For a successful career in today’s competitive global economy, education remains a crucial ingredient and getting the children enrolled in schools and ensuring that they stay long enough to acquire the skills and knowledge that are required remains a huge task. Sadly, many children around the world, particularly those in Africa, are missing out because they are either not going to school at all, or when they go, they do not stay long enough to be sufficiently educated.
A report jointly released by the Education for Global Monitoring and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, revealed a deeply worrying development, and that present efforts at reducing the number of children out-of-school had halted or in some cases, even mounting. For instance, Nigeria now has the highest out-of-school children in the world, with more girls either out of school or dropping out due to poverty, child marriage, early pregnancy, and cultural practices. The South-East geopolitical zone presents another worrying setting with low enrolment of boys in schools.
However, in the last 15 years, there is a significant reduction in the number of out-of-school children. This may be due to the outcome of the 2000 World Education Forum meeting in Kadar, Senegal, where world leaders committed themselves to achieving ‘Education for All by 2015.’ Lately, things have not been so rosy and since 2005, the decline has been slower or even worse, especially in Africa, with the number going up, implying that it is the only region experiencing an increase, instead of a decline.
Last year’s report followed the same pattern with Nigeria having the highest number of out-of-school children, at 10.5million, the same figure and position it was at in 2013.
Surprisingly, this year’s report is more damning with Nigeria having the highest number of out-of-school children and one of the worst education systems in the world. This ugly scenario has been attributed to high level of corruption, crisis in education sector and the lack of genuine investment.
A report such as this is definitely not good for our country. We cannot call ourselves the giant of Africa when we cannot get our education right. To be a global player, it must come with a cutting-edge scientific and technological prowess, which is a function of quality education.
It is regrettable that for the past 15years, despite the country’s enormous revenues from crude oil sale and huge funds received from foreign donors for purposes of investment in education, no fundamental improvement has come the way of our public education. The result of this is the pathetic picture of children seen roaming about the streets as beggars and hawkers while some are trafficked within and across the country as house helps or slave labourers. Others end up as prostitutes, kidnappers, oil bunkers and armed robbers.
It is against this backdrop that Nigeria and Africa generally must rethink their approach to education as a whole. A holistic policy in which better personnel and facilities are provided, but more importantly, getting every school-age child, especially the marginalised, the poor, the remote rural population, those affected by conflicts, ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities, identified by the UNESCO report as the most affected, into schools, would go a long way in enhancing individual economic status. It will also strengthen social cohesion, thus reducing tension and conflicts in society and accelerating national development.
But this cannot be done under the present neo-liberal and pro-market education policies of the past decade that de-emphasised government role in providing investment for education. Therefore, the Buhari government must work assiduously to avoid such mistakes by halting all such policies. It should make education the cornerstone of development.
While this is being done, government at all levels must urgently get those millions of out-of-school children into functional schools and ensure that when they finally come out of the school system, they have the skills that can be put to use for their benefits and that of the larger society.