Much Ado in Reducing the Number of Out-of-School Nigerian Children

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By Femi Awopetu

The Nigerian Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, recently disclosed that the number of out-of-school children in the country dropped from 10.5 million to 8.6 million in the last three years.

Whilst the minister ascribed the drop to the efforts made by the Federal Government in implementing the enrolment drive policy and school feeding programme, it has to be said that efforts by development partners, civil society groups, private operators and corporates in delivering and providing access to education for all have also been instrumental in the reduction of out-of-school children in the country.

The importance of education as a powerful tool for human capital development and nation building cannot be over-emphasised. This was also the view of Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates. When Gates visited Nigeria for a special session of the National Economic Council recently he warned that unless the government invested in education, there would be a sharp limit to how much the country can grow.

Without education, a nation cannot acquire the brainpower for progress. Important professions like rained engineers, teachers, doctors and others are all the products of a functioning education system.

According to the United Nations, enrolment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91 per cent but 57 million children remain out-of-school and more than half of these are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of these, an estimated 50 per cent of primary school aged out-of-school children live in conflict-affected areas.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) stated that Nigeria has 10 per cent of the world’s out-of-school children with 52 per cent of children being out-of-school in the North-east region of the country.

This is why efforts by government and the private sector in providing education to children and young adults in these troubled states should be encouraged. Some of what characterises these states are persistent conflicts, unequal access of girls and women to education, poverty, and radicalisation.

Although the North-east educational challenges preceded Boko Haram, the sect has only helped in deepening the crisis and plunging the future of the region into greater uncertainty.

So enrolment in such regions is an uphill task. For Borno, arguably the hardest hit state from Boko Haram’s activities, a lack of quality education still plagues the region. NEMA estimates that about 600 teachers have been murdered; 19,000 teachers displaced, and 1,200 schools damaged or destroyed. This has resulted in 600,000 children losing access to learning since 2013. In IDP camps, 75 per cent of children do not attend school.

It is against this backdrop that the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) collaborated with one of the world’s leading education service providers, Bridge, to donate a school to the Borno State government to help internally displaced people in the state. It is expected that the school will support the educational system in the state to mould the next generation of leaders.

Bridge on its part would provide well-trained teachers, develop world-class curriculum in line with national and local standards, as well as introduce technology induced lessons to improve pupil learning outcomes, deliver results for families and ameliorate the educational challenges in the state.

The World Bank supported Nigeria’s federal government with $611 million to help the country’s many children get back to school. The World Bank’s education specialist, Solomon Adebayo, said 90 per cent of the $611 million would go to three million Nigerian children who cannot afford to attend school. The initiative will mainly support Nigeria’s North West and North East geopolitical zones for the next five years.

Providing education to Nigeria’s children should continue to be an initiative for many corporates, and vested stakeholders in Nigeria. This is how progress can be made in helping to reduce the number of out-of-school children and give more Nigerian children the opportunity to access education; and in the long run support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which seeks to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030.

* Awopetu, Public Relations Manager at Bridge International Academies, Nigeria, writes from Lagos