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With just one year to the Education-For-All target, there are indications that it is unattainable, writes Ifeoma Onuoha.
Nigeria is a party to various international proclamations and laws aimed at providing basic education for every child, especially the Education-For-All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of 2015. However, with only one year to the deadline, Nigeria still ranks among countries with the highest number of out-of-school children, making the lofty goal of EFA in 2015 unattainable. It is estimated that more than 10 million Nigerian children below the age of 15 are not exposed to formal education.
The EFA, a global policy of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), was launched a few years ago with the aim of meeting the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015. This also relates to the MDG2 on universal primary education and MDG3 on gender equality in education, by 2015. Regrettably, one year to the target, there is no conviction that the goals will be achieved. According to the Education-for-All Global Monitoring Report published recently, Nigeria may not meet the target by next year, primarily because of its failure to prioritize the education sector, which is the bedrock of development in any country.
The report revealed that there are more children out of school in Nigeria than in any other country in the world. According to the report, the number of out-of-school children is about 10.5 million, and Nigeria is one of the 15 countries that will have fewer than 80 percent of its primary school age children enrolled in 2015.
Despite the recent efforts by government to pay attention to the foundation stage through the Universal Basic Education (UBE), the almajiri and normadic education programmes, many children are yet to be captured in the system. They are either engaged in child labour by their parents and guardians, or they are not encouraged to go to school.
Child labour undermines efforts at basic education
The issue of child labour has been a major hindrance towards achieving basic education for every child in Nigeria. Many children in different parts of the country have been transformed to breadwinners by their parents and guardians. At early age, children are turned to farmers, hawkers, ‘domestic slaves’, among others thereby denying them their right to basic education. Government on its part has failed to protect the child through the various laws and treaties such as the Child Rights Act which many states in Nigeria have ratified.
Indeed, some parents and guardians have deliberately denied children their right to education. The situation is more pronounced in the Northern part where the almajiri system has made many children not to embrace formal education. For instance, Musa Ali, a 12-year-old boy, who lives in a small community in northern Nigeria, is one of the thousands of out-of-school children. His typical day revolves around his father’s farm, the mosque and back to their hut. Some evenings, when he is free, he plays with other children under the tree in the community. Ali and his playmates who are within the same age range have never been to school since they were born. They spend their day milking cow, planting, weeding or harvesting crops in the farm, and sometimes carry farm produce to the market to sell, while some other lazy ones merely idle away.
The only school close to Ali’s community is a dilapidated structure with very few children attending, this is because most of their parents and guardians will prefer to have them in their farms rather than go and ‘waste’ their time receiving western education.
Ude Chukwulotam Michael, the executive director of Frankrose Children Foundation, a non-governmental organisation with focus on children, regretted the level of poverty experienced in communities like that of Ali which is due to the neglect of formal education. Michael faulted government’s recent intervention to address the gap in basic education for the Nigerian child, saying it was centred on building of schools and provision of desks without ensuring that the children eventually enrol in schools. “The government is busy building schools and providing desks but has not done much to bring the children to school. The question is; are these children willing to come and learn? Concrete efforts should be made to increase incentives for the rural inhabitants to enable them embrace education,” he said. He cautioned that unless government pays more attention to the plight of out-of-school children, Nigeria cannot meet its 2015 Education-For-All target.
Education not yet a priority to government
Stakeholders have blamed the federal government for failing to prioritize the education sector over the years despite its vital position in national development. Due to this neglect, the sector is today grappling with various challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, lack of qualified and well-motivated teachers, instability, policy inconsistency, among others which add up to erode standard.
While allocation to the education sector may have recorded steady increase in the past few years, the sector has remained underfunded. The country is still far from meeting the UNESCO’s 26 percent of annual budget allocation standard. In 2013, the education sector received the highest allocation with N426.56 billion which represented just 8.7 percent of the total budget and an increase of 0.24 percent from the N400.15 billion of 2012. Also in this year’s budget, the sector has recorded an increase of 15 percent with the proposed allocation of N493.5 billion. But Director of Communications, Babcock University and Chief Executive Officer of Babcock Consulting Limited, Prof. Dayo Alao, argued that the allocation is not commensurate with the much-needed improvement in the sector. “The issue in education sector is not in the increment of budgetary allocation on paper, the issue is how much is being released? The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is still threatening to embark on strike despite the six months we lost last year, because government is not fulfilling its own part of the deal,” Prof Alao said. He explained that if budgets in the sector were judiciously implemented, Nigeria would have been able to address most of its education challenges. He was emphatic that the EFA target by 2015 cannot be achieved with the current level of commitment shown by government to the sector. “Building of schools is not what Education-For-All is all about. Education-For-All means that by 2015, every Nigerian child who is up to school age will be in school, but I can tell you, it is not possible because the drive is not there. In the riverrine areas, children who should be in school are fishing while in the north, the children who are supposed to be in school are in the farm.
“It is true that we are making some efforts in adult education and nomadic education, but it is not enough, we are not addressing the problem aggressively as though we want to achieve the 2015 target. The realisation of the dream may not be in 2015, it could be the beginning to the realisation of the dream,” he said.
For Olukayode Oguta, managing director of Beryl Consulting Limited, a human resources and education consulting firm, the education sector is suffering a systemic collapse because government has failed in the discharge of its duties.
He said that the local governments are supposed to drive primary education and ensure that every Nigerian child is enrolled in school. He decried the current system in which the private schools are running the primary education. “The average Nigerian parents cannot afford to send their children to good private schools, but the public schools are dilapidated and unfit for teaching and learning. This is a fundamental problem to the education sector,” Oguta said.
He was worried that the situation in the primary and secondary school levels has added to the problems in the tertiary level. He, however, urged government to focus more on the foundational level of education as it will help in correcting most of the anomalies in the sector, and by doing so, Nigeria could attain Education-For-All target in the years ahead.