By Babatunde Ayedoju
In this 21st century, if there is any social factor that can be instrumental to the growth of any society or determine what the the future of that society will be in the next couple of years, definitely it should be education. Education has been found to be an important issue in life, the key to whatever form of success anyone may hope to achieve in the future.
A scholar, Abdulghani Al-Shuaibi of the Salalah College of Technology, Oman, aptly described the importance of education when he said, “It illuminates a person’s mind and thinking. Having education in an area helps people think, feel, and behave in a way that contributes to their success, and improves not only their personal satisfaction but also their community. In addition, education develops human personality, thoughts, dealing with others and prepares people for life experiences.”
According to the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), 46 percent of Nigeria’s population are under the age of 15. That means at least 46 percent of Nigerians will have their minds properly illuminated and developed to prepare them for the future, if given the right education.
Unfortunately, statistics have shown that it may not be so. Last month, the Federal Ministry of Education reported that the number of out-of-school children stands at 10.1 million, an increase of more than 3 million from last year. This is in line with a UNICEF report that says that Nigeria accounts for one in five out-of-school children anywhere in the world. The report read, “Although primary education is officially free and compulsory, only 67 per cent of eligible children take up a place in primary school. If a child misses school for even a short time there is only a low chance, only about 25 per cent, that the child will ever return.”
UNICEF stated further that girls suffer more than boys in terms of missing out on education. The international agency pointed out that in some parts of the country, less than half the population of girls get to receive any form of primary school education.
Several factors have been put forward as likely causes for this ugly trend. Prominent among them are the COVID-19 pandemic and insecurity in schools.
The COVID-19 pandemic of last year forced parents to withdraw their children from school and when the lockdown was eased, some parents still had their fears, which made it difficult for them to send their children back to school immediately.
According to spokesman of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Emmanuel Hwande, in a statement, “The bandit attacks on schools have significantly kept most of our children out of school, considering that most schools are now closed down and the desire for parents to equip their children with formal education will be on the low scale because the fears are still there, the kidnappers are on a rampage.”
UNICEF noted that social attitudes can also impact negatively on education rates especially in parts of Nigeria where children are exposed to religious education which does not include basic education skills such as literacy and numeracy. These children are officially considered out-of-school by the Government.
In 1976, Nigeria passed a law making education compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 12. By 1980, approximately 98 percent (15,607,505 students) of this age group were enrolled in primary school, up from 37 percent in 1970. By 1985, the country as a whole had 35,000 primary schools with fewer than 13 million students. Another 3.8 million primary school-aged children lived on the streets. Conditions became progressively worse.
What are the implications of this reality on the future of education in Nigeria and even on security of the country?
Dr. S. A. Adisa from the Guidance and Counseling Unit of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria noted that it is not a good development. He said, “When we have so many children out of school, in the long run they become criminals, because things are very difficult at the moment and nobody can take care of them. If they go to school and are educated, they will be well engaged in the future. But as they are out of school now, they will pose a threat to the community and the country in general.”
Speaking with The Hope as well, Professor Suleiman Salau from the Department of Mass Communication, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria said, “When you have so large a number of children out of school, it will affect development negatively. It also has social implications. They are likely to be ready tools for thuggery and some other social vices in future, except they are able to learn some skills. It’s a potential danger for the future and government needs to take it more serious.”
He stated further that: “It’s very complicated.Some people see it from a religious perspective that their children should go for religious training, instead of being in school. Unfortunately, they don’t have much time for the religious education because most of the time, they are on the streets, looking for food. Very soon, such children become adults and want to marry. How will they take care of the family?”
What then is the way forward? How can this ugly development be reversed? Dr. Adisa said that “Educational stakeholders have to take proper care of that sector to make sure that children receive sound education. The government already has good plans like the 6-3-3-4 and 9-3-4 systems of education. If these children can go through them successfully, they would have been well equipped for the future. Also, aside budgeting money for education, the government should make sure there is proper follow up.”
Professor Salau said, “The way out is for the government to find a way of returning them to school. Years ago, I was a member of a committee on how to integrate religious education into the formal educational system. Our report was that the government should support their religious trainers with money and provide food for the children. They would spend three days on religious education and two days on formal education. Also government should give them time to learn skill. Unfortunately, the report was not properly implemented.”