Revisiting Challenges of Rising Out –of-School Children

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Ugo Aliogo reexamines the issue of Nigeria’s rising case of out-of-school children

Out-of-School Children (OOSC) has remained a major problem in Nigeria. In March this year, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said the issue of was a big challenge facing the country, adding that this constitutes a security threat to the country as a whole. He said it is the responsibility of everyone to do whatever it takes to ensure that all out-of-school-children are enrolled in school.
This is just as Senator Adamu Aliero, representing Kebbi Central on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) recently moved a motion on the need for the federal government to address the situation.

Aliero stated that though the federal government had made efforts to reduce the menace of street begging through the introduction of the Universal Primary Education in 1976 and Universal Basic Education in 1999, there are still many children on the streets.

The senator explained that the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan built Almajiri integrated model schools, where children in northern Nigeria were enrolled and given both Islamic and Western education, “but today, most of those structures are dilapidated and others are used for other purposes they are not intended for.”

UNICEF Report
The United Nation Children Education Fund (UNICEF) in a report stated that even 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 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.

The report also asserted that in the north, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53 percent. Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge.

The report further explained that gender, such as geography and poverty, is an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalisation. States in the north-east and north-west have female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school. The education deprivation in northern Nigeria is driven by various factors, including economic barriers and socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in formal education, especially for girls.

According to the report, “Ensuring educational provision in predominantly rural areas and the impact of insurgency in the northeast present significant challenges. In north-eastern and north-western states, 29 percent and 35 percent of Muslim children, respectively, receive Qur’anic education, which does not include basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. The government considers children attending such schools to be officially out-of-school.

“In north-eastern Nigeria, 2.8 million children are in need of education-in-emergencies support in three conflict-affected States (Borno, Yobe, Adamawa). In these States, at least 802 schools remain closed and 497 classrooms are listed as destroyed, with another 1,392 damaged but repairable.”

To provide another perspective to the issue, THISDAY spoke by the Education Project Coordinator, Actionaid Nigeria (AAN), Kyauta Giwa, who hinted that Nigeria is ranked as having the highest number of out of school children in the world, adding that the statistics of out of school has risen from 10.5 Million to 13.2 million Nigeria children that are not in school.
She noted that considering the figures, the rate was alarming, which is why many Nigerians have called for a declaration of a state of emergency in the sector.

Giwa further added that over the years funding to the sector has drastically reduced despite the challenges bedeviling the sector.
She further posited that other factors responsible for this current situation are the inadequate infrastructures for learners and teachers, inadequate and unqualified teachers especially in rural areas, insecurity, socio-cultural beliefs, school charges, violence against girls in school and lack of gender responsive public schools among other factors.
The AAN education Coordinator argued that amongst the high numbers of out of school children, about 60 percent are girls, stating that AAN sees education as a human right issue, therefore if these high numbers of children are not in school; it implies that their right to education has been denied and hampers on the attainment of SDG4.

ActionAid’s Role
On her part, Giwa opined that over the years, ActionAid Nigeria have embarked on various forms of research to underscore the underlying factors; working with various stakeholders in addressing the problem. She pointed out that some of the roles that AAN played include promoting community participation in school governance through the formation and training of School Based Management Committees (SBMC), establishment of Safe Spaces for in and out of school girls, advocacy for increased funding in the education sector, access to school infrastructure, teacher training, facilitated and supported some states to develop policies and guidelines on SBMCs, Inclusive education and safe space intervention.

She declared that AAN has worked with community based structures such as SBMC and Parents Teachers Associations (PTA), training them to be functional, to advocate and seek support for school needs.

She maintained that there are states where government has adopted AAN ‘s model and budgeted funds to mobilise girls to go back to school, mobilize resources for school repairs, advocated for some community volunteers with teaching qualification to be converted to regular teaching staff to bridge the gap of inadequate teachers.

According to her, “AAN has reached out to government to request for the construction of a bridge to allow children from riverine communities to access schools. In Borno state, we currently have the Back to Home intervention which brings education to Internally Displaced children in their homes; we are also monitoring the Home Grown School Feeding Programme in order to promote accountability and transparency in the school feeding programme. These among other things we have done and collaborated with state government.

“In the context of the Corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have embarked on sensitisation of community members especially girls on the preventive measures of COVID 19, trained girls on production of face masks and provided girls from vulnerable homes, who are members of our safe spaces with transistor radios to enable tune in to listen to the online Learning programme organised by the Lagos and Sokoto state government.

“In one of the states in the northern part of Nigeria, the girls in our safe space have opened up to talk about how teachers are sexually harassing them in school, which is also keeping some of them out of school.”

Continuing, she said: ““I would say a lot of success has been recorded as government has been open, making commitment and seeking partnership to work with development agencies. This can be seen in some of the areas where government has adopted AAN model of making budgetary allocation specifically for mobilising and supporting girls to go back to school.

“In some states, AAN has trained state government officials and advocated for gender responsive public schools so as to ensure schools have facilities that addresses the needs of boys and girls to remain in school.”

Presently, the government has reached out seeking for support to address this challenge and inaugurated a committee to embark on enrolment drive. On the committee, International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGOs) such as AAN and others have been invited to serve and provided the needed support where necessary.

“Before now, AAN has worked with State’s Ministry of Education and Local Education Authorities on development of SBMCS Policy and guidelines.

These challenges have continued due to many factors. First, it’s the issue of low share of budget in the sector.
“Despite the United Nations recommended benchmark of 15-20 per cent allocation for education on the national budget, the sector has received less than 10 per cent since 2010. Recently, the sector’s budget was cut by over 50 per cent despite the COVID 19 emergency. This does not show the commitment to address the menace thereby impacting on all effort to achieve SDG4 in Nigeria.

“The lack of commitment in the delivery of quality education is affecting the sector in various ways as data is still a huge challenge and not utilised in planning. With the increase in population, the sector’s allocation is still very low. The system of budgeting does not address the rising number of out of school children,” she explained.

According to her, “Most times, the government concerns themselves with building of infrastructure without looking at the underlying cause out of school children. There are many communities with school buildings but no children come to those schools because there are no teachers and other facilities that will enable children access education, remain in school, transit to the next level and even complete their education cycle.

“In most communities there are only primary schools, without any Junior or Senior Secondary School nearby. Here distance becomes a major factor of keeping children out of school. All these factors put together makes some parents keep their children from school and engage them in other income generating activities such as farming, hawking and cattle rearing.
“The UBE policy provides for free compulsory education, but most children are charged various forms of levies. Where many families live below the poverty line, this makes it difficult for children in such homes to be school. Other factors include deep rooted socio-cultural beliefs and norms that keep more children from schools.”

Therefore, she suggested the need for increased funding to the sector while also ensuring monitoring and tracking of fund for judicious utilisation.

“This will entrench accountability and transparency in the system. I will recommend third party monitoring as this has proven to work. Government should ensure free education that is inclusive and equitable for all Nigerian children. The government must stop paying lip service and tackle this menace headlong.

“Government should make the budgetary process open and participatory instead of just the exclusive business of government who do not take into consideration of school needs. There should be adequate funding for the implementation of policies. Most policies lack the financial backing, which makes them end up on paper.

“There should be investment in teacher training and retraining. In addition, revise the recruitment process of teachers that will ensure only qualified and committed personnel are recruited to teach. In addition to this, improve the welfare of teachers to motivate them and make the leaving profession sustainable.

“There should be revisit of the school inspection traditional of the past to ensure that school administrators and teachers are doing their jobs as expected. There should ensure safe and friendly school environment for children with adequate facilities that are also disability friendly to ensure more children remain in school and are not discriminated.

“Government should ensure that there are more senior secondary schools to address the barrier of distance so that those transiting can continue schooling. On school reopening, the government must ensure that schools are safe by putting in place measures that will enable parents allow their children resume schools and not contribute to increasing the number of the out of school children,” she added.