• Stakeholders insist world agency’s 20m data mix-up, speculative 

By Gabriel Dike

The dust raised by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on the figure of Nigeria’s out-of-school children (OOSC) is yet to settle.

The United Nations agency’s pronouncement of 20 million Nigerian kids out of school did not go down well with the Federal Government.

Some stakeholders were also uncomfortable with the figure, compared to 10.4 million based on the National Audit Report of 2020, which focused on pupils in basic and junior secondary school classes.

The UNESCO statistics came at a time when UBEC and SUBEB were conducting a nationwide census that included pupils, teachers and schools.

UNESCO, on September 14, 2022, released a report, indicating Nigeria had 20 million out-of-school children. It implied Nigeria had one of the highest OOSC in the world after India, with 32 million, and Pakistan, with 28 million.

It claimed that the sudden increase from 10.4 million in 2021 was due to insecurity in North East and North Central. Stakeholders, including Prof. James Tooley, vice-chancellor, Birmingham University, Affordable Education Development (AFED) and some educationists queried even the initial 10.4 million figure. 

Federal Government’s position

The Federal Ministry of Education said the UNESCO Institute of Statistics attempted to justify the methods used in arriving at the 20 million figure: “The fact remains that the report is capable of misinforming the public, misrepresenting the actual situation of the out-of-school children in the country and underrating the significant efforts made in addressing the challenge.”

The ministry established baseline data on basic education through a comprehensive National Personnel Audit (NPA) of basic education institutions in 2018. It was conducted by the UBEC, involving the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), National Population Commission (NPC), UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank.

The NPA was generally accepted as credible. The data was used to estimate the number of children not in school at primary and junior secondary school: “This was done in line with the globally established framework for estimating the number of out-of-school children.

The NPA took cognizance of Nigeria’s designated age bracket for Universal Basic Education (primary and junior secondary, ages six to 14). It did not extend to the senior secondary cadre (ages 15 to 17) and the post-secondary school age of 18, which are both part of the UNESCO’s 20 million figure:

“Putting this in the proper context therefore, the NPA provides an authentic representation of the OOSC population in Nigeria, within the confines of basic education (primary and junior secondary school) as defined by the UBE Act 2004.

“It is evident that Nigeria’s OOSC figure for the primary and junior secondary school category as established by the 2018 NPA is not in contention. What has changed is UNESCO’s inclusion of the senior secondary (ages 15 to 17) and further expansion to include young adults aged 18 years in the computation of OOSC.

“It is considered not very useful to lump different age categories together while addressing the issue of OOSC. Nigeria’s approach has been to categorise the different age groups and use these to track the progress being made in each category. It is our view that the conflation of figures for different categories of school-going ages blunts the monitoring tools we seek to use in measuring progress in each category.”

AFED uncomfortable with UNESCO figure

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AFED president, Mr. Emmanuel Orji, told The Education Report: “Granted that there’s a surge in the number of OOSC due to the heightened level of insecurity, especially the waves in the North East, Middle Belt and in some other parts of the country, I still strongly believe that this report may just be speculative.

“I want to appeal to UNESCO to always carry us along in trying to figure out the OOSC data. Failure to do just that will continue to put a question mark on their data. How can you say you are shaving my hair without me being with you? I don’t dispute the surge, but the 20 million is not possible.”

Tooley contended: “Nigeria’s OOSC figure is not as high as projected by various agencies. The figure is not likely accurate based on previous research I conducted in Lagos. I am conducting another study in northern and eastern Nigeria.”

Global view of OOSC

UNICEF chief in Nigeria, Saadha Panday-Soobrayan, in his October 2022 report, acknowledged: “Education is in crisis across the globe currently facing one of the most complex situations in decades.

“The COVID-19 pandemic at its height shuttered schools and learning for 1.6 billion learners intermittently for the better part of two years. Poorest and the most vulnerable children were hardest hit with remote learning largely inadequate.

“The result is at best a stagnation of out-of-school rates and at worse an increase in some regions, with an additional 10 million girls now at risk of dropping out and falling into early marriage.

“Learning poverty too is estimated to have increased sharply over a two-year period from 50 to 70 per cent. The combination of increased risk of dropout and learning poverty means widening inequality and growing poverty. This is estimated to amount to $17 trillion lost in lifetime earnings for this generation of children globally.

“A staggering 258 million children are out of school globally. The biggest challenge education systems face globally is not so much those who never entered primary school but those who progressively drop off along the way. The inability to read, write and count early on, with little to no remediation drives repetition and increases the risk for dropout across education phases.”

Comparative analysis of OOSC 

A report by UBEC, which compared the OOSC numbers of Nigeria, Pakistan and India from 2018 to 2022 for the primary level, showed that 10.2 million children were out of school. In 2018, the figure was 9,410 million, for 2019, it stood at 9,532 million. In 2020, it was 9,653 million, in 2021, at 9,663 million and in 2022, it was 9,557 million.

In 2018, the figure at the JSS level is put at 3,899 million, for 2019, it stood at 4,251 million, in 2020, it was 4,634 million, in 2021 at 4,880 million and in 2022, 5,045 million.

2018 OOSC conference 

The projected primary age population in Nigeria in 2018 was 40,841,946, out of which 30,648,028 were in school (six to 11) and 10,193,918 (24.96 per cent) are classified as out-of-school. This dropped with 4.64 per cent compared to 29.6 per cent in 2012 (UNICEF, 2012).

North West tops with 3,490,671 (34.24 per cent).  Of this, 2,047,532 (58.66 per cent) were male and 1,443,139 (41.34 per cent) female. North East is second, 2,001,038 (19.63 per cent), with 1,341,856 (67.06 per cent) male and 659,182 (32.9 per cent) female.

South West is third with 1,451,740 (14.24 per cent), 1,032,449 (71.12 per cent) male and 419,290 (28.88 per cent) female. North Central is fourth with 1,329,111 (13.04 per cent), 700,498 (52.70 per cent) male and 628,613 (47.30 per cent) female.

South South is fifth with 1,208,182 (12 per cent), 675,820 (55.94 per cent) male and 532,362 (44.06 per cent) female. South East is sixth with 713,176 (seven per cent), 542,466 males and 170,710 female.