• Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Education and development

Striving for excellence: Nigeria’s journey towards global educational standards

Education starts from the cradle. Catching children young with quality education remains a veritable tool to lifelong development. As the future of a nation’s socio-economic and political life lies on the quality of children’s education, a shaky educational foundation will impact negatively on their lives when they become adults.

Many Nigerian children have no opportunity to experience the much-needed early childhood education. The magnitude of the problems facing education at the basic level in Nigeria is reflected in the 2012 Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report which revealed that 10.5 million Nigerian children are out of school.

Reports show that many Nigerian children do not attend school because their labour is needed to either help at home or bring additional income into the family, just as many families are unable to cope with associated costs of sending their children to school such as uniforms, textbooks, transportation, feeding, among others.

Data obtained from United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) show that 40 percent of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend any primary school, with the northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country, particularly for girls. The data further show that 30 percent of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54 percent transit to Junior Secondary Schools, with the reason for this low completion rate traceable to child labour, economic hardship and early marriage for girls.

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This situation has been worsened by the heightened terrorist attacks in many parts of the north, which sometimes target schools. The abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from a school in Chibok, Bornu State, in 2014 reflects this ugly situation.

President Goodluck Jonathan, while inaugurating the steering committee for the Safe Schools Initiative in July 2014, decried the high percentage of school dropouts in Nigeria.

“From statistics, the dropout of students at the basic level of education is quite high. The basic level is the primary and secondary. The dropout at that level is too high. Some states are fairly okay with 1 or 2 percent. But some states are as high as 70 percent. If the dropout rate of students at the basic level is as high as 70 percent, that means that only 30 percent goes to school. That is terrible. In Borno State today, for example, children, especially girls, are not going to school because of the risk they face from terrorism and violence,” Jonathan said.

The Safe Schools Initiative, an initiative that has been widely acclaimed, was launched at the World Economic Forum on Africa held in Abuja in May last year in response to the growing number of attacks on the right to education, including the kidnapping of more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls which sparked a global movement to #BringBackOurGirls. It was launched with an initial $10 million, while the Federal Government agreed to match the funding with an additional $10 million. The Safe Schools Fund supports programmes for the physical protection of schools, community safe-school activities, parent and teacher safety groups, and additional measures and advocacy to protect education from attack.

Indeed, with Nigeria’s exponential growth in population putting immense pressure on the nation’s resources and overstretching public services and infrastructure, children less than 15 years of age who account for about 45 percent of the country’s population have a fair share of the current impasse, thereby putting an overwhelming burden on education and other sectors.

Despite government’s efforts through the implementation of the free Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act passed into law in 2004 to fight illiteracy and extend basic education opportunities to all Nigerian children in the country, it has not done enough to reduce the stress on the educational system.

The Child’s Rights Act was passed into law in 2003. Unfortunately, it is yet to be implemented in most states in the country. The law stipulates penalties for parents who disobey the provisions of the Act, especially as it pertains to the menace of street begging, child labour, child trafficking and other child-related misdemeanour.

We believe that Nigeria, having ratified and acceded to tenets of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is saddled with the moral burden of caring for its less-privileged children. Government should devise more proactive ways of monitoring the performance of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).

Every Nigerian child should be given this constitutional right. Free and compulsory education is not a privilege; it is the right of every child. And where this right is denied children, the society as a whole suffers. The next generation should be saved from itself.