Despite the high birth rate in Nigeria and the negative effects of insurgency, banditry and COVID-19 on education generally, the UBE delivery interventions have to some extent stabilised the conflicting number of out-of-school children. Kuni Tyessi writes
The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics (UIS) revealed that Nigeria currently has 20 million out-of-school children (OOSC), as quoted by some news sources in September 2022. Although UIS has attempted to justify the methods used in arriving at the 20 million figures, the fact remains that the report can misinform the public, misrepresenting the actual situation of the OOSC in Nigeria and probably underrating the significant efforts made by the government in addressing the challenge.
The ministry of education in times past deemed it necessary to provide some clarifications on the incidence of OOSC and to clear the misconceptions arising from the reports, as well as to enlighten the general public on the government’s effort at ensuring that children of school-going age access and complete basic education irrespective of their location and social status.
This drive has remained resolute and with a determination to provide quality education for all citizens in response to their developmental needs and in line with an avowed commitment to global protocols and conventions on education, particularly those on Education for All (EFA), Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There’s no gainsaying the responsibility for providing primary and secondary education in Nigeria is primarily the constitutional mandate of states and local governments, with the Federal Government working closely in partnership to develop the sub-sector and address the challenge. The federal government provides financial and technical assistance to the states and local governments as part of its intervention in delivering Universal Basic Education (UBE) which covers primary and junior secondary.
When the global community advocated and committed to universal primary education through EFA and MDGs, Nigeria expanded her compulsory, free universal education programme beyond primary education to include junior secondary education.
UBE delivery interventions by the federal government and initiatives of states and local governments have significantly stabilised the number of OOSC of primary school-going age using the 2018 figure as the baseline. This is despite the high birth rate in Nigeria and the negative effects of insurgency, banditry and COVID-19 on education generally.
At the end-year point of the MDGs in 2015, significant progress was recorded in the areas of equity and, to some extent, access, with a completion rate of 82 per cent. Nevertheless, Nigeria did not achieve MDG 2 (universal primary education), which indicated that a proportion of school-aged children remained out of school. This challenge was carried over and expanded under the successor global development agenda – SDGs. SDG 4, Target 1, tasks all countries to ensure that all boys and girls acquire Universal Primary and Secondary Education by 2030, which Nigeria has committed itself to achieve.
The country had established robust baseline data on basic education through a comprehensive National Personnel Audit (NPA) of all basic education institutions in 2018, and this was conducted by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), involving key national and international stakeholders, including the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), National Population Commission, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank, among others.
The outcome of the 2018 NPA was widely disseminated and generally accepted as credible. This baseline data was used to estimate the number of children not in school at primary and junior secondary levels in Nigeria. This was done in line with the globally established framework for estimating the number of out-of-school children.
The 2018 NPA established the number of OOSC aged 6 to 11 at 10.193,918, regionally distributed as North Central, 1,329,111, North East, 2,012,038, North West, 3,490,671, South East, 713,176, South-South, 1,208,1832 and South West, 1,451,740. Similarly, 6,192,081 was established for ages 12 to 14 for junior secondary school-going age.
The 2018 NPA took cognizance of Nigeria’s designated age bracket for universal basic education (primary and junior secondary, age 6 to 14) and did not extend to the senior secondary cadre (age 15 to 17) and the post-secondary school age of 18 which are both parts of the UNESCO’s 20 million figure. Putting this in the proper context, therefore, the 2018 NPA provides an authentic representation of the OOSC population in Nigeria within the confines of basic education as defined by the UBE Act 2004.
Based on the aforementioned and the attention the OOSC has generated, the federal government reinforced the implementation of the UBE programme in partnership with states towards ensuring that all children of school-going age acquire a minimum of basic education and strengthened inter-agency partnerships and specific programmes targeting various categories of OOSC. It stepped up efforts to improve access for vulnerable groups in UBE delivery, primarily the Almajiri and learners in the Qur’anic schools. This has provided access for over 2,292,439 learners in basic education predominantly in the northern states.
Another is the implementation of the Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) to reduce the number of OOSC using both formal and non-formal approaches in the 17 States with the highest number of OOSC in the country. Between 2019 and 2022, there were a total of 5,076,830 learners in the non-formal centres made up of 1,600,123 in cohort 1 (2019/2020) and 3,476,707 in cohort 2 (2022), as verified and confirmed by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), as well as the establishment of the National Senior Secondary Education Commission (NSEC), which has been charged with the responsibility for providing designated interventions in the senior secondary level of education to expand access and improve quality.
This is not forgetting leveraging ICT and new technologies in providing alternative pathways for acquiring functional education for learners through the Open Schooling Programme, which will enable the OOSC population to access flexible learning opportunities suitable to their priorities and preferences.
From the foregoing, it is evident that Nigeria’s OOSC figure for the primary and junior secondary school category, as established by the 2018 NPA, is not in contention. What has changed is UNESCO’s inclusion of the senior secondary (age 15 – 17) and further expansion to include young adults aged 18 years in the computation of OOSC. It is considered not very useful to lump different age categories together while addressing the issue of OOSC. Nigeria’s approach has been to categorise the different age groups and use these to track the progress made in each category.
The government has pledged its determination to continuously initiate and implement innovative interventions to reduce the scourge of OOSC for overall national development. It is important, therefore, to reaffirm the country’s commitment to taking necessary steps in this direction, especially working with States and LGAs, multinational agencies, international development partners and related MDA to address the root causes of this anomaly towards ensuring that no child is left behind.