The Children’s Day celebration on Monday, May 27 brought the problems of child education in Nigeria into bold relief. From different parts of the country came worrisome reports on the sorry state of school infrastructure. The level of dilapidation in some of the schools underscored the hypocrisy in some state governments’ much-vaunted commitment to child education. From Lagos to Cross River, Sokoto to Bauchi, Benue to Imo State, no part of the country seems exempted from the eyesore that some of the nation’s public schools have become. Studying under trees and leaking roofs have become the lot of many children in a country that is among the highest producers of crude oil in the world.
Beyond the dilapidated school infrastructure is also the dearth of teachers, with many states reported not to have recruited any teachers in the last four years. Some of the state governments’ much-touted commitment to education in the last few years seems to be nothing but mere lip service.
Children’s Day reports in The Punch and other national newspapers showed that many schools in different parts of the country lack toilets, libraries, potable water, sick bays, playgrounds and other necessities. The classrooms, especially in the urban areas, are largely inadequate while available ones are over-populated, with two or three classes being taught in the same classroom, in some instances.
It is sad that in spite of the establishment of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) in 1994, many public schools are still in a state of disrepair. This is largely because the states which are expected to provide counterpart funding for UBEC projects in their schools neglect to do so. There is also the problem of generally poor budgetary allocations to education at both the federal and state levels of government. It is these poor budgetary allocations that make public school classrooms to lack chairs and basic teaching facilities.
This scant attention to education by the governments is responsible for the failure to birth a positive change in our public schools, contrary to the people’s expectation of a remarkable positive change in the education sector. Just as we have it in other sectors such as health, electricity and road infrastructure, not much has happened to indicate a difference in our schools on the scale that is required. Children in many parts of the country learn with tears. In our secondary schools, we hardly ever have the full complement of teachers for critical subjects such as English Language and Mathematics.
This situation is largely responsible for the poor performance of students in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and the National Examinations Council (NECO) examinations, from year to year. Poor teaching facilities, inadequate teacher commitment, lack of laboratories etc undermine teaching at this level, and the result is that more than a half of the students presented for these examinations do not make the success mark. So many of them fail to make the number of credits required to gain admission into tertiary institutions.
State governments do not prioritise the recruitment of teachers while the recruited ones are not paid salaries regularly. Teachers in many states such as Abia are reportedly being owed several months of salary arrears while the states continue to pour their resources into meaningless projects and monuments that do not add any value to the lives of their citizens.
Even the Child Rights Law, which encapsulates the basic rights of children in the country, has not been domesticated by many of the states across the country, reportedly including Gombe, Katsina, Zamfara, Katsina and Jigawa on account of religious and cultural considerations, among which is the child bride issue. In this 2019 Nigeria, there are many, even among our leaders, who still think a child should be married off to the highest bidder at the earliest possible time, without giving the child the benefit of a good education and self-actualisation.
While education should be a right of all children everywhere, to give them a good chance of success in life, there are those who see it as a privilege that should be withdrawn as part of religious and cultural observances, or to satisfy their own morbid libidinous inclinations through child marriage.
Hence, girl-children are withdrawn from school and packaged off into marriages for which they are ill-prepared, physically, mentally and financially. Many fall victim to Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) and are subjected to sorrowful existences when they are rejected by their husbands and the societies which forced them into such unfortunate situations.
Even for the male children, the experience is hardly any better as many are forced to become almajiris, palmed off to certain religious teachers with no provision at all for their welfare, while their teachers end up using them as beggars and turn them into a nuisance in the society. It is sad that these children can hardly expect any better future other than to become willing tools in the hands of terrorists and other criminals in the society with whom they readily find affinity because of their conditioning to a wandering and unstable family life. In many parts of the country, children are raped and sold at will, like any other article of trade.
It is unfortunate that this sad state of affairs subsists even when Nigeria adopted and ratified the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the 1990 Africa Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRCW), in 1991 and 2000, respectively. The provisions of these conventions were legislated into law in Nigeria via the passing of the Child Rights Act (CRA) by the National Assembly in 2003.
The Child Rights Law provides for the protection and nurturing of children in a safe environment, but virtually everywhere, the child in Nigeria is preyed upon. Up North, the Boko Haram insurgency has made nonsense of children’s right to a safe environment and education to actualise their potential. Many children have been deprived of the love and nurturing of their parents as they were orphaned and now live in Internally Displaced Persons camps in different parts of the country. Even though the Child Rights Law provides for the right to universal basic education, over ten million children are reportedly out of school and those in schools study under poor conditions. Good nutrition and poor medical services are other rights that our children are deprived of.
Child welfare is one area in which the promise of a change by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration needs to be speedily actualised. It is time for the real change. The reports on the sorry situation of many of our schools, and the failure of some state governors to prioritise the employment of teachers, do not portray the government as working hard enough to achieve the promised change in the way things are done in the country.
Children are the future of a country and any nation that would want to be well reckoned with in the future must prioritise the things that will make for the proper development of its children, especially through proper nurturing, good education and healthcare.