Across the country, the number of out-of-school children is increasing, majorly due to insecurity, poor facilities, poverty and other factors. Daily Trust visited schools in some states and now reports.
Apart from challenges in public schools that have been there for decades, the recent onslaught on schools by bandits and kidnappers has push Nigeria to the edge in global ranking.
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In Kaduna State, despite the implementation of free and compulsory education, residents say insecurity is leading the factors responsible for school dropouts, particularly in rural communities where banditry attacks have become incessant.
Bala Udawa, a resident of Udawa in Chikun Local Government Area, said many children had been forced to abandon school for fear of being kidnapped.
On poor facilities, he said, “In my community, the school authority has no choice but to introduce shift for pupils. We usually had separate schools for both primary and secondary schools, but they now share the same school,” he said. He added that only dedicated parents would force their children to school in spite of the spate of insecurity.
A community leader, Imam Hussaini Umar, listed villages like Udawa, Kuriga and Buruku as having a high number of out-of-school children in the area. He said one of the newly fenced primary schools located two kilometres away from Udawa town was abandoned as parents stopped sending their children to school for fear of abduction.
“Most of the schools around these villages I mentioned, particularly those on the outskirts, are not accessible for both teachers and students, for fear of being kidnapped,” he said.
Despite the fact that the Kaduna State Government made education free at primary and junior secondary school levels in 2015 and extended it to senior secondary schools in January 2020 to boost enrolment, as well as abolished Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) levies at both primary and secondary schools, the number of out-of-school children is on the increase.
Also, the Commissioner for Education in the state, Dr Shehu Usman Muhammad, in a statement issued recently, reiterated that the state’s free and compulsory basic and post-basic education policy was still in place. He had warned against the collection of any form of fee from parents by principals or head teachers of all public primary and secondary schools.
The Commissioner for Human Services and Social Development, Hajiya Hafsat Baba, also said the state government was doing its best to ensure that all schools were secure so that nothing would hinder children from accessing education.
But Aliyu Suleiman, whose seven children attend public primary school at Karshen Kwalter Rigasa community, said he paid N400 as examination fee for two of his children.
Asked if he was aware of government’s free compulsory education, he said, “I am aware, but I had no choice because I wanted them to sit for the examination.”
He said the issue of free uniforms as portrayed by the state government was only applicable to secondary schools, and not everyone is entitled to it. “My son in junior secondary school was given a free uniform recently, but those in primary school were not given; I bought their uniforms,” he said.
Insecurity, occasioned by herders/farmers attacks and communal clashes, is said to be largely responsible for the high number of out-of-school children in Benue State. However, negligence on the part of some parents and the inability to buy basic school utilities, such as uniforms, has also forced many children out of school. And they are now struggling to become family breadwinners by hawking in the streets.
At the LEA Central Pilot Primary School in Makurdi, it was observed that some of the pupils were not wearing uniforms, while the classes were scanty. The head teacher of the school, Sachia Emmanuel, said he was battling the decline of pupils, occasioned by COVID-19. He added that in order to encourage pupils back to school, the institution allowed those whose parents could not afford uniforms to attend classes.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a population of over 200, but after resumption, the number dropped to 125,” he said.
Our correspondent also observed that two blocks of four classrooms equipped with desks each were under lock and key because there were no pupils to occupy them.
“The tuition is free, but some parents can’t even afford to buy their wards uniforms or exercise books. Some of them are too poor while others, out of ignorance, don’t bring their children to school,” he said.
Emmanuel, who commended the state government for providing tables, desks and buildings, as well as other facilities for the school, noted that arrangement was in top gear to embark on a back-to-school campaign.
He further said that though the ratio of students to a teacher in the school was 10 to one, they still had shortage of teachers.
At the Arabic Nursery and Primary School, Makurdi, the situation is slightly different, with a high population, but lack of desks and tables.
The head teacher of the school, Alhaji Musa Jubril, expressed worry that his pupils, consisting of primaries 1 and 5, sat on the floor to learn. He was, however, happy that the state government recently ordered the supply of desks to the school.
Jubril noted that more teachers were needed to complement the high number of pupils in a classroom, just as efforts were being made to encourage enrolment of more children.
“We visited some of the pupils who don’t come to school and their parents said they went to the market to hawk wares because the family needed money,” he said.
Meanwhile, the head of the Department of Public Relations at the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Erdoo Sar, put the number of out-of-school children at the internally displaced peoples’ camps in the state at 80,450. Sar said, “According to data by the Benue State Emergency Programme, security issues and the lockdown during the coronavirus affected enrollment.”
According to the Niger State Ministry of Education, the situation is different in the state due to government’s intervention in enrolment and campaign through engagement with traditional rulers, as well as the School-Based Management Committee (SBMC) and mothers’ associations.
Daily Trust also gathered that the school feeding programme of the federal government also boosted school enrolment; hence reducing the number of out-of-school children.
According to the spokesperson of the state Ministry of Education, Mallam Jubrin Usman, the present statistics show a decline from what was released during the 2018/2019 assessment.
“The number of out-of-school children was 694,849, but it has now reduced to 512, 326,” Usman said.
However, as noted by the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, Niger State still has a large number of out-of-school children, mostly due to lack of infrastructural facilities and poor funding, negligence of parents, early marriage in some rural areas and the almajiri syndrome. A large number of migrants coming to the state due to insecurity can also be responsible for the situation.
Children blame parents in Nasarawa
Primary school dropouts across Nasarawa State have expressed worry over the inability of their parents to pay their school fees and other charges. Some out-of- school children in the state, therefore, blamed their parents for the failure to enroll them in school, while others said they were pulled out of school due to poverty.
Narrating his ordeal to Daily Trust in Lafia, a 13-year-old Isah Muhammed from Wamba Government Primary School, said he was forced to drop out because his father’s new wife asked him to quit western school for an Islamic one.
According to him, his father has 11 children, but only two are in school because he struggles with funds to pay school fees.
Also speaking to our correspondent, a 14-year-old Abdullahi Ibrahim said his parents sent him to Lafia from Jigawa Government Primary School to acquire Islamic education because they were unable to pay his school fees and for his 13 siblings.
Efforts to reach out to the Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology in the state, Mrs Fati Jimeta-Sabo, to get statistics on the number of out-of-school children failed as she did not answer several calls to her phone.
Cases rare in Kogi
Cases of school dropouts in primary schools are rare in Kogi State. Some head teachers, however, said they recorded more cases of absenteeism, especially on health grounds, but total withdrawal of children from school had become rare.
Daily Trust could not get the actual number of out-of-school children in the state, but the Commissioner for Information and Communication, Kingsley Fanwo, said Kogi was one of the pilot states in the school feeding programme, which he added had attracted more children to school. He added that because the state domesticated the child rights law, it is an offence for any parent to withdraw his child from school.
During a visit to Lokongoma Primary School, Lokoja, the head teacher, Hajiya Ibrahim Ikulu, told our correspondent that there were no reported cases of parents withdrawing their wards from school for any reason.
She, however, lamented the acute shortage of facilities in the school, including desks in classrooms.
A mother of two out-of-school children who resorted to begging in the streets of Katsina metropolis told our correspondent that the problem of insecurity in her local government area, Batsari, forced her out of her village with her children.
Hadiza Abdullahi said she would like to have her children enrolled in school if security situation improved in the area.
Kano blames neighbouring states
In Kano State, it was observed that there was a recent increase in the number of out-of-school children roaming the streets.
Most of these children roam the major streets of the city, marketplaces and other places, either begging, hawking or rendering services like helping to clean vehicle windscreens in traffic for a fee.
According to the United Nations International Children Emergency Funds (UNICEF) report in June 2020, Kano led other states in the number of out-of- school children with over 1.5million.
This, it was gathered, was, however, not unconnected to the spike in insecurity in other neighbouring North-West states battling banditry, as well as those from the North-East, displaced as a result of Boko Haram insurgency.
The state government, however, maintained that its free and compulsory education policy, which is still in place, had reduced the number of out-of-school children to a significant percentage.
Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje accused other neighbouring states of failure to implement policies that would help to curtail the inflow of children to Kano, arguing that most of the children seen roaming the streets were not indigenes of the state.
Speaking to Daily Trust, a mother who roams the streets of Kano with her children said they were displaced from their village in Katsina State.
“Who will feed them after schooling if we don’t beg?” She asked.
It was also observed that many of the schools are still battling with inadequate and overcrowded classrooms, as well as shortage of teaching staff, especially in rural schools.
To address this, the state government, in May, directed its civil service to redeploy 5,000 civil servants with educational qualifications to classrooms. It also unveiled plans to recall over 3,000 public teachers posted to private, community and voluntary schools across the state.
Teachers and parents in Adamawa have advised the state government to resume the school feeding programme in primary schools in order to attract children back to school.
A teacher who spoke to Daily Trust in Yola said when the school feeding programme was going on, parents rushed to enroll their wards. He wondered why the programme was suspended.
“I believe the feeding, which guarantees one square meal, is critical to enrolment in this time of economic hardship. Some parents sent their children to school to get lunch, and the children are also attracted by the meal,” he stated.
A parent, Saidu Ibrahim, called for the resumption of the school feeding programme, saying the assurance of a single meal for his children will encourage him to enroll them in school.
A recent report from the Nigeria Education Data Survey (NEDS), 2020, unveiled by the National Population Commission, indicated that Yobe State had 57 per cent out-of-school children, making it one of the states with the highest number in the country.
However, the chairman of the technical committee to revitalise education in the state, Professor Mala Daura, recently disclosed in his interim report that insurgency was responsible for the low enrolment of children in schools.
Data generated by the committee through primary and secondary sources indicated that the basic and secondary education sectors in the state was also faced with challenges of overstretched resources relating to teachers, infrastructure and other facilities.
In a chat with Daily Trust, an education expert and former chairman of Geidam Local Government, Dr Mulima Idi Mato, noted that there was more concentration of schools in urban areas.
“Most of the children are sent to townships for almajiranci by their parents, who believe that only Islamic education is necessary for their children,” he said.
He also noted that as a result of poverty or ignorance, some families allowed children to fend for themselves.
There is no actual figure of out-of-school children in Taraba State. However, the problem is more in remote areas.
Daily Trust findings revealed that many schools in remote locations, especially in Gassol, Ardo-Kola, Bali and Ardo-Kola local government areas, have few or no pupils, especially during the rainy season.
In Zip, a village located by the riverbank in Karim-Lamido Local Government, it was observed that a primary school had no roof, chairs, tables and teaching materials.
A father of one of the pupils in the school, Mallam Ibrahim Rabiu, told our correspondent that parents withdrew their children because there was only one teacher in the school, as well as lack of infrastructure.
He, however, said the school feeding programme had helped in keeping children in schools where it is implemented.
The chairman of the state Primary School Management Board, Mr Yakubu Agbaizu, could not be reached as his phone was switched off when our correspondent called for comments on the issue.
Cultural norms still a hurdle in Bauchi
In Bauchi State, cultural practices, especially on the enrolment of children into alamajiri schools, as well as economic factors, have been identified as some of the factors hindering efforts to reduce the number of out-of-school children.
The Bauchi State Universal Basic Education Board revealed that it had mopped up 94,000 out of 1.3 million out-of-school kids, who were enrolled into 940 learning centres in nine local government areas, including Bauchi, Alkaleri, Katagum, Ganjuwa, Gamawa, Misau, Jama’are, Zaki and Itas Gadau within the last two years.
A parent in Zaki Adamu Sule, who removed his two children from a public school, said the economic condition in the country compelled him to send his two male children to the farm.
He said, “When the rainy season starts, many children help their parents to cultivate crops. They no longer have time to attend classes until after harvest.”
Efforts to get the reaction of the state Ministry of Education were not successful at the time of filing this report.
A school principal in Maiduguri, Borno State, who did not want his name mentioned, said insurgency had sent millions of kids out of school in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
But a teacher and parent, Yusuf Ibn Tom, said out-of-school learning centres were created with the support of the UNICEF in communities, where displaced kids receive lessons for a given period before they are enrolled in schools.
“Children are given biscuits and books at the centres, free of charge, which motivated many of them and increased attendance,” he said.
According to him, public schools do not charge fees, apart from the PTA levy, which is between N100 and N300, and is mostly used to buy exam materials. He said basic school pupils were given free uniforms, with the help of the World Bank, which also inspired community leaders to send kids to school.
There is a rising concern among stakeholders in Bayelsa State as the number of out-of-school children in the state has hit 265,000.
It was gathered that most of the affected children are residents of coastal communities who prefer fishing to education.
Infrastructural decay, lack of learning facilities and inadequate teachers have also been identified as factors contributing to the situation in the oil-rich state.
The Commissioner for Education, Mr Gentle Emelah, declined to comment on the situation, but an official in the State Universal Education Board (SUBEB), who spoke on condition of anonymity, said most of the coastal communities didn’t have primary schools; hence children find it difficult to travel by boat to other communities to attend classes.
He disclosed that the state government was making plans to ensure that most of the coastal communities are linked up through roads.
“The level of poverty in the rural setting also makes it difficult for parents to meet the basic needs and requirements to enroll their children in schools,” he added.
At the UBE Township School in Ovom, Yenagoa, Daily Trust observed that the entire environment was overgrown with grasses, while several pupils were crowded in one classroom for lessons.
Some teachers in the school, who declined to be named, said the primary system of education in Bayelsa State was declining as the state government had handed over the running of schools to the local government administration.
They lamented that government posted only six teachers, including the head teacher to the school without providing learning tools for them, a situation that demands that they would buy chalk from their personal pockets.
According to them, the N15,000 approved for primary schools by the government has been reduced to N11,000 and does not come regularly. He added that teachers’ salaries do not also come frequently.
A parent from Azuzuama community in Southern Ijaw Local Government, Mr Jonathan Ebiere, said, “It’s a difficult situation in the coastal communities. You cannot totally blame the children who are out of school, or their parents. I think government should take the bulk of the blame.
In Rivers State, many pupils were forced out of school during the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19.
A pupil in one of the schools in Oyigbo, Chidimkpa Okeya, said she withdrew from school and started helping her parents to hawk items in the market.
“I was in Primary 5 when my parents withdrew us from the school, so I and my siblings joined them in their businesses. I was hawking facemasks while my siblings were selling sachet pure. We were not able to get back to school, but my father has promised to re-enroll us during the next term,” she said.
A teacher in one of the government-owned schools in Oyigbo said the number of pupils that dropped from the school increased last year.
In Abia State, most parents said the economic situation in the country made it difficult for them to meet the needs of their family members, including payment of tuition. Teachers are also owed salaries by the government.
Despite the order by the state government for students in public schools to pay N5,200 as tuition fee, some school authorities have devised other means to charge extra levies.
Some schools now charge between N7,600 and N10,000 from students and would not allow any student that fails to pay the levies into classes.
Commenting on the situation, the director of press and public relations in the Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Bem Ben Goong, said the number of out-of- school children had been reduced to 6.9million. He said the declaration of 10 million by the Minister of State for Education, Nwajiuba, was made in error and had been corrected.
Mohammed I. Yaba (Kaduna), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi), Romoke W. Ahmad (Minna), Umar Muhammed (Lafia), Adama John (Lokoja), Kabiru R. Anwar (Yola), Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina), Sani Ibrahim Paki (Kano), Ibrahim Baba Saleh (Damaturu), Magaji lsa Hunkuyi (Jalingo), Misbahu Bashir (Maiduguri), Hassan Ibrahim (Bauchi), Bassey Willie(Yenagoa), Victor Edozie ( Port Harcourt), Linus Effiong (Umuahia) & Chidimma C. Okeke (Abuja)