By Segun Ogunlade
As it is difficult for an average adult to live in his homeland, so it is for the children. The children are no less hit by the myriads besetting the Nigerian state across all levels. All of them have links to bad governance at some point in history that has stunted the nation’s growth. At the heart of the problem being faced by growing children in Nigeria are poor education and malnutrition. Of course, there are many more successful such as poor child protection, lack of access to drinkable water, HIV/AIDS, etc.
It is no news that education in Nigeria has suffered a remarkable decline in recent decades. According to United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF), about 10.5 million of the country’s children are out of school and receiving no form of formal education anywhere else. These children are aged 5-14 years. According to the same body, 61 percent of 6-11 year-olds are regularly attending primary school while only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education. Two zones in the country are the worst hit – north east and north west Nigeria. This education deprivation is a handmaiden of economic barriers i.e. poverty, socio-cultural norms and practices and religious beliefs. It is without derision to say the most impoverished Nigerians live in these two zones, especially in Boko Haram devastated states of Borno, Yobe and north western states of Sokoto, Jigawa and Kebbi. Although according to UNICEF children in these two zones receive Quranic education, it does not in any way aid the basic skills of literary and numeracy. Quranic classes are held in local languages and the teachers themselves oftentimes only skilled in religious teachings.
From the foregoing statistics, it means one in every five out of the world’s out-of-school children resides in Nigeria.
Furthermore, 45 percent of out-of-school children in West Africa are from Nigeria. This is a big problem for the nation that prides itself as the continent’s giant and the most populous black nation in the world.
Evidently, the growing population rate in the country is not helping the situation of the country. Yet, there are no active population control mechanism to curb the effect of overpopulation on the country that now houses most of the world’s impoverished people, totalling some 86.9 million to 90 million people.
Education has proven to be the greatest tool of liberation. That 10.5 million of the nation’s declared future leaders are currently out of school where they could be given the greatest tool of liberation is very mind boggling.
But as it has been shown many times, the children that are currently in school are being taught under some of the world’s unthinkable conditions. Many of the schools are run by poorly trained personnel as the brain drain ravaging the nation has not left the education sector out. A good number of teachers have no business going into teaching. But the economic situation of the country where people always struggle to survive through any means available has forced them to take up jobs in the classrooms. Besides this, the learning condition in many schools, public and private alike, is very poor. In some schools, classes are held under the tree because there are inadequate classrooms. Sometimes, a classroom is shared by pupils in different classes. And in cases where there are classrooms, oftentimes there are insufficient tables and chairs thereby forcing the pupils to sit on the floor. In this situation, learning is difficult especially as they often strain to raise their heads so they could copy notes from the writing board that is above them. When classrooms are shared by pupils of different classes and age, the writing board is divided into two or three as the case may be. Notes belonging to different classes are present at the same time on a single writing board. Learning under this form of condition is the worst any child of primary school age could wish for.
As it is now, the state of education in the country and the fate of the 10.5 million out-of-school children seems to be elusive to resuscitation. Across all levels of government, basic education is not given the attention it deserves. Low budgetary allocation to education is a cause for concern as successive governments in the country have failed to keep up with the United Nation’s regulations that at least 25 percent of a nation’s annual budget should be to support education.
The growing population of low class citizens and middle class citizens means more children would continue to be out of school while several others would be badly or poorly educated. The development of a nation is rooted in the level of education its citizens attain. If the level of education is low, a country would have itself to blame for it. And if it is high, a nation would have itself to thank for it. Education drives change more than Nigerian leaders are ready to admit. It is lugubrious that in the face of modernity where many countries are striving to give the best to her citizens, Nigeria is a place where little premium is placed on education across all levels thereby leaving the education sector in a state of comatose. This has to change. With good education, many of the impoverished citizens could ride their way out of poverty. Thus, more of the nation’s resources need to be put into education geared towards human resources development and scientific and technological advancements.
No nation or organization would help another that does not first help itself. Some of the economic situations, socio-cultural norms and practices and religious beliefs standing in the way of education should be addressed. And as the traditional rulers are the custodians of the people’s tradition and culture, they should be engaged so that they could in turn talk to locals so as to reduce the number of out-of-school children. Teachers should be better trained and any prospective teacher be mandated to have a background in educational management.
As many children battle with poor or no education, malnutrition is another problem they also face. Now, malnutrition can either be under nutrition which is obtaining one’s nutrition from only one source such as eating beans and yam always; wasting which refers to an unexplainable rapid weight loss in a child and is manifested in kwashiorkor and marasmus; stunting which is rooted in poor maternal health and also associated with poor breast feeding of a child or infections from viruses or bacteria; and over nutrition which is related to eating abundance of calories than is required by the body in the hope that doing so the body automatically delivers all the nutrients that the body needs. The two forms common to Nigeria are wasting and stunting.
According to UNICEF, Nigeria has the second highest number of stunted children in the world with a national prevalence rate of 43 percent of children below five. This means about 16.5 million children are affected by poor nutrition.
Malnutrition causes 45 percent of all deaths of under-five children. Although children belonging to the privileged class could suffer from malnutrition by unhealthy foods, the most severe cases are in the rural areas where there is high poverty rate. Most people know what to eat, but there’s no money to buy it. Since what is good to eat is not always available because of the economic conditions, what is available is often resorted to. The available foods still come in in very little quantity and poor quality with numerous number of mouths feeding on it at a time.
Besides poverty, illiteracy of one or both parents also affects children nutrition. UNICEF counsels that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are important to his or her development and must be subjected to exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months or 180 days. Failure to do this could subject the child to serious paediatric ailments and affects the optimal performance of the brain. Though it is safe to say education is key to combating malnutrition, this must come with adequate funding especially for those whose economic status has been affected by Boko Haram activities in north east and north west. Without adequate funding, the maternal education would amount to almost nothing.
Funds should always be made available to combat this growing menace especially in the most poverty stricken states in the country. The funds could not come from the government alone as it is faced with battling the Boko Haram insurgents.
Corporate organizations should also join this cause. It would be no good if all the children that could drive change dies before they attain maturity.
Besides adequate funding, combating malnutrition could be done in certain ways. One, farmers in rural areas should be encouraged to keep up their small scale farming so they could eat what they grow on their farmlands. Two, there should be a population control mechanism in place such that the number of people in a family are the ones the family’s resources could cater for. The less there is to feed, the more the available food goes round. Three, and most importantly, an exclusive breastfeeding of at least six months must be encouraged so that every child starts off very strong in life. Children are important to the country as do the adults. Therefore, their future should not be mortgaged for whatever reason.
May God bless Nigeria.
Segun Ogunlade writes from University of Ibadan, Ibadan. He’s a final year student of the Department of Religious Studies.