Nigeria has a staggering 18.5 million out-of-school children – 60% of them girls – and most of these are in the north of the country where insecurity is still rife.
Rahama Farah, the chief of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) field office in Kano State in the northwest, said at a media dialogue on girls’ education on Wednesday, May 11, that frequent attacks and the abduction of pupils were major causes of the dropout rate or lack of schooling of children.
He said the statistics were alarming. “Currently in Nigeria, there are 18.5 million out-of-school children, 60% of them are girls which means more than 10 million girls are out of school.”
Farah said the frequent attacks on schools and abduction of pupils by bandits in the northwest scared parents and, as a result, they no longer allowed their children to attend school.
RNI spoke to parents about the issue and found that poverty also contributed to the worrying number of out-of-school children.
Hussaini Ali said: “We know that seeking knowledge is very important, whether that is Western or Islamic education. The problem we have is that we do not have money to enrol our children in school.
“Right now, my children are out of school. Some of them finished primary school but, because of financial constraints, we have not enrolled them in secondary school. I sell oranges to feed my family. How do you think I can afford to enrol my children in school and pay the fees? The burden will be too much for me. I’m poor. The government should grant free education.”
Another parent, Kadau Bukar, said: “Some children do not go to school because their parents cannot afford it. But others roam the streets instead of going to school because of poor parenting and negligence on their part. Their parents or guardians do not see the value of education.
“I have four children, three are boys who are already in secondary school. My daughter has not been enrolled in school yet. But I will try, with the little resources I have, to enrol her in school.
“You see children, mainly girls, hawking and selling things on the streets instead of going to school. The parents of these children should know that sending their children out to hawk is the same as ruining their future.
“The government, traditional institutions and other concerned authorities need to take the necessary measures to address the problem of out-of-school children by introducing free education.”
Halima Ibrahim, an out-of-school girl who hawks goods on the street, told RNI that it was her parents’ decision not to enrol her in school. “I want to go to school like other children, but my parents decided against it. I don’t know why. I asked them when I should start going to school and they told me ‘after Ramadan’, but I am still hawking goods. Out of respect and obedience to my parents I do this, but I would much rather go to school.”
Mansur Buhari, a lecturer at the Usman Danfodio University in Sokoto, told RNI’s head of news, Mahmood Mamman, that he was neither shocked not surprised by UNICEF’s findings.
“Even before the insurgency some parents did not enrol their children in school. But when the insurgency started, it compounded the situation. Many schools were closed and some remain closed because of security concerns. This has discouraged many parents from enrolling their children in school, which could have psychological effects in the long term.
“I think even after the insurgency is dealt with, for safety reasons, it will take a very long time for parents to agree to enrol their children in school. Safety is the main issue. Fear has taken over.
“Many parents have been traumatised by the attacks and abductions at schools. Just the thought of sending their children to school terrifies them. I don’t think this will change while insecurity remains. Parents will send their children to school only when they believe it is safe to do so. Some children have witnessed attacks and abductions at school and they refuse to back to school because of the horror they saw.
“When a school is attacked, everyone leaves within a couple of days and they go back home. You can ask them to return in a month, two months or three months. You will be lucky if even 10% return to school. Mostly they are terrified, other times their parents will not allow them to return. Sometimes they will not return even if their parents tell them to go back to school.”
Buhari said bandits attacked schools and abducted children not only for ransom but they also used the pupils as a shield against military bombardment.
“Bandits attack and kidnap pupils, demanding a ransom, but they also use the children as human shields against aerial bombardment by the Federal Government. They know the military will not bomb them if they have the children. So, they take the children into the forests and bushes, avoiding bombardment.”
Professor Abdulkarim Ishaq from the Department of Continuing Education and Extension Services at the University of Maiduguri told RNI that parents were not sending their children to school out of fear.
“Parents are afraid that if their children are abducted, they will end up in the bushes and only God knows what will happen to them. Girls are particularly at risk because there is a high chance of them being raped and violated.
“It’s a dilemma for parents because they want their children to go to school and study further to improve the quality of their lives and contribute to society.”
Mukhtar Alhaji Liman, UNICEF’s education officer in Borno State, told RNI that the agency was collaborating with the state government and education institutions to mitigate the problem. One of the measures was establishing community-based radio learning programmes.
“A concerning issue is that there is a kind of ‘learning poverty’. Because children do not go to school at the right age, they lack foundational skills in both literacy and numeracy. We have instituted a programme called Teaching at the Right Level, which helps children to develop basic reading and mathematics skills.”
SHETTIMA LAWAN MONGUNO