Nigeria’s burgeoning number of children who are outside the school system is alarming. More worrisome is the fact that the figure is rising instead of decreasing. From the 10.5 million figure in the last few years, a recent survey carried out jointly by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Federal Government, said the figure has risen to 13.2million.

The rising number of out-of-school children may have been the reason for a two-day conference of the 19 Northern states which held in Kaduna, October 10- 11. This is hardly surprising. According to Deputy Representative, UNICEF Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, out of the 10.5 million out-of-school children in the country, the North has 6.9 million, representing 69 per cent of the total figure. Ironside said that Bauchi State has the highest number of out-of-school children at 1.1 million, and Katsina is second with 781,500 children out of school. This is not only alarming, but unacceptable.

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At the conference which was jointly sponsored by the UNICEF, the Federal Ministry of Education, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), National Commission for Mass Education and the Sultan Foundation for Peace and Development, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar II said in his opening remarks that “the issue of out-of-school children in Nigeria, today, with northern states contributing a very large percent of the problem was not only worrisome, but a great burden on their collective conscience.” The Sultan also observed that “it runs counter to the history of our intellectual culture and traditions.

What explanation can we give to Mai Gumi and Sheikh Muhammad Bin Mani of Kanem-Borno, who brought literacy and learning to this part of the world over one thousand years ago, that their descendants are no longer going to school and many of them are registered as illiterates?”

Sultan Abubakar equally referred to the giant strides of his great forebears, Uthman Dan-Fodio, Sheikh Abdullahi and Sultan Muhammad Bello who amongst them “authored over 300 books on all subjects including astronomy and medicine.” This is an illustrious legacy which successive generations should have been proud to build on. But the contrary has been the case. This is not unrelated to a number of factors. First is the failure of successive governments to provide good governance to the citizenry. Education and healthcare, which should be prioritised by the government, are ironically the least funded.

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It is time for government and relevant stakeholders to address the problem frontally. It is sad that government’s free education for all pupils up to the first nine years of schooling has not been fully implemented. There is the need to increase the percentage of the annual national budget that goes to education. Schools should be adequately funded and the enabling environment provided for teachers and support staff to deliver functional and effective education to the children.

The out-of-school children phenomenon should be squarely tackled in all its ramifications. The rising number of children engaged in street trading in our major cities is worsening the menace. The problem is further exacerbated by rising poverty and general insecurity in the country. In the North, the ravaging insurgency has added to the problem.

If drastic measures are not taken to correct the situation, things would only get worse. Let us learn from France, Britain, Canada and other advanced countries which built the foundation of their countries and rapid technological advancement on good and quality education. It must be pointed out also that in these countries, teachers are amongst the best paid workers. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case in Nigeria.

Therefore, the improvement of the classroom environment is key to lowering the growing figures of out-of-school children in the country. Teachers must not only be well trained, their welfare must be prioritised. Government should muster the political will to adequately fund education.

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