Out of School Children in Nigeria: A Ticking Time Bomb

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the number of out of school children (OOSC) in Africa between the ages of 6 and 18 years was estimated to be 244 million in 2021. Worse still, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), one in every five OOSC globally is from Nigeria. Moreso, according to the Guardian, Nigeria ranks second among the top three countries with the highest population of OOSC, the first and third being India and Pakistan respectively.

A report by UNESCO also revealed that about 20 million children and youths in Nigeria are educationally deprived. Sadly, those contained within this outrageous figure (which by the way outnumbers the population of some countries) are roaming the streets of the Giant of Africa with a bleak future fraught with uncertainty in no small measure. Education, the fundamental right of every child, has unfortunately been denied these ones, and this has led to a condition that is both unpalatable and pitiable in a nation such as ours whose future is substantially hinged on the empowerment of the younger generation, in which education plays an indispensable role.

The Federal Government and its parastatals have implemented, and are still implementing measures to combat this menace by establishing institutions like the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), The National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), etc., but these haven’t sufficed to cause a plummet in that astronomical figure. Considering the statistics, it is quite appalling to see these many children and youth with untapped potentials struggle to survive amidst the harsh economic situation. Aside this, other prominent factors responsible for the persistence of this menace include illiteracy, restrictive cultural beliefs, unsafe learning environments, negative peer influence, insufficient learning infrastructures, religion, child labor and trafficking, distance barriers, early child marriage, insufficient qualified teachers and so on.

The education deprivation is more pronounced in northern Nigeria where economic barriers, socio-cultural norms and practices discourage the attendance in formal education, especially for girls. About 50 percent of the total OOSC reside in the north, and this may account for why certain crises seem to often stem from there. The saying “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” has found expression in the lives of many OOSC. While some are gainfully engaged, majority are left to loiter the streets in idleness, and this has, as it were, conferred on them availability to wreak havoc in their community, making them a threat to the peace and progress of the nation as a whole.

For instance, who often make up the number of political thugs, bandits, terrorists, internet fraudsters, sexual molesters, kidnappers, and so on? Where do they come from? Research has consistently revealed the association between increased incidence of social vices and a rise in the number of OOSC. It is so unfortunate and disheartening that the country’s situation has created a vicious cycle that produces perpetrators of the vices it continually combats.

In a research conducted by a civic action project, it was discovered that school dropouts constitute almost half of the prison population. Here lies the irony of the country’s increased expenditure on prison maintenance whereas they could have expended such an amount to empower them educationally and vocationally. Society cannot pretend to be at ease and in peace if no means is employed to integrate and absorb these OOSC into the school system.

Furthermore, it is indeed heart-wrenching to consider that these children have fallen prey to the ravenous aftermath of corruption in the country. When funds, which are meant to be deployed for the education of the underprivileged are mismanaged, squandered and laundered, how will the poor breathe? The prevalent vices in the country, especially in the north, where the highest number of OOSC are recorded, are like cancer cells that will keep proliferating and metastasizing to every nook and cranny of the country, unless deliberate measures are taken to abate this effect.

What is the country’s fate if it doesn’t deliberately work to create a good future for its young populace? This is a clarion call for the country to fully awaken to her responsibilities towards averting future danger, by intensifying efforts to drastically reduce the number of OOSC on her streets. If nothing is done, the country had better brace up for impact because this time ticking bomb will explode, leaving nothing and no one untouched, and the aftermath may be irrecoverable.

Victoria Aladi

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