According to 1 Goal Nigeria, a campaign organisation on education, every child in Nigeria, particularly from the age of five, is entitled to early education.
In the estimation of the group, there is no excuse, whatsoever, that should bar children between ages five and 11 from spending at least five hours in classrooms, receiving formal learning necessary for their mental and social growth.
But recent statistics released in Abuja on May 16, 2011 during the national launch of the Nigeria Digest of Education Statistics 2006-2010 and the 2010 Nigeria Education Data Survey (NEDS) Report on children enrolment in schools across the country, is mind-boggling. The report of Nigeria’s DHS EdData Profile of 1990, 2003 and 2008 is most unthinkable. It portrayed Nigeria as a breeding ground for ignorance.
In the recent which, survey presentation was witnessed by Vice President Namadi Sambo, the 2010 NEDS sampled survey of 26, 934 households, 27, 189 parents/guardians, and 71, 567 children age 4-16 as estimates for indicators at state and national levels of children’s rates of school attendance, literacy and numeracy among primary school and junior secondary school- aged children, household expenditures for schooling, and parents/guardians’ perceptions on schooling.
The report, LEADERSHIP WEEKEND gathered, revealed a mixed picture of the state of participation and success in basic education by Nigerian children, with the negatives far surpassing the positives for the country as a whole and certain states in particular.
Among the few positives, it was gathered, are that (a) 61 per cent of children aged 6-11 attended primary school in 2010, up from 51 per cent that did so in 1990 but similar to the 60 per cent recorded in 2003 (b) more than a third of children age 12-15 attended junior secondary school in 2010 compared to less than a fifth in 1990 and (c) more significantly, the last two decades have seen a steady closing of the gender gap in participation in primary and secondary education, especially the former.
Yet, there is another worrisome situation. While more than 80 per cent of children between the age of six and 11 are according to the 2010 NEDS, attending primary school in Ekiti, Anambra, Imo, Lagos, Abia, Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states, less than 25 per cent of their peers are doing so in Zamfara, Kebbi and Borno states. This situation, analysts say, gives a child in Delta, for instance, a higher chance in attending primary school than a child in say, Borno State.
Unfortunately, Borno has become notorious for sectarian violence. There is a likelihood, according to findings, that an idle and uneducated child in the state will take up arms against innocent citizens.
In addition to about 28 lives lost last week, only on account of Boko Haram strikes in Borno State, no fewer than 160 persons have reportedly died in many attacks, allegedly carried out by the sect. The death toll reportedly occurred mainly in Borno State, but dozens of other attacks, for which the group has claimed responsibility, have occurred in Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe, Gombe, Niger and Plateau states, and lately the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
This figure, however, excluded the massive deaths of members of the group in a 2009 confrontation with soldiers in Maiduguri after the sect members took on the police and government institutions in protest against the killing of their members by security operatives.
The total number of those killed is put at 1,300. From the datelines, the spate of attacks, allegedly by the group, increased shortly before, during and after the 2011 general elections, and for this reason, experts have remarked that the violence was more political than religious.
This is not to say, though that the youth in other parts of the country do not engage in juvenile and violent activities. What is being emphasised here is the intensity of hostilities that have so far been linked to the state.
At the secondary school level, according to the 2010 NEDS, North-Central has 37 per cent, North-East, 22 per cent, North-West, 24 per cent, South-South, 28 per cent, South-East, 60 per cent and South-West, 65 per cent, based on net attendance ratios recorded for the six geo-political zones in the country.
In terms of reading abilities, the report continued, that 21 per cent of children of ages 5-16 cannot read at all in the South-West compared to 31 percent in the South-South, 32 per cent in the South-East, 58 per cent in the North-Central, 72 per cent in the North-West and 83 per cent in the North-East. Worthy of note here is that a child in the North-East is about four times, according to findings, more likely to be an illiterate than his or her counterpart in the South-West.
There are also sub-regional differentials in school attendance in terms of numeracy. Eleven per cent of children of ages 5-16 cannot perform simple addition in the South-West; South- South, 19 per cent; South-East, 21 per cent; North-Central, 42 per cent; North-West, 61 per cent and North East, 73 per cent. Again, implication of this is that the chances of the child in the North-East being innumerate, are almost seven times those of the average child in the South-West.
Niger State governor, Babangida Aliyu has reportedly queried the modalities and competence of the researchers, who named his state as having the highest number of children not in school in the North-Central geo-political zone.
He has further been reported to have asked citizens of the state and Nigerians in general to discredit the report on account of bias and malice on the part of those who conducted the survey.
The issues are deep-rooted, according to Dr. Tunde Adekola of the World Bank. At a National Conference by Civil Society in Abuja last month, Adekola hinged the dwindling educational situation on disconnection between teachers and children, political will, inappreciative role of parents/guardians and lack of good study materials and learning environments.
“Children not being in school is not the only issue for consideration by government and the civil society. Those who are in school are often confronted with a disconnection with their teachers in terms of what is being taught and how to be socially accepted in the society.
“It is not only the provision of good clarssrooms, books, uniforms and other materials necessary for school, but if a child is hungry and has no shoes or uniforms, would he or she be in school, or learn effectively?
“This is an issue to be handled by the necessary stakeholders. The child needs to be adequately prepared for the classes and made to have his morning meals so that he will be attentive for learning. If this is not done you will have a situation where the children themselves are not prepared for learning, despite the amount of force used on them.
“On the aspect of disconnection, a child who is brought up at home where Hausa is being spoken all day will find it difficult to interact in English Language fluently despite efforts by teachers at school. You could also find that since children look up to their teachers, they will grasp all that is said in school, even mistakes.
“When for instance, they return and are corrected, they will not take it simply because their teachers have taught them a thing, whether right or wrong.
“There is also a problem of teachers not being equipped properly for the task of teaching. Some of them were either the not- do- well type at school, or are teaching with ineffective curriculum. This extends to those who communicate with the children in local dialects rather than the English language, which the children are supposed to master from early age.
“Another consideration is conservation of teachers. Some are too rigid to learn from their colleagues. They believe that they know all by virtue of being teachers. ‘What will another teacher tell me? They seem to reason.
“These issues, in addition to cultural, religious and others, are worthy of consideration if we are to get it right in achieving the MDGs target of Education For All by the year 2015.
“The World Bank is committed to this goal and is commencing what is called Sector Investment Lending (SIL) to states, to assist them guarantee quality education for children. In this type of support, the World Bank integrates its efforts with that of the governments.
“Instead of giving out money for education as it used to be, we now complement governments in terms of capacity and other means. What is the use of providing books, money, classrooms and other materials to schools when government is doing the same? The problem with the education sector in Nigeria is not lack of money. The funds are there.
However, the World Bank has outlined the criteria necessary for states to access its funds, and it is only states that meet them that will be assisted financially.
“One of them is that desiring states must pass into law, the Public Procurement Act. There must also be an evidence of fiscal responsibility in terms of accounting and transparency, and the states must have clear public expenditure strategy,” Adekola said.
Funding for the sector is not an issue, stakeholders insist. N30 billion meant for boosting education across the country is said to be in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Policy advisor, Civil Society Action Coalition on Education For All (CSACEFA), Mr Wale Samuel told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND in an interview that Universal Basic Education (UBE), which is involved in efforts to guarantee the MDGs target on education is battling with issues to enable states access the funds.
“You know, billions of naira go into the UBE every year, over N30 billion in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that has been accessed. So we have been working round the clock to deal with this issue. Why are states not accessing the money? And we have a whole lot of needs at the state level.
“You can see how students are failing WAEC, and a lot of children are still on the streets. We have about 10 million children that are yet to access schools, yet we have N30 million in the Central Bank which states cannot access. UBE will tell you it is the fault of the states and the states will tell you it is the fault of UBE .
“So we have been looking at how to bring these issues together to see if we can identify the problems and ensure that the states are able to access this money for the benefit of the Nigerian children. But the indicators are not helpful.
“Nigeria has the highest number of children who are not in schools in the world. It is not because we don’t have the money to put them in schools, and we also have the highest number of girls in the world who are also not in schools, most of them from northern Nigeria. So we have a lot of issues.
“Currently, Nigeria chairs a group of E-9 countries, that is the nine countries in the world with the largest population of children who are not in school. So the indicators are not too good for us, yet we have a lot of money that is inaccessible in the Central Bank. So we really need to find a way of coming out of this and ensure that the states get this money and do what they have to do at the local and state levels,” he said.
On how the money was accumulated, Samuel said, “The UBE law says that Nigeria must deduct two per cent from the consolidated revenue fund constitutionally. It is a law that this money must come in every year, and it comes in millions of naira.
“The condition is that states must fulfill certain conditions before they can access that money, that is the money the federal government is putting on the table. It is the inability to access theses funds that is the problem.
“The money is just lying fallow at the CBN. There was a time the money rose up to N100 billion, but good enough it has come down to N30 billion. We are expecting access to this fund so that at the end of the day, we should have zero fund in the account. There is no use having such an amount in the bank at the time we have less than four years to go to the end of MDGs target. We are not anywhere yet to achieving the goals, yet you have money you cannot access because of bureaucratic issues.
“You can also connect this to what the immediate past minister of Education said; that bureaucracy was an issue; that is why she could not deliver as she wanted. She urged the federal government to do something about bureaucracy in the education sector so that we can rapidly utilised the funds.
“However, you cannot blame UBE. If you go to them, they will tell you some measures have been put in place to utilise these funds so that they are not misused. If the government has the political will, I don’t see any reason why states can’t use up the counterpart funds and do what they want to do with it.”
Prof. Okello Oculi of Africa Vision 525 Initiative said Borno State was leading in the last four years in states not accessing the UBE funds, and gave the state share as over N2 billion.
“You can see, it is not about funding. The funds are there. It is about political will to take education to the next level.
“Borno State is leading in states that are failing to access the UBEC funds. Over N2 billion has not been accessed in the last four years, yet we are talking of poor child enrolment in schools, lack of classrooms, books, uniforms and other items necessary for making learning conducive.
“It is not about lack of money, but about lack of political will. In 2010, only three states-Katsina, Adamawa and FCT got most of the funds from UBE funds. In the year, 33 out of the 37 states didn’t access the money, maybe because they were close to the general elections that were held this year, and states needed money for the elections. That takes us to the issue of corruption and use of huge funds to prosecute such elections.
“My suggestion however is that the civil society should wake up. Religious and cultural bodies should be made to rise to the challenges and help put education issues on the front burner.
“We cannot afford to be telling the same story every year, even with funding by government and other interest groups. Between 2006 and 2007, the amount of money given schools through UBE was N600,000 for every state, but in 2008, the amount increased to N1 million despite projects and equipment being supplied in schools by state governments.
“There is therefore need to look inwards, with the deadline of EFA in 2015 at hand,” Oculi suggested.
Country director, Population Council, Abuja, Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi is of the opinion that the media has failed in its responsibility to encourage education among children, under-privileged and the aged.
He explained that the Nigerian press had not called ‘sufficient attention to this unambiguous evidence on the monumental failing of children by certain state governments.
Efforts, according to him, must be made by the press to re-sensitise, re-mobilise and re-emphasise the needs for formal and informal learning among citizens, irrespective of their ages, capabilities and geo-political zone.
Ahonsi also believed that state governors had a part to play in these efforts. He urged them to take consistent actions that would improve the accessibility and quality of primary and junior secondary school education in their states.
This, he said, could be done with the guidance of the 2010 NEDS report, which he explained would serve as a baseline for tracking educational progress in their states in the next four years.