In the first quarter of the 2021, the Federal Ministry of Education said the number of out-of-school children in the country increased from 7.1 million to 10.1 million a frightening increase of 3 million in a country that has the highest number of children without formal education. The increase is a red signal of the danger ahead if proactive measures are not put in place to ensure all children in the country have basic education up to secondary level.
We are not unaware that the covid-19 pandemic, insecurity and the hash economic condition of the country are major factors that contributed to the increase. On the other hand, the insensitivity of policy makers to adjust programmes and policies in line with current realities led majorly to this increase. Nigeria as a matter of fact is not the only country that is adversely impacted by the global Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the country, to the amazement of the international community, successfully managed the pandemic amid weak healthcare system and revolting health workers.
That the country has millions of children deprived education is a clear pointer that the Universal Basic Education programme of the Federal Government is achieving less than its objectives. The UBE, launched in 1999, with the goal of providing free, universal and compulsory basic education for every Nigerian child aged 6-15 years, was a product of necessity. It was created after several unsuccessful attempts at improving education in the country. It initially achieved reasonable success in the enrollment of children in school but the inability of the government to build on the successes no doubt contributed to the numbers of out-of-school children.
Ordinarily, the UBE is expected to activate programmes and initiatives for the acquisition of functional literacy, numeracy and life skills; provide out-of-school, non-formal programmes for the updating of knowledge and skills for persons who left school before acquiring the basics needed for lifelong learning; initiate special programmes of encouragement to all marginalised groups especially girls and women, nomadic populations, out-of-school youth and the almajiris (Qur’anic students); and many other initiatives.
The current insecurity challenges in the country can also be linked to illiteracy and lack of quality education for children at the lowest rung. While we battle terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, secessionist agitation, there lies ahead of us 10 million potential threat to the peace, security and by extension, development of the country if quality education is not provided for them.
The Federal Government through the UBE has made funds available for states to improve quality of education in their various states and also ensure that no child is deprived of basic education up to secondary school level. Counterpart funding is all that the 36 states need to provide to access the UBE fund.
While some states have tapped into this programme, some are yet to provide the counterpart fund to access the UBE fund. We therefore urge the states yet to access UBE fund to as a matter of national security concern meet up all necessary conditions to access the fund. We further urge that such funds should not be diverted but be exclusively expended on education.
Finally, illiteracy is a threat to national security, it can only be checked only if government policies on education are effectively implemented to ensure that all children acquire basic education.