. Kakai made a presentation on the current situation of basic education in the 10 D Field Office states of Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi, Yobe, Jigawa, Taraba, Gombe, Plateau, Sokoto and Kano.
Kaikai who was represented by UNICEF Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, Dr Danjuma Almustafa said that stakeholders in the north must strive to change the negative values attached to western education in order to address the problem of out-of-school children.
According to him, “Governments in the north must create the conditions that will enable children to access basic education by providing enough schools that are accessible to the people, providing enough and qualified teachers, make provisions for learning materials and monitor how inputs are producing desired results.”
In the area of prompt release of budgetary allocations to education, Danjuma said that both state and local governments should map out education sector plans because according to him, “once a problem is analysed, one will know what kind of resources are required.
“After analysing the areas of challenges in the sector, the next thing is for government to ensure that what is planned is actually carried out and to monitor when it is actually released so that it is properly applied.”
He said government should not hesitate to sanction corrupt local or state governments that misappropriate funds for education, adding that government should redouble its efforts and redeem its commitments towards the sector.
In her submission, UNICEF’s Education Specialist, Saratu Yunusa said the basic education intervention of UNICEF is in 13 high burden states selected based on the lowest education indicators of enrollment, attendance, completion and gender disparity.
According to her, one of UNICEF’s approach to improve quality of education and address the problem of out-of-school children, particularly that of girls in the north is through the implementation of the Girl-Child project.
She said the project was first launched in Nigeria in 2004 to address gender disparity in education and was implemented in two phases. The first phase (2005-2008) covered six states of Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Niger and Sokoto. The support got 423,000 girls into primary schools and 225,000 girls transited to Junior Secondary schools.
“The second phase was implemented in four states; Bauchi, Katsina, Niger and Sokoto from 2008 to 2012. In Bauchi State for instance, the Girls’ Education Project II commenced alongside GEP I with the replication of GEP in all the 20 local government areas of the state.
The implementation of the second phase of the GEP in Bauchi , recorded tremendous successes as there was an increase in the enrollment of girls in schools by eight per cent. The total girls enrollment increased from 290,469 in 2009/2010 to 685,644 while it increased from 304,929 to 737,505 in 2010/2011/”
She gave an overview of the GEP, with the UNICEF Education Specialist, Mairama Dikwa saying that GEP I and II informed the design of the third phase of the project and is implemented in Bauchi, Kastina, Niger, Sokoto and Zamfara states.