United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reminded the President Muhammadu Buhari of his commitment to increase Nigeria’s annual domestic education expenditure by 50 per cent over the next two years, and by 100 per cent by 2025.
In a message on Monday to celebrate the International Day of Education, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, said in Nigeria’s N17 trillion 2022 budget signed into law at the end of 2021, 7.2 per cent is allocated to the education sector. This is a step forward – an increase from 5.7 per cent allocated for 2021 – though there is still a long way to go to reach the internationally recommended benchmark that countries spend 15-20 per cent of their national budgets on education.
He however welcomed the government’s pledge to increase Nigeria’s annual domestic education expenditure by 50 per cent over the next two years, and by 100 per cent by 2025.
He said: “The Nigerian Government has committed to increasing funding for education, which is a very important step – far too many Nigerian children today are not in the classroom – and for those who are, far too many are not getting a solid education that can translate into good prospects for their futures.”
At least 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria – the highest rate in the world. A full one-third of Nigerian children are not in school, and one in five out-of-school children in the world is Nigerian.
While the education crisis in Nigeria is affecting children across the country, some children are more likely to be affected than others: girls, children with disabilities, children from the poorest households, in street situations, or affected by displacement or emergencies, and children in geographically distant areas are all disproportionately affected by the education crisis, according to UNICEF.
Hawkins lamented that: “Millions of Nigerian children have never set foot in a classroom – and this is a travesty,” adding that: “Perhaps equally tragic is the high number of children who make it into a classroom, but never make the transition from primary school to secondary school – thereby cutting off their chances for a secure future.”
It is estimated that 35 per cent of Nigerian children who attend primary school do not go on to attend secondary school. Half of all Nigerian children did not attend secondary school in 2021.
He said: “As we celebrate the International Day of Education today amid concerns in much of the world about the impact of COVID-19 on education, we must take a close look at what is happening to our children in Nigeria, and the opportunities they are missing out on when they lack education. We need to look towards communities – leaders, parents, teachers and caregivers – and together, find the best strategies to ensure that all children enroll into school, have access to continuous learning and ensure they emerge with quality skills that equip them for a prosperous future.
“We need to especially ensure that girls have access to learning – so they can receive an education that will begin to address issues of gender inequality. All girls have much to offer to find solutions to Nigeria’s challenges – and we have to nurture their creativity and innovation.”
“We also need to ensure that children are safe when they are in school – no child should be afraid to enter a classroom – afraid their school might be attacked or that they will be kidnapped. And no parent should fear sending their children to school.”
UNICEF recalled that in 2021, there were 25 attacks on schools. 1,440 children were abducted, and 16 children killed.
In March 2021 alone, no fewer than 618 schools were closed in six northern states (Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Niger, and Yobe) over the fear of attack and abduction of pupils and members of staff. The closure of schools in these states significantly contributed to learning losses for over two months.
It however said that Nigeria’s education system can be transformed through adequate funding to ensure schools are safe; the application of gender-responsive policies, including recruitment of female teachers and improved facilities for girls; the creation of multiple and flexible learning pathways for students, such as digital and transferable skills learning; the integration of foundational numeracy and literacy in Qur’anic schools; and teacher training in the latest methodologies.
Hawkins said: “All Nigerian children deserve a fighting chance – no matter who they are or where they are. And this must include an education. It is not only their right – it is the smartest and best way to secure the future of Nigeria as a whole.”