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Nigerian children denied education on states’ failure to access grant

Nigerian children denied education on states’ failure to access grant

Millions of Nigerian children are being denied education over the failure of states to access and utilise the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) intervention fund, findings have shown.

Despite the critical role the UBEC grant plays in developing basic education in the country, data from the commission show that even funds disbursed to states running into billions of naira have not been utilised due to lack of interest by government and failure to prioritise education.

Several experts told BusinessDay that with this trend, basic education will further deteriorate, with schools lacking in infrastructure and personnel to provide the quality education that is needed for the development of the country. They said the country will continue to suffer ripple effects of this menace if deliberate action is not taken.

UBEC has repeatedly decried the refusal of state governments to access the fund. According to the latest data published on the commission’s website, between 2005 and 2021, 31 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) did not access over N48 billion available for improving basic education.

The states include Abia, Adamawa, Anambra, Benue, Borno, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Sokoto, and Taraba.

Others are Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta,Yobe, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Lagos, Ondo, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Zamfara and the FCT.

The failure of states to access the funds has persisted for many years; between 2015 and 2017, 24 states failed to access the N47.5 billion set aside for states, only a total of N1.8 billion was accessed. By the end of 2018, no state had accessed a total of N36.4 billion.

Also, by the end of 2020, the commission decried that no state including the FCT had accessed the N41.06 billion matching grant provided by the commission.

Hamid Bobboyi, executive secretary of UBEC, also lamented that even states that managed to access the funds had not utilised it because they did not have any action plan on how to utilise the funds.

Data from the commission reveal that about N110 billion of the intervention funds accessed from UBEC were not utilised by the states in 2021, and the money has remained in the coffers of State Universal Basic Education Boards lying fallow.

Between 2015 and 2018, the federal government disbursed N142.6 billion to state governments and the FCT for implementation of UBEC.

In addition, states also failed to access the N377.07 million earmarked for special needs education by the federal government through UBEC.

UBEC Act 2004 empowers it to disburse matching grants for the preceding year to the 36 states and the FCT. According to section 11, subsection 2 of the law, “for any state to qualify for the federal government block grant pursuant to sub-section 1(1) of this section, such state shall contribute not less than 50 percent of the total cost of projects as its commitment in the execution of the project”.

The grant is aimed at providing quality and quantitative free and compulsory education for six years of primary and three years of junior secondary education.

This is mostly because reports have revealed the pathetic state of basic schools and quality of learning in many states. A World Bank report reveals that Nigeria is experiencing learning poverty, in which 70 percent of 10-year-olds cannot understand a simple sentence or perform basic numeracy tasks.

The 2018 National Personnel Audit report, which is the latest, shows that up to 13 million Nigerian children cannot access primary education due to gross infrastructural and personnel deficit in basic schools across the country.

It also shows that over two million children lack opportunity to enrol for primary 1 when they become six years old, and over eight million still lack access to junior secondary schools nationwide. The report shows that enablers such as the availability of schools, classrooms and teachers for primary education nationwide are still grossly adequate, despite interventions.

The report further revealed that 33,214 public early childhood care development education schools, representing about 50 percent, are not in good condition, while the teacher deficit in Nigeria is about 72 percent.

This poor investment in the sector is also responsible for the high out-of-pocket payment for education, according to the 2022 Education Finance Watch by Global Education Monitoring Report Team, the World Bank, and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

According to the report, Nigerian households are responsible for up to 72 percent of total education expenditure in the country, as households lament the high cost of sending their children to school. It said households must save and borrow for education because public spending on education is very low.

The report also shows Nigeria is among the countries in the world with the highest out-of-pocket payment due to chronic under-investment in education, and as a consequence many families cannot enrol their children in schools due to worsening poverty and inflation.

Experts believe that the UBEC fund would be instrumental in addressing the out-of-school children menace. Though some studies suggest that the growing insecurity is a leading factor that has caused a surge in the number of children who are not in school, other reports however suggest that poor enrolment in school is fuelling insecurity.

Nigeria’s minister of education, Adamu Adamu, recently said that the out-of-school children menace has not been tackled and remains one of the biggest problems in the sector. He blamed states for not investing in education and allowing the menace to grow.

A report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in October 2022 revealed that about 20 million children are out of school in Nigeria, up from the 10.5 million recorded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2020.

With the new data, Nigeria is among the top three countries whose children and youths are excluded from education, alongside India and Pakistan.

According to UNESCO, the new methodology combines multiple data sources that have been used in the past to estimate flagship health indicators, such as maternal and infant mortality rates. It said this is the first time it has been used in education, which marks a significant improvement to the robustness of the estimates.

Princewill Anyalewechi, a former director in the ministry of education, said unless states begin to prioritise education, Nigeria cannot make any headway in improving school enrolment and quality of learning. He stressed that efforts must be intensified to ensure that school enrolment of children outweigh the birth rate.

According to him, the growing number of out-of-school children is “just a time bomb waiting to explode.”

Read also: Almajiri children: Nigeria’s ticking bomb

Folashade Adebayo, communication officer at UNICEF, warned that keeping or leaving children out of school is in itself a trigger factor for insecurity.

She said the government and other stakeholders must collaborate to improve infrastructure and retrain/incentivise teachers to make education attractive to children and parents.

“Poor parents will see no point in sending their children to schools where they sit on floors or learn under trees. There is no point either when teachers in those schools don’t show up because they lack salary or motivation,” she said.

According to Adebayo, out-of-school children become unpatriotic, conflict-happy, high risk-taking, antisocial adults.

“Schools are not just for academics; they are platforms for essential services like nutrition, participation, positive socialisation, civic education, aspirations, respect for others, tolerance and so much more. All of these are lost when children are out of school,” she added.