The federal government recently revealed that the number of out of school children has increased from 10.5 to 13.2 million. With the bulk of this figure in the north, the traditional and religious leaders of northern Nigeria, worried over the situation, have risen to stem the trend as they converged in Kaduna recently to seek a way out. HENRY TYOHEMBA writes on the outcome of the conference.
There is a saying that ‘education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to people who prepare for it today.’ Investment in the education sector in Nigeria is facing a serious challenge resulting in the yearly increase in the number of children roaming the streets without any hope of getting education. Consistently over the years, nigeria’s annual budgetary allocation to the education sector has fallen far below the 27 per cent recommended for developing countries by UNICEF if they must achieve education for all. Despite the claim by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu in January, 2018 that the number of out-of-school children in the country dropped from 10.5 million to 8.6 million in the last three years, a new report has resurfaced that out of school children has actually increased to 13.2 million.
Earlier this year, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), who were raising concern over the issue stressed that the previous 10.5 million’ out-of- school pupils data was no longer reliable as insurgency and other crisis has forced more pupils out of school in recent times.
It was to further take urgent measures to find a permanent solution to this that UNICEF, the Sultan Foundation for Peace & Development and the Universal Basic Education Commission Abuja joined forces to seek the support of traditional rulers in northern Nigeria to commit and take actions to reduce the number of children missing out of education in the region. The conference, held in Kaduna sought to get the commitment of traditional leaders in northern Nigeria to support massive sensitization programmes at all levels to increase demand for access to education and quality learning. The conference also was to extract from key stakeholders and participants a commitment to act on ensuring improved supply of infrastructure, teachers and materials for equitable access to quality learning for all children in northern Nigeria as a way reducing the number of out of school children.
At the conference, many issues emanated on why the number of out of school children keep increasing. One of such was the country’s low investment in education. Speaking extensively on this, His eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar expressed concern over the country’s low investment in education, observing that recent trends indicate that educational investments have fallen far below expectation and cannot take the country to the level she ought to be. The Sultan expressed readiness and noted that the traditional rulers will gladly implement decisions taken at the 2-day meeting, together with the political leaders. He further affirmed that at the end of the meeting the traditional rulers will sign a document committing themselves to implementing the decisions taken. He added: “This meeting will be a turning point for Nigeria’s out of school children challenge.” The Sultan who chaired the opening session of the event further emphasized that the out-of-school syndrome runs contrary to the social norms and values of the Northern region. He reminded the participants that successive generations of Northern traditional leaders had laid a strong culture and foundation for the thriving of education and sustenance of intellectual legacies. “Northern Traditional leaders,” he said, “have always been at the forefront of the development of Nigeria’s educational development.”
He stressed that the region must act together and act decisively now to end the challenge. He called for a change of attitude and behaviours. He called on parents and other stakeholders to understand the need to ensure that children receive quality education. The meeting also attracted world bodies like UNICEF who expressed concern over the slow progress in achieving Education For All (EFA) and recently the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Deputy Country Representative of UNICEF, Ms Pernille Ironside, hinted that 69 per cent of the out-of-school population in Nigeria is in the Northern States with Bauchi leading the pack with 1.1 million children out of school. Citing gender issues as one of the critical issues the representative noted that more than half of girls are not in school in the Northern region. She challenged participants at the meeting to consider investments in children’s education as the right investment in the nation’s future. She expressed UNICEF’s readiness to build and sustain strong partnerships with the traditional institution in this regard. The UNICEF official noted that if traditional leaders take the right steps it will lead to real change, ensuring that every Nigerian child is in school and learning in order to reach their potentials and the full potential of Nigeria.
The minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu who was represented at the event by UBEC Executive Secretary, Dr. Hamid Bobboyi, reiterated Federal Government’s commitment to delivering quality education and proactive interventions that will guarantee that the out-of-school challenge is addressed. According to him, one of such ways the government is intervening was the securing of $611 million credit facility by Government to support states with the highest number of out-of-school children, under the Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA). The minister further announced that N71,292,316,087.84, being outstanding unassessed FGN/UBE matching grant funds by states as at August 2018 have been deducted at source from the amount accruing to states under the Paris Club refunds. He confirmed that in the coming weeks, UBEC shall be disbursing N142,584,632,175.68 to support educational development in the States. He urged prudent utilization of the funds in order to achieve stated purposes. Dean, School of Continuing Education, Bayero University, Kano, Professor Salihu Shehu, said there is need for attitudinal change and the accordance of priority attention to education as the basis for any significant approach to addressing the challenge of out-of-school children. He opined that children attending almajirai schools should not be regarded as being out of school and suggested the promotion of an inclusive education that leads to the improvement of the almajirai system, including basic (western) literacy and numeracy into its operations. He further emphasized the need for effective community sensitization and mobilization as key to achieving expected results in the push for eradicating the out-of-school menace. The event was attended by prominent traditional rulers in the North, representatives of State Governors, heads of religious organisations including His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, education stakeholders, International Development Partners, among others. The Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai who was represented by Prof. Kabir Mato, Kaduna State Commissioner for Local Government Affairs, declared the event open.
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