Nigeria’s prospects of raising future leaders are dimming, given a new figure of 13.2 million out-of-school children in the country, compiled by the Universal Basic Education Commission and UNICEF. According to UNICEF, 64 million children of primary school age are not receiving education globally as of 2017. This translates to about 21 per cent of the global figure. Though precarious, it is not surprising as it is only surpassing its own records. In the past decade, Nigeria has had the dubious distinction of having 10.5 million of out-of-school children, which was regarded as the largest in the world. This calls for a paradigm shift if the country is not to be totally left behind by other nations.
The government agency and UNICEF blame the drift on the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East. The insurgency has destroyed education there, but it is only a part of the story. The true causes of the downward spiral are diverse.
Apart from the insurgency, there has been little investment in first-class public education in the country. Furthermore, religious and cultural practices come into play. Many of the 36 state governments invest little in the lives of the future leaders, perhaps because they do not see educating the masses as essential. Pupils study under trees or in dilapidated buildings. Libraries have no books or furnishing; toilets and electricity are a rarity.
This cuts across the federation. UBEC’s Executive Secretary, Hamid Boboji, says that 24 states did not access funding from the agency between 2015 and 2017. Because of that, N47 billion is lying fallow with the commission. Had they played their part, these funds would have gone a long way in improving basic education in the country. Indeed, no state has accessed the N36.5 billion available for 2018, UBEC adds. States should stop treating education with levity. They should access the money and put it to optimal use in the face of the increasing illiteracy level in the country.
However, the situation is more disastrous in Northern Nigeria. UBEC estimates that more than 80 per cent of the 13.2 million children are found there. In 2017, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, stated that 90 per cent of girls of school age in the North were not receiving education. This is due in part to culture and religion. Many parents there prefer to send their children to Koranic schools. In a world that is increasingly defined by science and information technology, they are at a gross disadvantage. It is the government’s duty to deploy various strategies and incentives to wean these parents off their outdated belief.
Likewise, culture has become a counterpoise to education with some parents erroneously believing that the girl-child must be married off early. At 1.1 million, the UBEC/UNICEF survey estimates that Bauchi (North-East) has the largest number of children who are out of school. It is followed by Katsina (North-West) with 781,500. Boboji said, “…other parts of Nigeria are struggling to catch up with the rest of the world through children education, but the North is wobbling and being drawn back by wrong perceptions of what constitutes education and its true value in human and national development.”
However, conflicts — particularly Fulani herdsmen terrorism — in certain states and economic recession have reversed the little gains made in educating children. The North-Central is the worst hit in this respect. In Benue, the Executive Secretary of the state’s Teaching Service Board, Wilfred Uji, stated that the incessant herdsmen attacks there had disrupted the school calendar and prevented “300,000 children from going to school.”
To deal with the cankerworm, it is paramount to enhance security in the country. School enrolment cannot improve if insurgency in the North-East remains high, for instance. Leadership counts, too. Political leaders, traditional authorities and faith-based organisations should help to persuade parents to send their children to school. Also, the Federal Government must compel the nomadic herdsmen to adopt ranching. They are wreaking havoc on settled farming communities, and also disrupting the school system. To deepen attraction to education, states should invest in the training and welfare of teachers.
On a bright note, however, the Federal Government’s school feeding programme is a good omen that should be deepened in all the states. The impact of the programme will soon become evident. The state governments must access the UBEC funds as and when due to enhance school infrastructure. For now, public schools are an eyesore, a disincentive to parents and their children, who would rather opt for neat, safe and conducive environments. Such funds would prove useful in the provision of IT equipment the pupils require to compete with their counterparts elsewhere.
Instructively, the most advanced countries invest in their future by giving children quality education. To wit, basic education is free in France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and a host of other Western countries. The result is clear in the constant innovations and advancement in the standards of human life.
Similarly, the Middle East countries invest part of their oil fortunes in education and possess high literacy levels unavailable in Nigeria. Therefore, for Nigeria to vouchsafe its future, state and local governments, on whose laps the burden of basic education primarily falls, should prioritise basic education, making it free, of a high standard and compulsory in line with the Child Rights Act.