No doubt, the 13.5 million out-of-school children is an albatross on successive administrations in the country. Sadly, with the current increase in the abduction of schoolchildren, particularly in the north, the number may worsen in the coming months.
Regrettably, insurgents and bandits have now made a career out of abducting and attacking schools and schoolchildren in the north west, north central and north east. This is sad and frightening. This is the major reason why more and more children are forced out of school and following the displacement of their families by bandits, terrorists and other forms of violence, many of them are in IDP camps living in conditions not conducive for learning.
Unfortunately, a chunk of the out-of-school children in the country today are from the North. A survey conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had indicated that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world. Statistics also show that only 61 percent of children within the six-to-11-years age bracket regularly attend primary school while the North has an abysmal net attendance rate of 35.6 percent.
To be sure, the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria is more than the population of Norway , Singapore and Cuba. This is shameful and should not be allowed to continue .
In a country bedeviled by insurgency in the north east and banditry in the north west and north central , the huge army of out-of-school children will be a ready reservoir for insurgents and bandits to recruit from.
Despite this grave danger, efforts to reduce this number by successive administrations have not yielded the desired results . The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme was introduced in 1999 by the federal government as a reform programme aimed at providing quality basic education throughout Nigeria. The objectives of the UBE Programme include: ensuring an uninterrupted access to nine-year formal education by providing free and compulsory basic education for every child of school age – six years of primary education and three years of junior secondary education; providing early childhood care development and education (ECCDE) and reducing school drop-out among others.
However, 21 years after the creation of UBEC, it is safe to say that the programme has not achieved its desired goals as the number of out-of- school children keeps increasings year after year.
It is gratifying to note that President Muhammadu Buhari had in February inaugurated an 18-member Presidential Steering Committee on Alternate School Programme, ASP.
The ASP is an innovative and flexible approach to learning and skills development which ensures that education is designed to specifically address the needs of the target beneficiaries and is delivered conveniently, without unnecessary encumbrances. By targeting out-of-school children, the programme will ensure that more children are equipped with basic literacy skills, reasoning capabilities, and technical and vocational expertise that will enable them to live fulfilled lives.
It is also expected to significantly reduce the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria, provide access to inclusive and equitable quality education, eliminate child labour, facilitate the effective integration of religious discipline and vocational training with basic education, provide opportunities for children to develop life-supporting skills from vocational and entrepreneurship training to improve their chances of future success, improve the quality and outcome of basic education in the country and foster tolerance, unity, and integration of all children with diverse backgrounds into the larger society.
Fortuitously, the government had also last week inaugurated a 33-member Technical Working Group to ensure the effective planning and implementation of the Alternate School Programme.
This newspaper commends the bold move by the current administration to reduce the menace of the out-of-school children . However, we believe that successive governments have laudable ideas to achieve this feat but the problem has always been the political will to implement the project .
In view of the foregoing, we call on the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, which is in the forefront of the project, to carry out this assignment with all the seriousness and diligence it requires. We insist that this should not be another laudable project that will be truncated by political,ethnic and religious considerations. This programme needs to succeed. It has to.
Finally, the government must do everything within its power to restore security across the country. No meaningful learning can take place in places wracked by killings, kidnapping and other terror attacks.