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Children’s Day: Can Nigeria salvage the over 10.5m out-of-school children?

By Amaka Abayomi & Laju Arenyeka

As Nigeria prepares to celebrate yet another Children’s Day on Monday, May 27, there is an increased need for proper management of the country’s resources to ensure that the over 10.5 million out-of-school (OOS) children are absorbed into the school system.

According to data released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, an estimated 61 million children of primary school age are being denied their right to education globally. Nigeria alone is home to an estimated 10.5 million, 3.6 million more than in 2000, or 42 per cent of primary school-age population.

Eight-year-old Mary is one of such children. Her schedule, however, is different from that of many eight-year-olds. While her mates usually go  to school every morning, Mary carries a tray on her head and follows her mother round the Festac Town axis of Lagos State selling beans.

There is a sad look in her eyes as she responds when we asked her why she is not in school. She quietly shook her head and said; “I don’t remember what class I stopped,”  just before she continued the day’s journey with her mother.

Thirteen- year-old Samuel stopped secondary school after JSS 1 because “my parents could not afford to pay my school fees, that was why I stopped,” he said, while taking a brief break from his job as a bus conductor on the Yaba/Ojuelegba route. When asked why he did not enroll in a public school instead, Samuel says: “I don’t know, I guess my parents don’t like it.”

File photo: kids playing on a street during school hour...
File photo: kids playing on a street during school hour…

Acknowledging the high number, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, at the 2013 Commonwealth Day celebration, lamented that 10.5 million primary school-age children in Nigeria are denied access to basic education, a figure she said is the highest in the world.

“Nigeria has over 10.5 million OOS children, which is one-sixth of the world’s OOS children. Other countries of the world have accounted for just 5/6 while Nigeria is taking 1/6, which is a very serious challenge,” the Minister said.

Despite a significant increase in net enrollment rates in recent years, 42 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, particularly for girls.

Increased enrollment rates have also created challenges in ensuring quality education and satisfactory learning achievement as resources are spread more thinly across a growing number of students. It is not rare to see cases of 100 pupils per teacher or students sitting under trees outside the school building due to lack of classrooms.

To address this, the Federal Government, in 2004, approved the implementation of the compulsory and free Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act aimed at fighting illiteracy and extending basic education opportunities to all children in the country.

Pointing out measures being taken to make education attractive to parents and their wards, especially in Lagos State, the Chairperson, State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, Lagos State, Mrs. Gbolahan Daodu, said government has embarked on massive renovation old classrooms and construction of schools, built more equipped libraries, distributed books and other learning materials, and trained and retrained teachers on modern teaching and learning methods.

“We have moved from standing in front the class to pupil-centered teaching. We are appealing to parents to send their ward to school because though the free education policy is in place but we can’t force the parents to send their wards to school.”

According to the Education for All Global Monitoring Report by UNESCO which was released at the World Economic Forum on Africa two weeks ago, of the 17 countries analysed, Nigeria can provide education to 2.4 million of her OOS children if the country’s natural oil revenue is well managed.

Findings of the paper also indicated that Nigeria could raise almost half a billion US dollars annually for education if 20 per cent of its oil revenue were invested in education. The amount raised would be almost three times the amount Nigeria currently received in aid to education.

The paper noted these could finance access to primary school for 86 per cent of their OOS children or 42 per cent of their out of school adolescents if their natural resources are properly managed.

Director-General of UNESO, Irina Bokova, said “national commitment to education has to be supported by adequate resources. The 17 countries covered in this study face tremendous educational challenges that can be met only through additional financing to expand their systems. The study finds that revenue from natural resources could enable these countries to reach over 11 million OOS children. This is an investment in future generations that should be seized now.”


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