Recently, the Katsina State government, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched a back-to-school Programme aimed at reducing the high number of out-of-school children in the state.
Records from the Katsina State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) show that no fewer than 775,000 children of school going age are currently out of school and hence roaming the streets in different nooks and crannies of the state. With a population of over six million people and having a cherished history of scholarship spanning decades, the fact that Katsina has an intolerably high number of children not in school is worrisome.
Although the figure represents a fraction of the over 13 million children out of school in different states of the country, reports indicate that in Katsina State, Kankara and Kafur councils, out of the 34 local government areas, are the worst hit.
Katsina State Commissioner for Education, Badamasi Lawal, said that the state government was collaborating with relevant partners in ensuring the speedy return of the affected children to school. A number of factors are responsible for the unusually high number of out of school children in Katsina State prominent among which are the raging insecurity in the area and the effect of COVID-19 pandemic.
We note rather sadly, that the abduction of schoolchildren as witnessed in Kankara and other areas in the state, the continuous displacement of communities by bandits, among other factors, have contributed immensely to an increase in the number of out-of-school children in Katsina.
Like Kaduna, Sokoto and Zamfara states in the Northwest, Katsina is witnessing disturbing threats to security of lives and property occasioned by rising cases of banditry and kidnapping with schools not spared as students are among those abducted.
The abduction of school children and attack on schools as witnessed in some parts of the North West, north central and northeast has forced many parents to withdraw their children from schools. Only recently, a UNICEF report revealed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen to 13.2 million from 10 million.
While the 13.2 million out-of-school children continue to be a source of concern to, not just the government and parents, there are fears that with the raging insecurity and the attendant attacks on schools, more children may be forced to abandon school.
Clearly, there is the need to reverse the trend to avert a situation where the nation will end up having a whole generation of children without any form of formal education. This reasoning informed Katsina’s collaboration with development partners to aggressively begin the process of returning children to school.
Through the project, the state hopes to return 200,000 out-of-school children, including the almajirai, to school this year. With the needed commitment as clearly demonstrated by government, the state can achieve this feat and even surpass it, as it is doable.
To succeed, the state must get the buy-in of all the relevant stakeholders including parents/guardians, religious and community leaders whose roles are critical. Beyond the launch of the project, the government must prioritise education by ensuring the provision of teaching and learning materials, training and re-training of teachers and importantly, accord top-most priority to safety of schools.
More than anything else, this underscores the need for adequate funding of the education sector. Good enough, the Masari administration has, for the past three years, consistently allocate 22 per-cent of the state’s budget to the education sector as part of measures to make funds available for this critical sector.
It is a given that expenditure in the education sector must cover infrastructure development, training and re-training of staff, recruitment, promotion, regular payment of salary and other welfare packages to teachers.
Commendably, the Masari administration has embarked on the renovation and construction of new classrooms with officials putting the number of new classrooms constructed and renovated across the state at 752 and 1, 598 respectively.
We believe that the back-to-school project could not have come at a better time. However, to make the desired impact, the government must confront factors that forced children out of school in the first place. Otherwise, achieving the desired results will be a pipe dream.
In the meantime, it is our considered opinion that the situation on ground is desperate and requires measures that will address it as such. Apart from donor agencies and other partners, the federal government, in our view, has a critical role to play in assisting states like Katsina in reviving the education sector. It is a national call that should be above politics.