I took part in a recent meeting organised by an indigenous Non-Governmental Organisation. The theme of the meeting was, “Education at the last mile”; meaning education for very financially disadvantaged children.
After two days of discussions, I felt hopeless and yet hopeful. Strange? Hopeless because of the condition of our schools and the fact that many Nigerian children go through extreme hardship to fund their education.
Yet, I was hopeful at the fact that there are people who recognise that we have a serious problem and that Nigeria’s future is at stake. People who are concerned and committed to the plight of a very vulnerable group – “Nigerian children”.
During the meeting, we heard directly from some of the children about the hardship they experience to get an education.
Some come from families so poor that they must hawk and sell wares after school to make ends meet. When that’s not enough, they drop out or work on the farm to find money for their exams and upkeep.
One of the children we heard from is Abdulmajid. He is from a family of seven children.
The family’s source of income is farming. His elder brother had to abandon his studies to help his younger siblings through school.
The six younger siblings take turns to go to school since some of them must join their eldest brother in the farm to raise money for their schooling and upkeep. He had to leave school during the dry season to work on the farm.
Abdulmajid could not afford to pay for his WAEC exams until an NGO came to his aid.
Happy, the first of five children, also spoke about her struggle.
Her father is dead and her mother a petty trader fell ill and became depressed. Her mother has been missing since September 2018.
With no one to care for them, they left Abuja to Offa, Kwara State to live with their poor grandmother.
Happy said she thought her life had ended but with the help of an NGO, her NECO and WASSCE fees were paid.
These stories, like many others, have one thing in common: The inability of the families of the children to fund their education due to poverty.
Child-focused NGOs and international agencies have highlighted and continue to bring to our attention the issues that affect children’s education.
According to UNICEF, about 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria even though primary education is supposed to be free and compulsory. Poverty being one of the reasons.
Millions of families cannot afford to keep their children in school. The children must work for their upkeep and perhaps their survival.
I admire the resilience of Abdulmajid and Happy. It is sad that at no point did we hear that social welfare intervened.
To inquire about the absence of the children from school or why the children had to work for their upkeep. No support given to the relatives who care for the children though poor themselves.
What about children who are not so resilient or without relatives to care for them?
Without guidance or care what will their stories be?
The cycle of poverty is likely to continue. With limited opportunities, they become child labourers, some beggars.
Some will end up as house helps to their relatives. If they are ‘lucky’, they will be sent to school while they work as house helps.
The Nigerian child faces too many challenges. From the failure of government to provide good quality health care to a robust social welfare system.
Not to mention the insecurity in many parts of the country where children are kidnapped in hundreds with some never to return. The trauma experienced by children who live in these parts of Nigeria is unimaginable.
The likely implications of Nigerian children not being able to access good quality education are better imagined. It is no secret that there are many benefits to an educated society.
They include higher incomes, social stability, more opportunities, healthier citizens etc.
It is also not a secret that so many Nigerians are poor as a result of bad governance and corruption.
There are many sayings that generally imply that “children are the future”.
If you agree with this saying then the implication is that the future of Nigeria is not promising.
Millions of children out of school, while those who are in school acquire a half-baked education from a poorly funded system.
For Nigeria to have a promising future, access to good quality education should be made a priority for all children.
In a BBC World Service minute series, on the state of education in Nigeria, it was reported that the Federal and some State governments are thinking of the idea of private sector adoption of public schools.
This will involve private sector providing the facilities which the government is unable to provide.
While this will be so helpful, I hope that more charitable organisations and religious organisations could help provide funding for children whose families are too poor to do this.
Bearing in mind that even if education is free in some states, the children are out of school because their families are too poor to even buy uniforms and books.