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Childhoods cut short

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By Yusuf Hassan Wada

IN Northern Nigeria, a massive push is underway to bring the chance to learn to millions of out-of-school children through Northern Nigeria’s #GiveNorthEducation movement hashtags on social media platforms. Nigeria is said to have the highest number of out of school children in the world.

IDPS

Estimated number of out-of-school children in Nigeria is in the range of 10.5 – 13.2 million aged 5-14 years with 60 per cent being girls. About 69 per cent of out of these school children are from the North, according to UNESCO, UNICEF, NBS, UBEC and the Federal Ministry of Education. This is truly a national and regional emergency.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, describes out-of-school children as those within the primary school age who have had no primary school education or didn’t complete it.

Where are we going? Quite a mundane question, you would say. But such common questions when addressed by uncommon minds often yield profound discoveries and insights.

For millions of young people, these are the years they should be spending in the classroom, learning not just how to read, write and count but also how to inquire, assess, debate and calculate; how to look after themselves and others; how to stand on their own two feet. Yet these millions are being robbed of that time.

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While the free education for children in almost every state has been a step in the right direction, there are other factors that hinder children’s access to education and a healthy environment such as parents’ ability to provide healthcare and nutrition for their children as well as their ability to provide their children with school uniforms and materials for school. In this instance, the quality of the basic school system must not in any way be sacrificed for its free nature. And, unfortunately, this is the sad reality the public basic education system is faced with.

The Nigerian system of education faces additional challenges such as a decline in our enrollments and performance indicators in the form of inadequately prepared teachers; a lack of quality teaching and learning materials; insufficient funding; and ambivalent support from some parents and communities.

However, poor quality education is tantamount to no education! A visit to any public primary school will readily reveal the inadequacies and the neglect of depreciating facilities. Yet, students are enrolled beyond the capacity of these structures, without a corresponding increase in the number of teachers employed for effective teaching and learning.

Also, so many policies and laws have been left unimplemented or hurriedly implemented by successive governments. We have the Almajiri programme, National Policy on Education, the Child Right Act, Compulsory free Universal Basic Education Act, the Teacher’s Education policies, etc. The social costs of these hurriedly implemented policies are yet to bear fruit. This is a knee-jerk response to a complex and multi-faceted problem which is a core driver of our continued underdevelopment.

These are useful policies no doubt, but where is the integrity of that wisdom that gives the people in villages, Almajiris and the rest to rise to their full potentials. The contradictions are as numerous and endless, just as they are heartbreaking for those who care and know the sort of booby traps and time-bombs we are planting for ourselves.

Thus, for the region to avert these negative statistics, current and future governments must be focused, realistic and disciplined in the way and manner they take decisions, review and implement those decisions. This is because this entails their recognising their duties to society.

Over time, the government in whatever form in Northern Nigeria has failed to mitigate or address the most critical issues affecting us. Specifically to the Almajiri menace, they have refused to make critical laws to stop parents from sending children to unknown destinations.

Our leaders need to push a bill to their various state assemblies with the aim of banning selfish people from sending their kids to the street.

However, despite the involvement of past governments in resolving the issue through the integration of the Almajiri model system into the mainstream educational system of the country, much more still needs to be done as infrastructure in some states are neglected and left in dilapidation by state governments. There is a need to also integrate Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, STEM, programmes into the system.

Funding has also been a problem in the education sector with Nigeria’s national budget not rising above eight per cent in recent times. According to the 2018 report of UBEC, none of the 36 states accessed the UBE intervention fund in 2018, while 24 of them didn’t access the fund in 2017.

The fundamental requirement of good governance is transparency, and the least form of transparency is the availability of public finance information. Public awareness and campaigns aimed at influencing government to create platforms that would support public-private partnership with relevant stakeholders to influence government and NGOs on policy making coupled with tracking of public funds. Public funds must also work for people through open governance and transparency. All forms of street-begging and parental neglect should be criminalised by the government while poverty reduction programmes should be implemented to reduce the juvenile delinquency of the Almajiri in Northern Nigeria.

There should also be constant supervision and monitoring of the Almajiri school programmes and curriculum to check negative instructions and orientation.

We have little choice now. Our region’s falling educational standard indicates grave dangers for the supposed leaders of tomorrow. The way the North utilises her population, knowledge and experiences from these repeated educational reforms outside the political lens, will determine the extent to which education and economic developments will connect.

We can provide a quality education that would serve thousands of families well. We must, therefore, prepare for the storm to develop just like our brothers and sisters down South. And this should happen soon and not later.

Vanguard

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