- …As UN data shows 63 million adolescents out of school
By Ese Awhotu
ne in five adolescents worldwide is not in school, which means that some 63 million young people between the ages of 12 and 15 are denied their right to an education, mainly because they are marginalized and poor, a joint United Nations agency report has found as pressure mounts to include universal secondary education in the post-2015 global development agenda.
Poverty is the greatest barrier to education, the report found. In Nigeria, two-thirds of children in the poorest households are not in school and almost 90 per cent of them will probably never enroll. In contrast, only 5 per cent of the richest children are out of school.
“This report serves as wake-up call to mobilize the resources needed to guarantee basic education for every child, once and for all,” said Ms. Irina Bokova, Director General at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a co-facilitator of the findings.
Speaking at last Thursday’s Education World Forum in London, Ms. Bokova advocated targeted interventions to reach the families displaced by conflict, “girls forced to stay home”, children with disabilities and the millions obliged to work.
The new joint report Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All: Findings from the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children was produced by UNESCO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The data found that as children get older, the risk that they will never start school or will drop out increases. One in ten children of primary school age is out of school compared to one in five adolescents. The study also found that in total, 121 million children and adolescents have either never started school or dropped out despite the international community’s promise to achieve Education for All by 2015.
UNICEF’s Executive Director, Anthony Lake, participating at the Forum, said that fixing the problem required the global commitment to invest in three areas: getting more children into primary school; helping children, especially girls stay in school through the secondary level; and improving the quality of learning.
“There should be no debate among these priorities,” he stressed, emphasizing that “the success of every child, and the impact of our investment in education depends on all three.
Echoing that innovative approach, UNESCO’s Director-General said: “Business as usual strategies based on more teachers, more classrooms and more textbooks are not enough to reach the most disadvantaged children”.
Indeed, “business as usual” has not worked. Data show that there has been almost no progress in reducing the number of adolescents out of school since 2007. Children living in conflict, child labourers and those facing discrimination are most affected. And without major shifts in policies and resources, previous education gains may erode.
UN warns that if current trends continue, 25 million children, 15 million girls and 10 million boys are likely to never set foot inside a classroom.
The highest out-of-school rates are in Eritrea and Liberia, where 66 per cent and 59 per cent of children, respectively, do not go to primary school. In many countries, the rates of exclusion are even higher for older children, especially girls. In Pakistan, 58 per cent of adolescent girls roughly between the ages of 12 and 15 are out of school compared to 49 per cent of boys.
For a concrete policy shift, the study calls on governments to provide robust information on marginalised children. Many of these children remain invisible within current data collection methods. Children with disabilities are amongst the least visible, reliable data simply don’t exist and they are being overlooked in national responses to out-of-school children.
In Nigeria, the issue of children education is paramount to both parents and government. The challenges are quite enormous occasioned by uncontrollable corruption rate.
Over the last decade, Nigeria’s exponential growth in population has put immense pressure on the country’s resources and on already overstretched public services and infrastructure. With children under 15 years of age accounting for about 45 per cent of the country’s population, the burden on education and other sectors has become overwhelming.
Forty per cent of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend any primary school with the Northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country, particularly for girls. Despite a significant increase in net enrollment rates in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.
Increased enrollment rates have also created challenges in ensuring quality education and satisfactory learning achievement as resources are spread more thinly across a growing number of students. It is not rare to see cases of 100 pupils per teacher or students sitting under trees outside the school building because of the lack of classrooms.
This situation is being addressed by current efforts of the Nigerian Government with the implementation of the Basic Education scheme. The compulsory, free Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act was passed into law in 2004 and represents the Government’s strategy to fight illiteracy and extend basic education opportunities to all children in the country.
However the number of schools, facilities and teachers available for basic education remain inadequate for the eligible number of children and youths. This is more so in urban areas where there is population pressure. Under these conditions, teaching and learning cannot be effective; hence the outcomes are usually below expectation.
Another challenge in Nigeria is the issue of girls’ education. In the North particularly, the gender gap remains particularly wide and the proportion of girls to boys in school ranges from 1 girl to 2 boys to 1 to 3 in some States.
Many children do not attend school because their labour is needed to either help at home or to bring additional income into the family. Many families cannot afford the associated costs of sending their children to school such as uniforms and textbooks. For others, the distance to the nearest school is a major hindrance. Another cause of low enrolment, especially in the North, is cultural bias. Most parents do not send their children, especially girls, to school and prefer to send them to Qur’anic schools rather than formal schools.
Even when children enroll in schools, many do not complete the primary cycle. According to current data, 30% of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54% transit to Junior Secondary Schools. Reasons for this low completion rate include child labour, economic hardship and early marriage for girls.
In the last few years, especially since the launching of the Universal Basic Education Act, much has been achieved in the reconstruction of dilapidated school buildings and construction of new ones, supply of desks and other needed furniture as well as the provision of toilet facilities. This effort is indeed not enough going by the latest UN situation report.
UNICEF recently reported that the child friendly school concept, which the Fund advocated, is not comprehensively adopted by the various States in Nigeria. A majority of primary schools, especially in rural areas, lack water, electricity and toilet facilities. For example, on average, there is only one toilet for 600 pupils in the primary school system. Despite political commitment to trying to reverse years of neglect in the education sector and a significant increase of the Federal funding, investment in basic education is still low compared to other Sub-Saharan countries.
Automatically, one can deduce from the foregoing that efforts of the Federal Government to achieve Education For All by 2015 has failed.