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COVID-19 worsens Nigeria’s out-of-school children problem — Investigation

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out-of-school

figure may rise from 13m to 15m

By Adesina Wahab and Ebele Orakpo

THE negative effects of the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease in the country are not only limited to the shutdown of schools in the country, but are poised to raise the number of out-of-school children, OSC, in the country, investigation by Vanguard has revealed.

By the time full academic activities resume in the nation’s schools, especially at primary and secondary school levels, the figure for OSC in the country, currently put at 13.2 by the United Nations International Children’s Fund, UNICEF, may rise to 15 million.

Expectedly, the Northern States, which account for more than 70 percent of the figure, may still account for most of the new OSC cases.

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Causative factors for the increase include mass job losses, drop in earnings by parents and guardians, long closure of schools that has led to stidents’ interest in education waning, children, who ought to be in school now forced into agricultural practices, renewed insurgency in some parts of the country among others.

Though the factors are not new, they have been accentuated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

Even in Lagos, the economic capital of the country, the number of children hawkers has tremendously increased, with nose mask merchants dotting bus stops and major motor parks.

With economic indicators in the country not favourable, as the World Bank and other agencies recently said close to 90 million Nigerians now live in poverty, some pupils and students may not be able to resume in private primary and secondary schools.

This is just as public primary and secondary schools are not growing to keep pace with population growth. Commenting on the development, the Zonal Co-ordinator, National Teachers’ Institute, North-Central Zone, Dr Edith Nwabogo Ekpunobi, noted that though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 per cent of 6-11-year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.

“Most of these children are in Nigeria’s Northern states where Almajiri system is practised. Of recent, the Boko Haram insurgency has truncated academic activities in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, helping to increase the number of out-of-school children. Apart from the Almajirai and children affected by activities of Boko Haram in the North, there is the issue of nomads and migrant fishermen’s children.The Federal Government had introduced mobile Nomadic schools and mobile schools for migrant fishermen. Here, the radio is also used to teach them.

“Again, there is the issue of migrant farmers in some states where children do not go to school during the farming season. In the South-East, there is the problem of the boy-child, who goes on apprenticeship instead of going to school. All these examples contribute immensely to the growing number of out-of school children in Nigeria,” she said.

The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, during the12th Edition of the Ministerial Press Briefing on the OSC Phenomenon held in Abuja, said a recent Demographic Health Survey (DHS) showed an increase in the population of OSC in Nigeria.

Adamu, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Sonny Echono, gave the reasons for this unfortunate phenomenon to include financial incapacitation, violent conflicts and ignorance on the part of parents/guardians.

He listed the most endemic states of the OSC to include: Kano, Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Kaduna, Taraba, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara, Oyo, Benue Jigawa and Ebonyi.

 

“ln the last four years, therefore, we have been making efforts to determine the exact number of out-of-school children. However, the good news is that the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, and other stakeholders have been working towards this common goal of determining the number of children of school age who are not in school.

“Similarly, UBEC, the World Bank, UNICEF and other development partners are collaborating to reduce the number of out-of-school children,” he said.

Adamu added that the ministry in collaboration with the National Mass Adult and Non-Formal Education Commission had also developed a template to capture the OSC within the space of the next five years.

“ We have sent out our team to countries like Pakistan and Indonesia that have similar issues with Nigeria and find a way they were able to overcome it.

“We have also carried out advocacy and sensitisation programmes on monitoring and mentoring of School Based Management Committees (SBMCs) on school governance in 36 states and FCT.

“Steps are being taken under UBEC to construct 2,493 new classroom, 2,457 VIP toilets,19 laboratories, 91boreholes, 1,266 renovated, classrooms, procurement of 192,985 pupils and 10,038 teachers’ furniture,’’ Adamu said.

However, experts say the adoption of online teaching can help to reduce OSC figures, if not for some infrastructural and economic challenges.

The Founder/Coordinator, Education for the Vulnerable Project, Mrs. Peju Okungbowa, said online education has the potential to reduce the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria but it is fraught with so many challenges.

“I understand that a lot of people have diverse opinions about the necessity of online education in the Nigerian context and I would like to first start by defining education. Education is the act of teaching and learning and this can be achieved on a formal and informal level. The Oxford English dictionary defines education as the training of the mind and abilities. From the definition of education here, it is clear that education can take place anywhere; even where there are no physical walls.

“Going back to the subject of online education, it is safe to say that it is an education that requires a computer or mobile device and an internet connection. It is education without walls. I have taken a lot of online courses and I can boldly say that it is not inferior to face-to-face learning in terms of quality and content. The only difference is the physical presence and we have tried to close this gap through video conferencing and small study groups.”

Mrs Precious Okaka, a preschool coordinator, also believes that online learning has the potential to drastically reduce the number of out-of-school children only if the challenges are dealt with.

Vanguard

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