The recent reminder by former President Olusegun Obasanjo that 14 million Nigerian children are deprived of educational opportunities is an indictment of the country’s political leadership. Put in context, this figure is more than the population of Guinea (13 million); Rwanda (12.9 million) and Tunisia (11.8 million). Reversing this trend should be a top priority for the federal and state governments.
Generally, gender discrimination, disasters and armed conflict, language challenges, household poverty, child labour, child marriage and factors related to disability are some of the main barriers that keep children out of school. In Nigeria, leadership failure, especially at the state level, is also largely to blame. That the country churns out such saddening statistics in human capital in the 21st century rankles and speaks to the need to re-evaluate and retool education policies in line with current realities.
A Chinese proverb says, “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” In a knowledge-driven world, countries with low literacy rates have no future, as they will be left behind. The fact that the majority of out-of-school-children are in the northern states as studies show is evidence of poor choices. The problem has been compounded in the North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa where the Boko Haram insurgency has disrupted socio-economic and academic activities.
Interestingly, Nigeria is not in short supply of policy measures and laws to ensure that no child is left behind in education. Officially, there is free and compulsory primary and junior secondary education to cater for children aged five to 14 years. The Universal Basic Education Act 2004 is the legal framework that provides for compulsory, free and universal basic education of all children of primary and junior secondary school age in the country. There is also the Child Rights Act, which reinforces this as a basic human right by prescribing schooling up to junior secondary school. Unfortunately, these policy instruments and laws have been largely obeyed in the breach; The 11 states that are yet to domesticate the CRA are all in the north, resulting in their large out-school-school children.
What is wrong? While other countries are working assiduously to reduce their out-of-school children population, the various tiers of government have allowed the number to spike dangerously over the years. A 2018 UNICEF survey showed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world. Of the world’s 63 million out-of-school children of primary school age, 34 million, more than one-half, live in sub-Saharan Africa, while southern Asia has the second-highest number with 10 million, the USIF Fact Sheet No.48 2018, discloses. This is not all; there is still a huge number of those who are in school, but learning nothing. UNICEF says schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school.
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