Out-of-school Children in Nigeria: A Ticking Time BombJanuary 23rd, 2024
“I believe the children are our future…”Whitney Houston, Greatest Love of All
by Adedoyin Ajayi
Citizens constitute the true wealth of a nation. Human resources comprise the active factors of production responsible for corralling the passive factors (land, physical capital, technology) to build societies, develop institutions, create wealth, and add value. Consequently, a nation with ill-equipped human resources would inevitably struggle to achieve high levels of growth and development. This places utmost importance on the training of a country’s human resources both now and for the future.
Education equips minds with the tools to contribute positively to societies, break the shackles of ignorance and strengthens individual choices. Children deprived of education grow into adults with severely limited choices in life. This scourge is a global phenomenon most prominent in Sub-Saharan Africa, South and West Asia.
According to UNICEF, one in three Nigerian children is out of school. This totals about 10.2 million children at the primary level and about 8.1 million at the junior secondary school level. This damning statistic highlights the menace of out-of-school children in Nigeria.This unpleasant scenario is most evident in the northern part of the country. The 2021 Multiple Indicator Survey 6 (MICS 6) posits that Kebbi State (65%), Zamfara State (61%), and Bauchi State (61%) lead the way among states with highest out-of-school children. The causes of this phenomenon stem from an agglomeration of administrative, economic, and socio-cultural factors.
There are the problems of significant poverty levels and misconceptions regarding the benefits of education and schooling. In the northern part of the country, it is common to see girls married off at early ages owing to the belief that educating the girl child is an unprofitable investment, while boys are only sent to Qur’anic schools, with no other formal education. On the other hand, there are supply side factors also. Funding for education has fallen way short of UNESCO’s 26% budgetary allocation to education. This allocation has only crossed 10% thrice in the past 12 years. The poor implementation and enforcement of the Child Rights Act which mandates compulsory education for children for at least nine years has led to blatant disregard of education as a fundamental right of children. Furthermore, an insufficient level of qualified teachers exacerbates the issue.
The implications of out-of-school children have sinister effects for the children and country at large. Education-deprived children grow to become adults with limited economic and self-sustaining opportunities in future. Their lack of education puts a ceiling over them. They suffer from weakened self-esteem and a low status in the society. Worse still, their lack of education and enlightenment makes them easy prey for religious extremism and pawns for political violence.
Additionally, Nigeria suffers collectively. With a poorly-equipped labour force comes a significant unemployment level, thus leading to a higher crime rate. Regardless of colour, race, or class, the desire to exist burns within us. With limited economic opportunities available to out-of-school children, they can easily become adults who live by taking what they can get, by hook or crook.
The unchecked bane of out-of-school children can lead to severe manpower gaps and a critical shortage of skilled manpower. A nation rich in passive factors of production but deficient in active factors would struggle to achieve economic growth and development. Poorly-equipped human resources would inefficiently utilise the passive factors of production.
Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders. Subsequently, investing in educating children is tantamount to investing into the future. The Nigerian government should raise the allocation of education in the national budget. More funds should be dedicated towards building more schools, training more teachers and making teaching more attractive. In addition, more sensitization is needed, especially in the north. The perception of education as “evil” needs to be eradicated for more children to go to school. Insurgency has also contributed to keeping children away from school. The kidnap of children in huge numbers from schools is definitely bound to reduce the attractiveness of schooling for children, as parents would prefer to choose safety over education. Curbing insurgency and banditry would significantly lift the blanket of fear in northern Nigeria.
On balance, reducing the number of out-of-school children should be at the forefront of policy plans to avert the ticking time bomb of out-of-school children.
Akhimien, N. (2023). Northern Nigeria’s Out-Of-School Children Number ‘Disheartening,’ Says Minister. Available at https://www.channelstv.com/2023/12/18/northern-nigerias-out-of-school-children-number-disheartening-says-minister/
Ogunode, N.J., Chinwuba, M.A., & Ayoko, V.O. (2022). Out of School Children in Nigeria: Causes, Social Implications and Way Forward. International Journal on Integrated Education, 5(12), 82 – 91.