The recent move by Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, in keeping with his campaign promise, to declare free compulsory basic and secondary education in the state, is a commendable one.
And to speed up the implementation, the state has organised a summit on free education. Ganduje said the objective of the summit was to discuss, analyse, and generate ideas towards the implementation of the vision for free and compulsory basic and secondary education in the state.
On his part, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was the special guest of honour at the summit in Kano State, said the introduction of free and compulsory education by Governor Ganduje was the beginning of educational revolution in the Northern region and the country.
This newspaper commends the governor for initiating this bold policy. In our view, this is a welcome development as free primary education is fundamental in guaranteeing everyone has access to education.
Instructively, Section 18(3) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, places on the federal and state governments, an obligation to eradicate illiteracy and provide free and compulsory education.
Section 2 of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act provides that every government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.
But sadly, the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria in the last five years rose from 10.5 to 13 million, the highest in the world.
According to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), 69 per cent of the over 13 million out-of-school children between ages six and 14 are in the North. Bauchi and Katsina top the list of educationally disadvantaged states with 1.1 million and 781,500 out-of- school children respectively. Out of this number, young girls constitute the largest demography at 60 per cent.
Also, a recent report by the National Council for the Welfare of the Destitute (NCWD) approximated the number of almajiri at seven million, a practice prevalent in the Northern states of Nigeria where school age children, who are supposedly being schooled in Islamic knowledge, are instead left to roam streets to beg for alms rather than go to formal schools. Kano contributes significantly to this figure.
Indeed, we are happy that Kano has decided to take the bull by the horns by introducing the free education policy. There is no denying the fact that the North is lagging behind other regions in the area of education.
It is instructive to note that there is a nexus between insecurity and lack of education. It is not a coincidence that the highest security challenges of insurgency and banditry in the country today are mostly recorded in the region.
We recall that last year the federal government disclosed that only 173 pupils from Zamfara, Taraba and Kebbi states registered for the 2018 common entrance examination for admission into the 104 Unity Schools in the country. In that same examination, Lagos and Rivers states had 24,465 and 4,810 candidates respectively.
These figures should worry every governor, politician, traditional ruler and leader of thought in the North. While a lot of factors contribute to the low enrolment of pupils in school ranging from ethno-religious belief, some parents lack the financial resources to sponsor their wards in school.
Accordingly, we call on Northern governors to declare a state of emergency on education in their respective states by significantly increasing their budgetary allocation to the sector.
We also strongly aver that laws should be enacted by northern governors to stop parents from giving their children to Muslim clerics, popularly called Mallams, who lack the financial capacity to cater for the training of their children under the almajiri system. Stiffer penalties should also be meted out to erring parents. Also, the Northern elite should take a holistic look at the way the almajiri system is presently run to determine if, as a development vehicle, it can adequately prepare their children for the tasks ahead as leaders of tomorrow in the context of modern realities. Their findings should guide them on whether the system needs to be reformed or retained in its present form.
In view of the foregoing, we call on other governors in the North to declare free primary and secondary education as this will go a long way in reducing drastically the number of out- of -school children in the country in general and the region in particular.
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