A recent survey, which shows that some Nigerian children have never attended school, is true but totally unacceptable, particularly when it has been established that literacy is a vital instrument for national development.
Results of the survey released in Abuja recently, which looked at the situation in different geo-political zones and states revealed that 72 per cent of children aged between 6 and 16 years in Borno State, for instance, have never been in school.
According to the chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), Mr. Samaila Makama, who presented the key findings of the Nigeria Education Data Survey (NEDS) 2010, states in the northern part of the country have the lowest rate of basic school attendance across Nigeria, with states in the North-West and the North-East geo-political zones being the worst hit.
From the survey, Borno State is closely followed by Yobe State, which has 58 per cent and Bauchi State, which has 52 per cent.
In the North West zone, Zamfara State leads the pack with 68 per cent, followed by Sokoto State – with 66 per cent, while Kebbi came third with 60 per cent.
The result for the North-Central zone shows Niger State having the highest rate of non-attendance with 47 per cent, followed by Kwara, Benue and Nasarawa states all tied at 12 per cent each.
Other revelations by the report included trends in Secondary Net Attendance Ratio, indicating participation in schooling among those of official school age (12-17 years). The report shows that secondary school attendance by students within the official school age range has increased over the years from 24 per cent in 1990 to 44 per cent in 2010.
The survey clearly shows that the northern part of the country has continued to lose the race to meet the target in the education component of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The results of the survey notwithstanding, the fact remains that over the last decade, and according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, Nigeria’s exponential growth in population and bad governance, have combined to put immense pressure on the country’s resources and on already overstretched public services and infrastructure.
The result of this sad situation is that across the country, a good number of children are living on the streets, under bridges, in motor parks, market stalls or with other families sometimes in slave- like conditions.
Most of these children, whose ages range from 5-17, are involved in different types of work without any clear pattern and are prone to illnesses, malnourishment, drug abuse, sexual abuse, crimes, accidents, arrest and harassment by law enforcement agents, and are also at risk of being trafficked.
It is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school and despite a significant increase in net enrolment rates in recent years, particularly in the southern part of the country, most of those in school study under very unhealthy conditions.
For a country that wants to be counted among the 20 biggest economies of the world by the year 2020, this, obviously, is not the way to go.
Indeed, there is little or nothing to celebrate in our education sector, even in those states of the country that have recorded increased enrolment rates. The increase in enrolment without commensurate improvement in infrastructure has made it more difficult to guarantee quality education and conducive learning environment.
Although the compulsory free Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act, passed into law to fight illiteracy and extend basic education opportunities to all children in the country is meant to address such situations, the number of schools, facilities and teachers available for this scheme across the country, still remain inadequate for the number of children and youths that are eligible for the programme.
Despite political commitment to trying to reverse years of neglect in the education sector and a significant increase in federal funding, a lot still needs to be done as investment in basic education in Nigeria is still low when compared to other Sub-Saharan countries.
For instance, the issue of girl-child education, particularly in Northern Nigeria, where the gender gap remains particularly wide, must be addressed.
While the authorities must double efforts to ensure that all school age children are enrolled in schools, emphasis must also be placed on provision of quality education in conducive environment with necessary infrastructure. Also efforts must be made to ensure that those who enrol in schools stay till the end of their studies. This is because it has been found that some families cannot afford the associated costs of sending their children to school such as uniforms, textbooks, transportation and feeding.
Indeed, many children do not complete the primary education cycle. According to current data from UNICEF, 30 per cent of pupils in Nigeria drop out of primary school and only 54 per cent transit to Junior Secondary Schools. Reasons for this low completion rate include economic hardship that leads to child labour and early marriage for girls.
Against this background, it is obvious that there is little or no hope of Nigeria achieving the MDG of ‘Education For All by 2015’ except something urgent and drastic is done by all stakeholders including the Federal and state governments, development partners, friendly foreign countries and non governmental organisations, because without mass literacy rapid development would continue to be elusive.