It is no longer news that a considerable percentage of the youth population within the primary and secondary school age bracket in Nigeria are not in school. The figure put at 10 million by a UNICEF report in 2014, the largest in the whole world, with 60 per cent from the northern part of the country, and a bigger chunk of that percentage the female child. The reasons are as varied as their effects and outcomes plaguing the society like child labour, premature marriage, gross illiteracy, unemployment, low human capital, and juvenile delinquencies contributing to the insecurity being witnessed in the country.
Before highlighting the reasons, first of all, it is safe to state that it is not these children’s fault. To attribute the fault to these disadvantaged children is only trying to question why they are Nigerians and unfortunately born in Nigeria at this time, which doesn’t make much sense at all. Rather, the fault lies with the adult generation. We, the adults, are the ones to ensure children are in school. The argument may be the children themselves are not interested in going to school, but that submission is weak because education is light. And no properly oriented boy or girl will really want to stay in the darkness of underdevelopment.
Of all the numerous reasons, poverty stands out as a major scourge having its hand even in the other reasons that will be given. The ugly monster called poverty is increasingly hindering the growth of the society, because by being prevalent, it is perpetuating self, replicating and multiplying its influences as it continued to spread its tentacles and strengthen its hold. By a sizeable portion of children not educated due to its effects, and perhaps a yet bigger portion among those who go to school not well-educated because of poor schooling, the country is unknowingly breeding poverty ahead the next generation. Poverty therefore can’t continue to be the reason why the youths will not be educated. It is the reason why they must. For any responsive, serious-minded and forward-thinking government and non-profit groups in the country, poverty alleviation or eradication plans in their different magnitudes should greatly impact on school enrolment.
Corruption is another major reason adduced for poor education in present day Nigeria, just the way it has affected other aspects in our society. After all, if a good fraction of the trillions of naira said to have been stolen from the coffers of government had been used to build public schools across the country, we would probably have had many more children in school. That is however debatable partly because parallel to corruption is another self-inflicted menace seriously affecting the nation, which is incompetence. It was given a leg room by corruption some decades back and has since grown to be as massive and destructive as its enabler. Take for instance management and maintenance, the level of waste that have been attributed to successive poorly driven attempts and courses in policy implementation, infrastructural provision, human capital enabling, workforce management and so on by successive high and low authorities in power. This is negatively substantial in totality, perhaps competing in magnitude with corruption that gave it room.
Infrastructure is definitely highly essential. There is a need for a good environment for learning but infrastructure alone does not build the culture for learning. The reading culture in the Nigerian and African society which has gone so low to the extent that keeping something in a book has been maliciously described as a way to hide something from an African, is not only due to the lack of infrastructure but lack of proper orientation. The few libraries around are not always filled, for instance. The available laboratories are not always put to maximum use. The poor reading or learning culture is a more fundamental reason behind illiteracy, only being amplified by lack of infrastructure. Any culture problem, whether reading, learning or maintenance, is a people problem. So, if lack of infrastructure will be taken as a major reason for children not being in school, what should be considered alongside is the proper orientation given to students to ensure that built infrastructure are maximally used.
There are other factors bordering on people and culture such as religion and tradition which do not encourage school enrolment, but they will be termed pointless here because education totally dissolves their strong points. In today’s world, education and learning are the surest ways to development, accomplishment and greatness and more realistic route to follow in life so as to beat poverty. Any argument on whether children of school age should enrol in school or not, wherever, however or whenever it ensues, should come to an end as quickly as one can take a look at the level of poverty, underdevelopment and underutilisation around, and such argument will never be raised again. There is no basis for contention. For child nurture, grooming and development, education will always be the way to go.
If the factors mentioned above, though causative problems, are not absolutely responsible and should not be accepted as full excuses in any quarters for the inability of the country to fulfil the obligation of educating its young, attention may need to be paid to an intrinsic issue that is a shade different from these other factors but strongly connected, which are the individual and collective values we hold regarding human capital development. It could all boil down to the perspectives and values placed on education by the bigger fraction of the general populace including the different stakeholders and people that matter in this regard, from parents, teachers, school owners, the Ministry of Education and government as a whole. If poverty, corruption, incompetence, lack of infrastructure, prevailing poor learning culture, certain traditional and religion beliefs are hindering education, it may take a holistic change in values that will not only engender collective appraisal of the crumbling structures of learning, but also stimulate an anti-illiteracy revolution against all odds, in order to build a learning culture that cannot be easily corroded or eroded by the mentioned challenges.
- Omisore is an author and public affairs analyst.