Recently, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) under the Educate-A-Child Cash Transfer Programme gave money to 7,342 parents of out-of-school children in Kebbi State to facilitate their children’s education. According to the UNICEF project coordinator in the state, Malam Isah Usman, the sum of N8,000 was paid every term to the mothers of the affected children selected from nine local government areas of the state. Usman added that payment for the second and third terms was in progress and that 7,342 parents got the money for the first term.
He said: “The overall goal of the Educate-A-Child Cash Transfer Programme is to expand access to quality basic education for 501,749 out-of-school children by 2020 in Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states. The programme aims to reach 31,044 child beneficiaries and their female caregivers in four years in Kebbi State. In the first year of the programme, the cash transfer was introduced in Danko-Wasagu, Suru and Maiyama local government areas and it will be expanded to Argungu, Bagudo, Dandi, Gwandu, Koko-Besse and Shanga LGAs in the following years. The key achievements under the cash transfer programme include massive awareness, poverty mitigation, women’s self decorum, income generation options, increased enrolment and improved learning performances.”
It is indeed commendable that efforts are being made to ensure that children receive education in Kebbi State. Truth be told, every uneducated child is a threat to the society. The world today has become a global village in which life without education is increasingly an anathema. Indeed, recently, former Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, threatened that laws would soon be enacted to punish parents who refuse to register their children of school age in school. According to him, “Unless the issue of parents preventing their children from going to school is made a crime and we start jailing parents, the menace of out-of-school children will not be resolved. There are many who are still hiding behind culture and religion.”
As we noted in previous editorials, the average poor and ignorant parent in the educationally disadvantaged states would rather use children as economic assets than expose them to learning that would cost him or her something in addition to depriving him or her of the assistance the children would otherwise have provided. Sadly, in 2018, about 92 million Nigerians reportedly slipped into poverty. It is therefore not surprising that the out-of-school children figure rose from about 10.5 million less than five years ago to 13.2 million this year. To say the least, the economic condition of the average parent has worsened. The poverty question therefore has to be addressed.
But there is a more fundamental issue involved in the phenomenon of parents being paid to allow their children to go to school. Why, for instance, is it that no parent in some parts of the country needs to be induced financially before sending their children to school? Why is it that such parents even sell their landed and other properties to give their children education? The answer, quite simply, is that they have internalised the value of education. Therefore, it is not just poverty that is implicated in the Kebbi State issue; the value of education is still not appreciated in the state.
In our view, the practice currently in place in Kebbi is not sustainable. If you pay parents to facilitate their children’s attendance of primary school, do you also pay them to allow their children to attend secondary schools and universities? To be sure, the money being given to mothers in Kebbi by UNICEF, although seemingly paltry, would at least solve some of the financial challenges that they have. For a petty trader, N8,000 is definitely a boost and not a disincentive. But there must be reorientation on the values of education not only in Kebbi State, but also across the northern states. Parents need to learn that educating their children is a must, if only because, all other things being equal, education provides the surest route of escape out of the appalling economic conditions in which many families remain trapped. In this connection, we urge the Kebbi State government and indeed other state governments facing similar problems to roll out massive enlightenment programmes while also doing their best to address poverty. If they cannot do this, they have no business being in office.