The a media dialogue to promote equity in education for children organised by the Nigerian government and the UNICEF shows the extent poverty is playing in keeping children out of school
By Emeka Ejere
Some very emotional media practitioners could not hold tears recently at the sight of shabbily dressed pupils who innocently sat on the floor while teaching and learning went on in a Kano primary school.
That was the pathetic situation that greeted participants of a two-day Media Dialogue to Promote Equity in Education for Children, who were on a field trip to Army Children’s Primary School, Janguza Barracks, Kano, a school only abject poverty can still keep a child.
Surrounded by a thick forest, the school is located in an isolated terrain reasonably far from the main road. However, at the entrance of the school were three armed soldiers, to the relief of the hitherto frightened visitors.
The classroom blocks, though not outdated, are seriously begging for facelift. A class-to-class walk by the visiting team revealed that at least 70 percent of the pupils in all the classes sit and write on the floor, on account of dearth of seats.
The appearance of the pupils from hair to toe, speaks volumes about the level of poverty that characterises their various homes.
More perplexing, however, is that only a handful of the pupils can understand while none can speak English, although the school authorities said they are taught in both English and Hausa.
The story is not any different at Tofa Model Primary School in Tofa Local Government Council of the state, another school that played host to the team.
However, even with everything about the two schools questioning the quality of education that they can offer; the good thing is that the pupils cannot be counted among the over 10.5 million out-of-school children roaming the streets of the cities and villages of Nigeria, the richest black nation in the world.
The journey from Tahir Palace Hotel, Kano, venue of the media dialogue to the two schools had taken the startled participants through some major roads of the city, with incredible number of children of primary and secondary school ages hawking sachet water, groundnuts and other low priced items.
There are also several child beggars and almajiri children, some of whom orphans and children from dysfunctional homes, who cannot go to school even in their dreams.
Organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau, CRIB, of the federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Education Fund, UNICEF, the dialogue was aimed at encouraging advocacy for quality education to the likes of the pupils of the Army Children’s School and the Tofa Model School while reducing to the barest minimum the number of children who hawk and beg on the streets on account of poverty.
In his lecture titled, ‘Poor/Inequitable Access to Education in Nigeria: what can Nigeria do to close the gap?’ Bayo Ogundimu, education and development consultant, noted that the importance of equal access to education cannot be overemphasized, stressing that a restructuring of Nigeria’s education system was urgently needed if the nation must remain relevant in global affairs.
He regretted that even Nigerian professors discover that they are no longer relevant when they go for conferences abroad.
“Education is fundamental to the development of any country and the percentage of out-of-school children in Nigeria portrays a grim picture of our country’s future,” Ogundimu lamented.
“Education should not be seen as a meal ticket; it is a necessity.
“If you look around today, are you proud of the product of your environment?
“In University of Korea for instance, 70 per cent is a C but in Nigeria, 70 per cent is an A,” he added.
According to Ogundimu, bad planning, lack of political will, poor and inadequate infrastructure, failure to engage other countries in mutual partnerships and irregular payment of teachers’ wages are some of the factors militating against access to quality education in Nigeria.
He stressed that religion and culture also posed a formidable threat.
According to him, although the school feeding programme introduced by government in some states had helped stem the tide of out-of-school malaise, effective scholarship and bursary scheme across a broad spectrum would also serve as incentive for poor families that cannot afford quality education for their children.
“If we really want the best for the future of these children, we should stop acting as though the palliative measures they badly need are a rocket science,” he cautioned.
He regretted that there is still a wide gap between the UNESCO SGD-4 goal of inclusive and equitable quality of education and promotion of life-long learning for all and the present reality.
Ogundimu identified school feeding programme, cash transfer, back-to- school programme, scholarships and bursaries, national independent research and innovation expos as some of the measures that could help in closing the gap
Also speaking, Azuka Menkiti, an education specialist at the UNICEF, observed that contrary to widespread opinion, out-of-school children do not pertain to only Northern Nigeria as there are other areas in the country where female children also do not attend school.
Delivering a lecture titled, ‘Gaps in Education Access in Nigeria: a situation analysis and what UNICEF is doing’, Menkiti regretted that the society had created the imbalance which suggests that only the male child can succeed in life more than the female child.
“Nothing can be farther from the reality,” she remarked, saying all children regardless of gender deserve equal opportunity to attend school.
Statistically, Menkiti put the out-of-school children of between six and 14 years in the Southern Nigeria at 11% while the Northern part soared around 31%.
“The difference is a function of awareness and readiness to adapt to reality and the lack of both,” she argued.
According to Menkiti, poverty also added to the gender issue, arguing that education becomes unattractive to parents or guardians who could barely feed, let alone cough out the funds required to put their wards in schools. Such parents, she said, would rather have their wards join them in their subsistent farming and other trades than attend school.