Story By: Oregbemi Olumide
The recent report by the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund, UNICEF, that 40 percent of Nigerian children in the North aged between six and 11, especially girls, do not attend any primary school, has continued to generate reactions from both government and non-governmental organizations.
Last Monday, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, while speaking with journalists in Abuja, revealed plans by the government to prosecute parents whose children are out of school.
Adamu said, “The ministry is calling not just for the criminalisation of this act, as something is being done in this regard, but for putting the law into effect. The Sokoto State Governor, (Aminu Tambuwal) once did something like this. Unless not sending children to school is made a crime, and parents who refuse to send their children to school are prosecuted, we may not see the desired changes”.
Also, the UNICEF has promised to partner with government and relevant agencies to reduce the growing number especially in the northern part of the country.
UNICEF Chief of Education, Terry Durnnian, said the growing out-of-school population calls for “serious concern and Nigeria should take on the challenge of reducing the number”, noting that UNICEF would support the process.
On its part, Connected Development (CODE) and FlexiSAF Foundation in Abuja signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to combine their resources to tackle the growing number of out-of-school children in the country starting from the North.
Both organisations said that apart from identifying out-of-school children and providing quality basic education, their move is in direct accordance with the SDG 4 and SDG 17, to reach these targets ahead of 2030.
Drop-out rate in primary schools across the country is put at 30 percent, while only 54 percent transit to Junior Secondary Schools.
Some of the factors responsible for the growing trends could be traced to the growing economic hardship in the country. Some parents, especially those who have many children, cannot afford to send some of them to primary school despite the launch of Universal Basic Education, UBE, some years ago because of some financial involvement. Others, mostly from the northern part of the country regard western education as inimical to their Islamic religion; hence all efforts made in the past to convince them of the importance of western education did not yield much result.
The rising number of out-of-school children in Nigeria to some people is a failure on the part of government at all levels. The government should apply the same zeal with which it fights pipeline vandalism, insurgency, armed robbery and kidnapping in ensuring that all Nigerian children are enrolled in schools. This is not just because it is a constitutional matter but because the continued existence of the country may depend on it.
Sometime ago, Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the just concluded election, blamed government at all levels for the rising rate of out-of-school children in the country. He made the pronouncement in Yola at the American University of Nigeria (AUN) 12th annual Founder’s Day and commissioning ceremonies for 2017.
This is why the decision of Sokoto State government under Governor Aminu Tambuwwal to criminalize the act of parents not enrolling their children in school with all the provision made is highly commendable.
Speaking on the matter recently, a human development consultant, Mr. Oni Fawehinmi lamented on the inability of political leaders to understand educational development in the country. He remembered with nostalgia how about 60 to 70 years ago a parent could be jailed for not sending a child to school and advocated for a return to such era. He further explained that a situation where over 10 million children who are supposed to be in school are at home hawking or doing other things is unacceptable.
It is believed that with concerted efforts, both on the part of government and non-governmental organizations, the situation may improve sooner than later. It is suggested that the UBEC be overhauled to make it more result oriented. Government must pursue the goal of ensuring that every school child is enrolled and remained in school without much financial burden on parents.