Due to security challenges numerous children currently have no access to schools in parts of the North, and particularly the northeast, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has said.
The agency noted that schools have been closed for security reasons, and where schools in the affected areas still function, children and teachers are often afraid to attend while in comparatively safe areas in the northeast, schools are often overcrowded, understaffed and have insufficient teaching materials.
These were contained in a statement made available to LEADERSHIP by UNICEF to commemorate the African Child Day, which has as its theme, “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa.”
According to UNICEF’s Communication’s Specialist Geoffrey Njoku, the theme is apt as it “offers us an opportunity to reflect on the situation of education in Nigeria,” adding that because of the violence, many parents are unwilling to enroll their daughters or are withdrawing those already in school.
He said, “We know that girls’ education is vital because educated girls become better mothers, have fewer, healthier children. Every additional year of schooling reduces the probability of child mortality by 5-10 per cent.”
According to Njoku, educated mothers want their children to have better educational opportunities as this would mean more girls enrolling, attending and staying in school, transiting to senior secondary school, and eventually playing more productive social and economic roles within their families and communities.
The UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Jean Gough added that grassroots’ support is crucial to meeting to overcoming the security and other challenges in order to meet this ambitious goal.
She said, “Involving local communities in initiatives to safeguard education is crucial in protecting the children. The communities will know the primary concerns of parents, girls and boys. Together they can develop networks for support to keep schools safe.”
Nigeria has 10.5 million out-of-school children, the highest number in the world (followed by Pakistan ) while about 60 per cent of those children are girls and most of them live in the north of the country.
Almost 1 out of every 3 primary age children is out of school, and roughly 1 out of 4 junior secondary age children is out of school.
The Girls’ Education Project implemented by UNICEF in the northern states, with funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), aims to enroll an additional one million girls in school by 2020.
Though the federal government and the state administrations have stated their determination to tackling the issues head on, there is still a long way to go before achieving the Millennium Development goals of quality universal primary education and the elimination of gender disparity in school.
Nigeria needs to build on the progress that has been achieved and step up the momentum.