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Our children don’t belong to the streets

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“Education cost money, but then so does ignorance”

– Sir Claus Moser

This article is a continuation of last week’s titled Conversation on Street Children. From the conversation, three issues came out clearly as being responsible for the increase in the number of street children on Nigeria: culture, poverty and government funding. Frankly, culture plays a significant role in whatever we do as a people. It is almost becoming a culture of not doing anything well in the country. That is why it has taken the country many years of going through a tortuous path towards sustainable development without much to show for it.

Culture and education are mutually dependent. This writer does not believe that there is a culture in any part of Nigeria that prevents children from schooling but encourages them to live on the streets begging. A respected columnist in the Punch Newspaper has this to say about culture and education of our children: “The culture that encourages Nigerian children to hit the streets begging and not to be in schools learning must be annihilated and its designers apprehended. That culture is not just fashioned out of the pit of incognizance; it is flash-out wicked. It must stop!”

What do we mean by culture? There are several definitions of culture out there. The culture of a people is the way of life of that people, the things they value, the things they do not value, their habits of life, their work of art, what they do and what they like.Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits, acquired by man as a member of society.The culture of a society guides its educational pattern. But, if the culture of a society is materialistic, then its educational pattern will be shaped for the attainment of material value which promotes pleasures of senses and material comforts. A society devoid of any culture will have no definitive educational structure. Thus, the culture of a country has a very powerful impact on its educational patterns.

While many Nigeria’s public primary and secondary schools are in shambles, almost all the 36 state governors have not paid counterpart funds that will automatically enable them access the Universal Basic Education Commission’s (UBEC) funds. From the UBEC’s website, one could see at a glance that unaccessed matching grant from 2005- 2018 as at 11 September 2018 was almost N87 billion. (See ubec.gov.ng) for more details. One could see that a culture has emerged with the yearly non-payment of counterpart fund by most state governors. This is not a political party issue. Neither is it a problem of the North nor South. This article brings to fore the casual attitude displayed by our elected governors on public education. The question that readily comes to mind is: Could there be bureaucratic challenges faced by the states in an attempt to pay their counterpart fund? A culture of not paying “counterpart fund” by all the 36 state governors including the Federal Capital Territory is worthless.

Any culture that does not support compulsory education of the Nigerian child whether the child is from North, South, East or West should be re-examined with immediate effect to identify the causes of failure of the public education system in Nigeria. The suggestion to re-examine our culture is not an attack on the country.The main point is that Nigeria cannot overcome underdevelopment without adapting our culture to modern industrial realities. We may have to look at other cultures that are at the forefront of economic development. We should look at South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, and China amongst others, and ask the question: How did these countries make it? It is not through dilapidated public primary and secondary schools.

It has been expressed on many occasions in this column that Nigeria must imbibe the culture of using scientific means to solve industrial, medical and management problems. The quality of human resource is not independent of culture. All the newly elected state governors must be prepared to take tough decisions. They must cut their excesses in running cost in order to adequately fund public primary and secondary schools. The 9 years education program as prescribed by the law establishing UBEC to “eradicate literacy, ignorance, and poverty as well as stimulate and accelerate national development, political consciousness and national integration” is out-of-date. Why? The world is changing at a faster rate. No nation will wait for Nigeria to put her house in order. The world is running a knowledge-based economy and it is in the fourth industrial revolution. How will the Nigerian child fit into a technologically-driven world after leaving junior secondary school? It is because most Nigerian children are not well prepared for requirements of the future that is why the country is weighed down by criminals and criminality perpetrated mostly by children who grew up in the streets.

This writer is of the opinion that a 12-year compulsory education should be put in place. To this end, it’s imperative for our legislators at the National Assembly and all the states to review the UBE Act. What about the cost implication? That is where the quote above becomes relevant as no amount of money spent on education of a child is too much. Can you measure the benefits accruable to a child who has been in school compulsorily up to the age of 18 years and sponsored by the state government? The benefits are immeasurable. One may argue that most public primary and secondary schools do not have modern facilities and quality teachers for compulsory education of our children. If there was political will on the side of those who govern, there will be success in providing free compulsory education for our children. State governors must find ways and means of reducing cost of governance in their states.Tough decisions must be taken to remove our children from the streets. Our children do not belong to the streets. Thank you!

 

MA Johnson

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