UNICEF estimates that 10.5 million of Nigeria’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school.
In December 2018, the UN declared the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria to be over 13 million.
In August of this year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo placed the figure at 14 million. One in every five out-of-school children in the world, is in Nigeria.
Only 61% of children aged 6-11 years regularly attend primary school and 35% of those below five years receive early childhood education.
According to the World Bank Report on Human Capital Development, the average Nigerian drops out of school at JSS3, around age 13.
This is depressing and disturbing. COVID-19 worsened the situation especially for vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
Children with underlying health conditions have been forced to drop out of school for fear of contracting the disease.
Along with this, there is a growing fear that with the anticipated economic recession, many children from poor homes could disappear from the school system altogether and thereby become long-term victims of the COVID crisis.
Although the problem is more endemic in the northern part of the country which houses the greater percentage of these unfortunate children, it is also common in the southeast where youths drop out of school to learn a trade.
It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, any child, male or female, should be denied an education. We therefore call on the government and all stakeholders to act and curb this disgraceful menace.
By stakeholders, we at The Daily Times mean ALL Nigerians. Every Nigerian is a parent, an aunt or uncle, guardian or a sibling of a child.
The existence of so many out-of-school children puts the future of our country at stake. Our country faces challenges on human capital development because it places such a low premium on education.
With a less than 7% budgetary allocation to education, the Nigerian government is not doing enough to address the situation.
If the government had allocated the 15-20% recommended by UNESCO, adequate support might have been provided to schools for re-opening.
Also, the government would have been able to invest in alternative studies options, such as e-learning. Sadly, Nigeria is way behind in e-learning investments.
There is no free internet in any Nigerian school. Where teachers are willing to teach online, most parents cannot afford smartphones, much less computers.
Added to this is the fact that data charges are very high in Nigeria. The average parent cannot afford to educate his or her child online.
Fortunately, Nigeria has the National Commission for Adult Literacy and Non-Formal Education (NMEC). Its mandate is to strengthen the non-formal education sector which covers non-literate adults and out-of-school youth and children.
Government needs to invest more in NMEC and direct the energies of the commission towards tackling the outof-school children situation, especially in the north, where the Almajiri system operates.
The importance of NMEC is that it is designed to educate adults as well as youth. When adults are educated, they are more likely to keep their children in school because they understand the importance of education.
One of the reasons the out-of-school children situation is worse in the north is because there are more nonliterate adults in the region.
For this reason, we call on governors of the northern states to increase their support for education.
They should put strong measures in place to ensure that the rights of every child to an education are protected.
There is also the need for increased advocacy and enlightenment campaigns on the importance of education and the very real dangers of ignorance and illiteracy.
Citizens need to understand the potential security threats and economic and social decline caused by poor education.
Uneducated children are usually more vulnerable to brainwashing and recruitment into terror groups and banditry as evident in the Boko Haram insurgency. Several other things need to be done.
Government at all levels should provide support to vulnerable and at-risk families.
They should also support organisations that are working to help the situation by using technology to reach underprivileged children.
Young people should also be encouraged to join in the fight by encouraging other youths and by taking younger members of their communities under their wing.
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Youths should be encouraged to aspire to be leaders of today and tomorrow. If the number of outof-school children continues to rise, Nigeria will have no future to speak of.
Crime rates will rise, and gangs will spring up all over the place. This will constitute a serious threat to our stability as a nation.
We reiterate the point that too many children are out of school in Nigeria.
Governments at all levels should be concerned because of the danger this poses to the future of the country. The time to act is now.