The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) has called on the federal government to engage critical stakeholders on how to end the out-of-school children menace in the country. KEHINDE OSASONA revisits the issue and wonders if President Tinubu can reverse the trend.
FG’s move, deafening statistics
The Right to Education is clearly enshrined in Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Although regarded as non-justiciable, it has been given effect and made justiceable by other domestic laws such as the Universal Basic Education Act, 2004.
The Act provides for compulsory, free universal basic education for all children of school age in the country.
Consequently, it becomes an offence for a parent not to enroll his or her ward in school, as such parent is liable to be reprimanded on the first offence or risk a jail term on subsequent convictions.
But despite this law,today in Nigeria, it is a common sight to see children lazying or lurking around the streets without acquiring any educational or vocational skill to better their lives.
Worse still, many of these children are found on the streets hawking, begging, being engaged as house girls during school hours when their age mates are in the classrooms learning.
Although the trend has continued unabated, the government has reportedly intervened via different programmes to curb the trend, but it is as if the effort is not yielding any result.
According to experts, the root causes responsible for the out of school menace are ignorance of parents on the importance of education, having more children than they could cater for, insecurity, religious sentiments, traditional beliefs, poverty among other factors.
As part of its efforts to tame the trend, the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Investments, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, last year hinted that the growing number of out-of-school children in Nigeria compelled the federal government to conceptualise and establish the At-Risk-Children Programme (ARC-P).
The initiative, according to her, was an interventionist scheme designed to address the plight of vulnerable children and youth across all states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Uwais who stated this while officially flagging off of a three-week training programme for over nine hundred ARC-P youth facilitators in Maiduguri, Borno State, added that the initiative was geared towards addressing the cross-cutting concerns of children and vulnerable youth in Nigeria, using a multi-dimensional approach covering education, health, digital and vocational skills, entrepreneurship, agriculture as well as sports and life skills.
However, despite various interventions by successive administrations, it appears the menace is still with us and may have defied all solutions.
According to the latest global data on out-of-school children revealed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the body revealed that Nigeria now has about 20 million out-of-school children. UNESCO, which says a new and improved methodology was used to arrive at the latest figures, said there are “244 million children and youth between the ages of 6 and 18 worldwide (who) are still out of school.”
According to UNESCO, northern states have the highest number of out-of-school children, such as Kano (420,000), Adamawa (437,000), Kebbi (814,925), Gombe (300, 000) and Borno (330, 389). Lagos is said to be the third state with the highest number of out-of-school children in the South-West.
More damning is the fact that Nigeria alongside India and Pakistan has the highest figures for out-of-school children globally. And for more than a decade, the figures in Nigeria have oscillated between 10.5 million and around 15 million.
As of October 2022, another report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) stated that at least 20 million children were out of school in Nigeria.
The figure if placed side by side is a far-reaching increase from the 10.5 million recorded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2020. Significantly, the situation has become worrisome, consequent upon which education experts and policy makers have continually called upon the government to prioritise the education sector in Nigeria and take the children out of the street.
Not cheering news
While also expressing regrets about the development early this year, the Minister of State for Education, Goodluck Opiah, noted with dismay that there is nothing to cheer about if a single child is out of school, not to talk of the millions that are currently roaming the streets in different parts of the country, instead of being in the classroom learning.
While urging governors to make substantive efforts to ensure increased access and strengthen education systems at all levels in the states, Opiah insisted that there was a need to address the challenge adequately by strengthening the quality of basic education in the state and confronting those factors that deny children access to basic education, head-on.
He said: “The federal government was determined to ensure that school-age children who are out of school are enrolled and retained in formal or non-formal schools within close proximity to their homes.
“We must always remember that education is our collective responsibility and its failure can well be taken as the failure of us all.
“This calls for the need for all hands to be on deck, the need for joint efforts, commitment and political will to eradicate the out-of-school children menace in Nigeria.
“Its continuous persistence is inimical to the economic growth and advancement of our country. Gainful engagement of our teeming children and youth will lead to a peaceful environment and curtail vices and crimes in society.”
As a way out, educationists in the country have many times called on federal and state governments to increase budgetary allocations to the education sector in line with the recommendations of the United Nations.
They cited the lack of poor funding as one of the greatest challenges facing education in the country, arguing that the nation’s education sector deserves adequate budgetary allocations as recommended by the UN charters.
Blueprint Weekend’s findings revealed that allocations to the sector for many years running had been lower than the 26 per cent of the national budget. For instance, the federal government in its 2022 budgetary allocation spent 5.39 per cent, which is N923.79 billion out of the total budget of N17.13 trillion to the education sector.
During a conference to deliberate on education leadership and development, organised by Annual School Need Exhibition (ASNE) 2023, early this year in Abuja, stakeholders insisted that adequate funding is the most critical factor to turn around the fortunes of education in the country.
Not only that, they also advocated deliberate intention to invest in education, saying it would help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 4 -universal, inclusive and equitable basic education for all school-age children.
Addressing journalists during the event, the founder & group chief executive officer, Wowbii Interactive, Sir Gbolahan Olayomi, said despite successive governments’ claims to allocate more funds for education, the sector’s budgets have never met international standards.
Also, proffering a way forward, an educationist, Mrs. Adebimpe Jones who spoke to this reporter charged the President Tinubu administration to give utmost priority to education and more importantly out-of-school children.
Jones said, “It is disgraceful and unheard of that despite huge revenue being accrued, Nigeria cannot seamlessly educate its children. I am not saying university level now, but basic education. I think it is a shame and I challenge anyone that thinks otherwise to a public debate.
“Imagine the poor budgetary that we have had to contend with in the hands of successive administrations in the country.
“Going forward, this is the time to get it right. For me, there should be holistic restructuring, turnaround and overhauling of the system so that the unborn generation can thank us.”