The federal government recently unveiled plans to offer fresh opportunity to over 10 million out-of-school children in different parts of the country under the Alternate School Programme (ASP). Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Ms. Sadiya Umar Farouq, who disclosed this at the second meeting of the National Steering Committee of the ASP, said the meeting was in line with the directive that was issued by President Muhammadu Buhari that all Nigerians of school age must acquire basic education.
She said efforts were currently ongoing in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, to identify and engage the children and collate data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on the issue. We recall that it was, indeed, the NBS which raised the alarm in one of its reports that there were over 10 million out- of- school children in the country.
Farouq also appealed to the steering committee to quickly adopt and ratify the Concept Note to enable the ministry to forge ahead as swiftly as possible. To kick-start the plan, officials had spent some weeks in engagement with various stakeholders for the successful implementation of the programme.
As a newspaper, we consider this initiative a laudable one in view of the magnitude of the crisis in the education sector. In taking this position, we are aware of the disquiet the phenomenon of out of school children is generating and which constitutes not just an embarrassment to the federal government but also is a major concern to the international community. The problem, though not peculiar to Nigeria, however, poses a serious threat to the human development index of the country as she is a major contributor to this number that is more rampant in sub-Saharan Africa. The situation, therefore, couldn’t be more worrisome especially with the priority the country places on education.
Even more than that, in our view, this deplorable and avoidable phenomenon poses a major security threat to the future of the country as these out- of- school children are potential tools in the hands of desperate politicians and religious bigots.
On the economic front, it is left to the imagination how such potential human resource will be underutilized in an era of constantly advancing knowledge-based environment. It is on these premises that we hinge our support for this effort in the hope that it will be taken seriously by those put in charge.
Expert opinion on this issue aver that this administration ought to have prioritised this plan early enough as a policy to stem the tide of youth restiveness that has continued to pose security and other challenges.
Actually, in our considered opinion, it would have been placed on the same pedestal with programmes and projects like National Social Investment Programme, NSIP, conditional cash transfer, N-Power, National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme and The Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programmes.
The school feeding programme was intended to attract children to educational institutions. It did up to a point. Curiously, the controversies that trailed the handling of the project detracted a good deal from the desired impact.
We, however, are not unmindful of the effect of insecurity as a major factor that gave rise to the crisis out-of- school children has become. The activities of insurgents and bandits on the education sector over the years have been immense and negative enough to undermine the school system.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed also to this unfortunate development, issues like gender discrimination, disasters and armed conflict, language challenges, household poverty, child labour, and child marriage do contribute in depriving many Nigerian children of the right to access quality education. The deplorable state of schools and lack of essential amenities have become commonplace issues of concern too.
Be that as it may, it is better late than never as the task of saving the future of the younger generation cannot be overemphasized. Perhaps, what this administration can do within the time it has will be to set in motion firm policy structures and embark on aggressive sensitization on this project.
As the government intensifies its drive to secure the nation as a major prerequisite for any human endeavour, we believe that the government should, also, equally have a strong message on the need for stakeholders to ensure children return to schools.
There is no denying the fact that the challenge of out- of- school children is like a ticking time bomb. However, as good as this new initiative might be, it is hard to resist the urge to think that it could have come much sooner to have the right kind of impact within the life of this administration.