By Perpetua Onuegbu
Education propels growth and industrialisation. Education lays the foundation for virtually all forms of human development that repel poverty.
However, in spite of the obvious contributions of education to growth and development, many African countries lag behind in the implementation of education components of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN.
This is indicated in the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa — ”Africa 2030: Sustainable Development Goals Three-Year Reality Check” report.
The report indicates that in some instances, there is complete stagnation with more than half of the global poor (those who earn under $1.90 PPP per day) found in Africa.
According to a 2018 UNICEF report 69 per cent of out-of-school children between age six and 14 in Nigeria are in the northern part of country.
UNESCO says globally the figure stands at 144 million children.
The UNCEF report also revealed that Bauchi and Katsina led from the bottom in educationally disadvantages states, with 1.1 million and 781,500 out-of-school children.
Out of this number, girls constitute the largest with 60 per cent of the figure. By the year 2020 the number of out-of-school children had increased to about 14 million.
The number escalated four years later, in 2022, rising to 20 million, according to UNESCO reports.
Saadhna Panday, Chief of Education, UNICEF, blamed the high number of out-of-school children in Nigeria on poverty.
She said poverty is among the most significant barrier in the face of prohibitive school fees.
“This has negatively impacted enrollment, retention and completion rates in Nigeria for both boys and girls and presents a threat to ensure universal access to education.
“Low public spending on education is another factor. Nigeria government expenditure on education is as low as 5.6 per cent in 2021. The recommended benchmark of public expenditures on education is 15 to 20 per cent.
“Insecurity, including attacks on schools and abduction of school children as well as gender-based violence at school place girls at even greater risk of harm.
“Poor learning outcomes contribute to drop out; Inadequate and insufficient physical infrastructure at schools including sex-segregated WASH and toilets facilities,” Panday said.
She also explained that insufficient recruitment and supply of trained teachers, including female teachers especially at the junior secondary level pose a challenge to the country achieving the 2030 SDGs.
She said social and gender norms place a low value on education, especially for girls and promote boy-child preference.
According to her limited availability of timely and high quality data also make it difficult for UNICEF and its partners to say with precision the number of out of children.
The Office of the Special Senior Adviser to the President on Sustainable Development Goals (OSSAP-SDGs) says Nigeria is not relenting in the quest to deliver on SDGs in 2030.
Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals (SSAP-SDGs) said resources were being mobilised nationwide to promote the realization of the development goals.
“We have too many children out of school in Nigeria. So, it was against this background that my office, in 2018 conducted investigation in some selected states and we came up with a document.
“We are now working on alternate school arrangement and building more schools now for those that will join.
“We are working with Federal Ministry of Education, subnational governments, the Governors’ Forum and the coordinating Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management.
“So, we are working together, using that document to see how best we can do that. Already, the Federal Government is doing one meal a day; we are working to see how we can improve that,” Orelope said.
The presidential aide said the outbreak of COVID-19 was turned into an opportunity in the efforts to mitigate the impact the challenge posed by out-of-school children.
“With COVID-19, most of the children on the streets have been reunited with their families and their states are ready to work with us to get them back to school.
“For those of them that are above school age, we intend to set up vocational centres for them.
“But, each of the vocational centres will come with adult literacy classes to ensure that they are able to read and write; they will graduate to vocational classes.
“We are working very well on goal four which is on quality education and we are working on the critical targets of the goal.
She said in 2021, the office spent three quarter of its budget on schools, adding that old ones were being renovated.
While the Federal Government said it is not relenting, some stakeholders agree that more needs to be done if Nigeria can stand any chance of meeting the goals.
At a virtual seminar organised by a group of 85 NGOs, Executive Director, Nigeria Network of NGOs, Oyebisi Oluseyi, said Nigeria must, as a matter of urgency, dismantle all obstacles to equality and quality standard of living as stipulated in the SDGs.
Oluseyi said at the seminar organised as part of the Global Week to Act for the Sustainable Development Goals that eliminating poverty and other forms of discrimination remained one of the only ways to the nation’s growth and prosperity.