Leave no child behind

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Another look at Vision 2020 and Child’s Rights Act 2003

BY LOLA FABOWALÉ

This month (September 2013), Nigeria’s Child’s Rights Act, 2003 will clock 10 years of existence. That will be just seven years shy of the country’s Vision 2020 target to be an industrial powerhouse with the stature of membership in the G-20 Club by the year 2020. 

A key tenet of The Child’s Right Act, 2003 is that the country will furnish children with quality, culturally-rich education, irrespective of background. Achieving this aim will be core to an innovative, diversified and integrated economy.

Yet, Nigeria’s educational system remains uneven in terms of accessibility, affordability and quality, especially, when factored against disabilities, gender, income and locale. Of the 60% of children between the age of 6 and 11 years who are in school, 80% attend public primary schools where at least 23% of teachers are unqualified to teach because they lack the basic National Certificate in Education (NCE).

Remaining students divide roughly equally into: 10% who attend private primary schools that meet world standards; and another 10% whose schools’ rankings fall in the middle. Basic infrastructure such as classrooms, computers and constant electricity supply, are often lacking in the public schools.  Interaction between classrooms and the immediate environment tends to be low.

Government educational spending is consistent neither with United Nations guidelines nor with G-20 levels.

Low status of infant and maternal health services means that many students are ill-prepared to learn from birth to age 18.  Many children go to school hungry.  Poor remuneration and ill-working conditions translate to brain drain from the education sector; few talented job aspirants want to teach.

Observations

The ensuing disparities run contrary to the goals of Child’s Rights Act 2003.  Resultant differences also contradict Nigeria’s G-20 aspirations as seen–in a low literacy rate of 61.3%; in an under-diversified labour force that is skewed towards the arts rather than the sciences; in declining school and labour participation rates that are more pronounced for children from disadvantaged backgrounds (low-income, female, rural, or disabled) who experience acute deprivation best characterized as multiple jeopardy; in growing incidence of juvenile delinquency; in rising levels of under-skilled, under-employed and unemployed citizens.

Lax standards, or high costs of quality education, or both, mean that some girls take on “Sugar Daddies” as financial sponsors, trade sex for marks, or face sexual harassment from teachers or fellow students.  For many such girls, harsh realities may feature curtailed future aspirations arising from either early pregnancies, or single parenthood, or membership in polygamous homes.

Reliable and consistent data reflect a society committed to monitoring progress in its structures and processes. The dearth of statistics on the status of persons with disabilities is quite telling in this regard.  So too are prevailing societal attitudes which tend to treat persons with disabilities as objects of charity rather than as potentially powerful change agents in whom Nigeria needs to invest.

Yet, all around the world, governments are envisioning how they can set better policies and provide better services for their citizens.  Recognizing that they must compete internationally to improve the livelihoods of their population, they seek to groom all their citizens with top-notch, life-long education rooted from infanthood.

Aspire forward

With a view to holding periodic progress conferences (including in 2014/2015), stakeholders in Nigeria–governments, non-governmental organizations, donor agencies, faith-based institutions, teachers’ training institutions, parents’-teachers’ associations, students’ unions, alumni associations, cultural institutions, teachers’ unions and other professional associations—including Nigerians in the Diaspora, should ASPIRE to the G-20 club by following these six steps:

Adhere to the non-discriminatory spirit of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003 by making education mandatory and free for all starting at three years of age and up to 18.

Spear-head the passing of an Accessibility for Nigerians with Disabilities Act that ends current patronizing approach to persons with disabilities, recognizing their potential to contribute to the nation by providing them with full access to education;

Press the Ministry of Education to work, in a results-based format, with other stakeholders to secure a truly diversified, entrepreneurial, innovative and integrated work force by

» setting curricula to demystify the mathematical sciences, especially for girls;

» enhancing merit-based standards of conduct among students, teachers and guardians;

» creating life-long curricula to better integrate the formal and informal sectors;

» upgrading teachers’ conditions with better pay, facilities, training and iterative review;

» requiring the Ministry plus its recipients to report budget and expenditures on-line; and

» ensuring school preparedness from birth to age 18 by integrating early education programs, school feeding programs, and infant and maternal health services.;

Intensify efforts to match electricity supply with demand to seize opportunities for distance learning via diverse media—video, internet and mobile cellular telephone applications;

Reinforce efforts of the Federal Office of Statistics to upgrade systematic collection of statistical data on education and labor participation rates including for persons with disabilities; and

Enrich budget allocations for education to meet or surpass the 26% standard of the United Nations or G-20 levels of between 5% and 10% of Gross National Product.

Considerations

The six ASPIRE steps outlined in this piece can resolve many of the problems besetting Nigeria’s youth education agenda and the country’s whole economy.  Increased and targeted spending on education will focus labor planning and development at all levels. Reliable statistics on disadvantaged groups, especially persons with disabilities, will facilitate charting progress on their status.  Posting all government budget and expenditures on-line will stimulate public probity. Integrated social policy that enhances school preparedness from birth will prove a prudent investment.  Better governance will encourage investment in all economic sectors.

Religious and cultural institutions have always had a role in promoting ethical standards such as excellent morals, honesty and fair-dealing.  They can also transform lives by aspiring individuals to rise above rather than succumb to negative conditions and circumstances. Ethical and moral principles remain particularly relevant in today’s global economy where investors seek international contexts where they can reap fair and attractive returns. Entrenching ethical principles and values will make Nigeria an attractive hub for both domestic and foreign investment.

Developing life-long curricula that match career planning with infrastructural needs will boost economic integration across formal and informal sectors.  As part of the ASPIRE steps, many of those to be employed in the artisanal trades as masons, electricians and mechanics will now complete a mandatory twelve years of minimum academic training (as opposed to the current nine), with opportunities for future upgrades.  At the same time, those pursuing higher education will add some blue to their white by seeking exposure to practical, entrepreneurial or highly-skilled manual training. Such developments will boost private job creation, lessening job-seekers’ current dependence on the public sector as a main creator of employment.

A smart, decentralized nation-wide energy grid

Arguably, the fourth of the six ASPIRE steps—a viable, smart, decentralized nation-wide electricity grid–touches the other five.  It deserves topmost priority.  In this age of information, connectivity is vital; electricity is an essential conduit for both the receipt and the delivery of education services. Various innovations in educational services via diverse media—video, mobile cellular applications, and internet–require electricity to function.  By the same token, strong labour competencies grounded in a versatile education system are the only solutions to the myriad of challenges facing Nigeria’s beleaguered energy sector.

Stakeholders should welcome the decision of the federal government to decentralize/privatize electricity generation, transmission and distribution as opportunities to strengthen local involvement in the sector and to honor children’s rights. Electricity has been in Nigeria since 1896.  For a variety of reasons (read over-centralization, exclusion of state and local actors, inadequate planning, under-investment, and inconsistencies in stakeholders’ agenda), it has yet to actualize its potential as a linchpin for national economic development. A concert of federal institutions (including the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Federal Office of Statistics, the Presidential Task Force on Power, and the Energy Commission of Nigeria)–is needed to harmonize stakeholders’ goals, to make labor planning and development in the energy sector a keystone for economic interventions, and to execute the six ASPIRE steps.

Conclusion

This piece shows that Nigeria needs to better honor its educational commitments to all its children.  Fulfilling the nation’s G-20’s aspirations as set out in its Vision 2020 and improving its children’s quality of education as envisioned in its Child’s Rights Act 2003 are two sides of the same coin.  Respecting children’s rights translates to meeting obligations to older citizens, especially teachers, and vice-versa.  Moves to privatize and decentralize provision of energy services are avenues for states and local actors to tackle educational gaps. Stakeholders should converge around infrastructural planning that makes adequate supply of electricity the focal point to both advance children’s educational agenda and meet diverse national economic goals. Progress conferences on outlined steps should hold in 2014/15 onwards.

FABOWALÉ wrote this article from Ottawa, Canada

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