UNICEF Urges Immediate Action to Strengthen School Safety in Nigeria

UNICEF Urges Immediate Action to Strengthen School Safety in Nigeria

Segun Awofadeji in Bauchi and Gideon Arinze in Enugu

The United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF) has called on the government and relevant agencies to urgently address insecurity which continues to threaten the safety of schools and education of children across the country.

UNICEF made this call during the commemoration of the International Day of Education 2024, stressing that such attacks on schools lead to learning disruption for children.

The Fund however acknowledged the significant progress made in providing access to education for 7.2 million children in humanitarian settings across Nigeria.

According to a press statement made available to journalists in Abuja on Wednesday by Safiya Akau, Communications Officer, UNICEF Nigeria, the Fund highlighted the need for concerted efforts to enhance school safety in the country.

The Fund also reported that a recent evaluation indicates that, on average, only 43 per cent of the Minimum Standards for Safe Schools are being met in about 6,000 assessed schools.

This finding particularly highlights challenges in ensuring the safety of school infrastructure and in mitigating risks such as violence, conflict, and natural hazards.

Ms. Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative therefore called for a multi-sectoral approach to improve school safety through comprehensive planning, coordination, and adequate resource allocation, especially in states with higher risks.

She noted that “while Nigeria has shown a commitment to creating safe school environments through endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration and developing the Minimum Standards for Safe Schools, there is room for further progress. And on this important day, we are reminded of the collective responsibility we share in safeguarding the educational environment for every child.”

“The theme of the 2024 International Day of Education, ‘learning for lasting peace,’ reminds us of all of the crucial role that education plays in promoting peace and stability. It serves as a reminder to all stakeholders – including federal and state governments, development partners, civil society, communities, and educators – of the importance of providing safe, secure learning environments”.

“Education is a key driver of gender equality, economic growth, and social development, sadly it remains inaccessible to many Nigerian children. Their educational journey is often disrupted by attacks on communities and schools, including the abduction of students. These challenges are particularly acute for adolescent girls, potentially stalling the progress made in girls’ education in Nigeria.” Munduate added.

According to her, “recent attacks on schools, particularly in the North-East and North-West regions in 2021, have led to learning disruptions for over 1.3 million children, necessitating precautionary school closures. This highlights the urgency of addressing school safety comprehensively.

Munduate said that “UNICEF calls for a multi-sectoral approach to improve school safety, informed by the performance of states on the Minimum Standards for Safe Schools. This approach should include comprehensive planning, coordination, and adequate resource allocation, especially in states with higher risks.

“To complement these efforts, UNICEF emphasizes the importance of alternative learning platforms, such as the Nigerian Learning Passport. This digital platform, with over 750,000 users, offers curriculum-aligned materials and is crucial for ensuring continuity of education, especially during school closures.

She pointed out that “UNICEF remains committed to working with the Nigerian government, donors and all partners to ensure that every child has access to a safe, inclusive, and quality education”.

Similarly, at the one-day multi-zonal press conference to commemorate the 2024 International Day of Education,  organised by the UNICEF Enugu field office in collaboration with the Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State, (BCA) Umuahia, Chief of Field Office UNICEF Enugu, Juliet Chiliwe, reiterated the call for safety at schools.

Noting that the theme for this year’s celebration which is Learning for Lasting Peace, speaks to the enduring power of education as a tool for preventing, building and sustaining peace, she said: ” must make sure that every child has the opportunity to learn, grow and contribute to building a world that is not only peaceful but prosperous”.

She added that although education was a key driver of gender equality, economic growth, and social development, it remains inaccessible to many Nigerian children whose educational journey is often disrupted by attacks on communities and schools, including the abduction of students.

Earlier, the Commissioner for Education in Enugu State, Ndubueze Mbah said that the decision by the Peter Mbah-led administration to allocate 33 percent of the state’s 2024 budget to education shows how much he wants to revamp the sector.

“We have resolved to provide quality learning opportunities for every child, regardless of their background as that is the only way we can deal with the challenges of drug abuse and other social vices,” he said.

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