The recent report by the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEC) of increase in the number of Out of School Children in Nigeria from 10.5 million to 13.2 million is worrisome to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and some other stakeholders in the country.
Concerned by the development, UNICEF recently organised a two-day media dialogue and a field trip to primary schools in Kano, with the goal of creating better opportunity to access basic education.
In a report by UNICEF, the latest MICS data showed that, of the 11.5 million children out of school in Nigeria, 7.9 million (or 69 per cent) are in the northern states. North East has the largest number closely followed by the North West.
With this number, Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children globally, and 45 per cent of out-of-school children in West Africa.
Moreover, girls are in the majority of the number of out-of-school children, especially in Northern Nigeria.
Education indicators for northern Nigeria are different from the southern part of the country with the southern states having an average of 11% of children aged 6-14 years out of school, while northern states have an average of 31% of children aged 6-14 years out-of-school rate.(MICS 2016)
Gender is also an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalization. In North East and North West states of Nigeria, the female primary net attendance ratio is 44 per cent and 47.4 per cent respectfully which means more than half of primary school aged girls are not in school. In comparison, the attendance rate for boys in the North East and North West are 48.8 per cent and 50.8 per cent respectively.
Early child marriage is believed to have hampered girl education in the northern Nigeria with access to basic education among the girl child remaining on the downward trend.
UNICEF Education Specialist, Mrs. Azuka Menkiti highlighted two key dimensions to the problem as a combination of demand and supply issues which had to do with Poor implementation of Education Policy and Laws.
Unfortunately, Nigeria did not have the strong political will to fully and effectively implement the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 and other education policies, for example the laws prohibiting the withdrawal of girls from school for marriage.
She said, “Overwhelmingly, poverty-related reasons are cited as the most important determining factor regarding demand for education and why children are not in school. Parents and children from poor households struggle to meet the demands of direct and indirect costs of education. If parents had money, they would prioritise the education of their sons over daughters for socio-cultural reasons.
“In many parts of Nigeria, early marriage is still a common traditional practice, which negatively impacts on girls’ enrolment and retention in school. Social norms, some cultural practices and beliefs keep children out of school and deny them the right to education.”
It was discovered during a field trip to Army Children Special Primary School Jangusa Barrack, in Tofa Local Government Area of Kano State that children, especially the girls trekked long distance for more than 30 minute to school, while some of boys rode their bicycles to school.
According to Head Teacher, Mrs. Harira Ahmed who spoke during the trip, “Environmental influence couple with the parents, you know they are not educated, we find it difficult to convince them, and even the distance is another factor that affects out of school children. And we are over populated in the class, like 100 plus in the class.
“Children come to school with their bicycles due to distance, some trek, let’s say from here to Kabuga which is more than 30 minutes ride to school. This distance also hampers the girls from coming to school.
“Our challenges are lacks of staffs, the structures are not sufficient, there are no chairs, children sit on the ground, and we have challenges of toilets. Toilet is the most important, especially the girls, it hinders them sometimes because they feel so shy.”
The UNICEF’s dialogue therefore emphasized some sailing points for the government to be addressed which include that, “Girl child education remains a veritable tool in nation development thus development of any society would be grossly lopsided if the girl child is not given quality education. Improving access to and the quality of education is the most rewarding investment a country can make.
“Investing in female education will accelerate Nigeria’s economic and social development by enhancing human capital, slowing population growth, and alleviating poverty.
“An enforcement of available legislation on principle of gender equality in education should be adhered vigorously to ensure a greater percentage of the girl child are being enrolled into the educational system. The issue of girl child education must be taken very seriously by both parents and the government by banning street hawking among school girls, discouraging early marriage, and forced labour.
“Furthermore, there should be intensive efforts to foster a gender inclusive culture from the family level through education, across the board up to higher education, in order to promote sustainable human development need to be vigorously pursued by governmental and non-governmental organizations.
“To sum it up, Orientation for parents is key. Through a Special Task Force, the government must continue to execute and monitor campaigns that will kick against such gender discrimination regarding education. Most of all, new policies must be put in place to further strengthen the Education system such that it naturally safeguards itself from all forms of discrimination. Existing policies should be made more potent than before.”