In spite of efforts by governments, many more Nigerian children are dropping out of school. Although the Federal Ministry of Education is picking holes in the 2021 figures of an analytical statistics organisation, SBMorgan Intelligence, that put the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria at 12.3 million, the latest data of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, says the current number is 20 million.
UNESCO, which says a new and improved methodology was used to arrive at the latest figures, said there are “244 million children and youth between the ages of 6 and 18 worldwide (who) are still out of school”, with India, Nigeria and Pakistan having the highest figures of out-of-school children globally.
Poverty, lack of schools, insecurity and tradition, among others, are the major factors pushing many children out of school.
Daily, during school hours, many underage children who are supposed to be in school, are seen in traffic selling sachet water and assorted drinks; in mechanic workshops and markets learning trade. Some beg for alms in between traffic, others carry loads for a fee in markets,
There is an internationally recommended benchmark that countries spend 15-20 per cent of their national budgets on education.
But in the 2021 budget, only a paltry 5.7 per cent was allocated to education by the Federal Government. In 2022, the allocation was marginally increased to 7.2 per cent. For the 2023 budget, 8.8 per cent was given to education.
In the North-East of Nigeria, only 41 per cent of eligible girls receive primary education. The figure is 47 per cent in the North-West. Social attitudes also impact negatively education rates, especially in northern Nigeria.
In North-eastern and North-western states, 29 per cent and 35 per cent of Muslim children, respectively, attend Qur’anic schools, which do not include basic education skills, such as literacy and numeracy. These children are officially considered out of school by the government.
Despite the claim of zero tolerance for out-of-school children, Lagos is said to be the 3rd state with the highest number of out-of-school children in the South-West. It has 1,009 public schools spread across 20 local government areas, out of which 10 has a high number of out-of-school children.
Peter Hawkins, UNICEF representative in Nigeria, said in November: “As we celebrate the International Day of Education today, we must take a close look at what is happening to our children in Nigeria, and the opportunities they are missing out on when they lack education.
“We need to look towards communities – leaders, parents, teachers and caregivers – and together, find the best strategies to ensure that all children enroll into school, have access to continuous learning
And yet, Hawkins has another set of worries about us and our children: “We also need to ensure that children are safe when they are in school – no child should be afraid to enter a classroom – afraid their school might be attacked or that they will be kidnapped. And no parent should fear sending their children to school.”
In 2021 alone, there were 25 terrorist attacks on schools. A total of 1,440 children were abducted, while 16 children were killed. In March 2021, about 618 schools were shut down in Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Niger and Yobe states, over the fear of attack and abduction of pupils and members of staff.