BY IDOWU BANKOLE
IT is no longer news that Nigeria holds the unenviable world record in the number of out-of-school children. In 2013, the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Social Organisation, UNESCO’s Education for All Monitoring Report, EAGMR, unveiled the shaming report that Nigeria, with about 10.5 million children out-of-school, accounted for 47 per cent of the world’s total.
Other countries mentioned included: Pakistan (5.1m), Ethiopia (2.4m), India (2.3m), the Philippines (1.5m), Cote d’Ivoire (1.2m), Burkina Faso (1m) and Niger (1m). The report in 2018 indicated that the situation in Nigeria worsened as our school-age children who were not in school rose to over 13 million. There is nothing in the horizon indicative of the possible reversal of the trend in the nearest future.
Perhaps, responding to this embarrassing situation, the Minister of Education and veteran journalist, Mallam Adamu Adamu, resorted to typical government speak. He disclosed on Monday last week that the Federal Government was working on a policy to ensure that parents who do not send their children to school will be prosecuted and jailed!
The Minister needs to be reminded that policies which lack common sense and logic cannot be implemented. If all parents of out-of-school children are rounded up, tried and jailed, which prisons will contain them? What good does it do to the affected children who, in addition to being deprived of education will also be deprived of parental care? It looks like the tail is wagging the dog here. Several military governors issued this threat (especially in the North where over 80 per cent of out-of-school children are found) in the past. The fact that the trend continued to mount shows just how “successful” they were.
This problem needs to be tackled at the root. That is the function of sound policy. Two major factors are responsible for out-of-school syndrome. The first is poverty (Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world!) The second is culture.
It is the primary duty of government to lift the people out of poverty and grant free and compulsory education to all children up to JSS III level. The government, working with religious leaders and traditional rulers, can also reorient the illiterate masses to see education as a sure ticket out of poverty and not as something against any religion. It is only when these major impediments have been cleared that sanctions for recalcitrant parents can be sensibly considered. Rescuing our children from the clutches of poverty, ignorance, disease and destitution is the primary call of leadership and government. Minister Adamu should use the opportunity at his disposal to make a positive difference in eradicating Nigeria’s out-of-school syndrome.