•N1,000 fee still keeps many out of school
By Kemi Yesufu
Respected Catholic priest and author, Frederick Oakeley, once said, “Little children are happy because they have no carking cares, nor troublesome responsibilities, nor painful memories and no anxious anticipations.”
Fr. Oakeley’s word was a fitting description of the joy children at Kofa Nasarawa Primary School, Kano, expressed recently when they welcomed journalists and representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to their school.
The party was on a field trip as part of a two-day media dialogue on Early Childhood Development (ECD), organised by UNICEF and the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.
The pupils, who wore their brown and white uniforms, didn’t display any form of worries. They were equally unfazed about the saddening statistics from research on the survival of children in Nigeria and other developing countries.
The Lancet Medical Journal Survey (2016) showed that, globally, 250 million children were at risk of not reaching their full potential in education, health and overall development.
Daily Sun learnt that, across the world, 60 million children under five are also at risk of not making the best of impact in life, with Nigeria ranking among the 10 countries with the largest number of children at risk of struggling with development milestones.
According to UNICEF, despite an increase in primary school enrolment in recent years, the net attendance is only about 70 per cent, with Nigeria recording 10.5 million out-of-school children, the world’s highest number. Sixty per cent of the children are in northern Nigeria. About 60 per cent of out-of-school children are girls.
The United Nations supports ECD; it ensures that the programme is implemented as one of the interventions adopted by states and Federal Government in collaboration with development partners for increasing enrolment and reducing the number of children dropping out of school.
The Early Care Centre in Kofa Nasarawa Primary School has 24 pupils between ages four and five years. Though the pre-primary school centre does not boast of the usual facilities in the average upscale private school and is short on some of the basic sanitation and hygiene standards set by the UN, kids in the centre are said to be doing well.
According to a teacher in the centre, Sadika Mohammed, the kids were learning fast; they stayed out of school only when they were ill.
“They know their father and mother’s names. Some of them can even describe where they live,” Mohammed said, who was evidently pleased with their progress.
Some of the pupils, who were being cared for by a nanny were quick to tell their names and ages. One of them that gladly introduced herself was four-year-old, Hafsat Usman Musa.
Daily Sun noticed that the pupils sat on mats on the floor, while their teachers still wrote on chalkboards. Children at the centre, which had seven blocks, used one toilet; they drank water supplied in kegs by water vendors.
Mohammed identified the N1,000 annual fees paid by parents as a major challenge. She expressed the opinion that more kids would have remained in school if their parents were not made to pay the levy.
The teacher, who disclosed that parents also provided uniforms for kids in her centre, equally expressed her wish to have modern teaching aids.
The desk officer of Early Childhood Education at the Kano State Universal Education Board, Fatima Ibrahim, told Daily Sun that there were 3,000 ECCs in the state with 44 local government areas. Ibrahim who spearheaded a three-day training for 1,900 teachers last December, disclosed that there were 2,300 teachers working in Kano ECCs.
“We need more teachers in our centres. I led the initiative to train about 1,900 teachers last year. They were exposed to the 54-page curriculum for early child education. Both those who benefited from the training and people who only heard about it have been calling me to know when next there would be a workshop for instructors. We also need more nannies,” she said.
Mayowa Eleshin, who represented the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) at the dialogue, urged parents to speak out when they were unhappy about the environment in which their children were taught. Eleshin, who spoke on the topic “Government and ECD-Early Learning,” stressed the importance of parents getting involved in pushing for government investments and making impact in schools.
“As a parent, if you don’t find these things (improved facilities and trained teachers), you should cry out,” Eleshin said. The UBEC representative stressed the importance of Nigeria attaining Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which seeks inclusive and quality education for all and the promotion of life-long learning.
For the UN, obtaining quality education is the foundation for improving people’s lives and sustainable development.
The global body and its partners crave for investment in quality healthcare for children, especially those in the pre-primary age bracket of zero-five years. This they believe is key to laying the foundation for a productive adulthood, which ultimately leads to better economic indices for countries across the world.
Daily Sun learnt that Nigeria was making progress in cutting down infant and under-five mortality rates. But the minimal success recorded resulted in the country not attaining the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing child mortality by a third in 2015.
According to data from UNICEF, preventable or treatable infectious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and HIV/AIDS account for more than 70 per cent of the estimated one million under-five deaths in Nigeria, yearly. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of morbidity and mortality of a large proportion of children under-five in Nigeria. It accounts for more than 50 per cent of deaths of children in this age bracket.
Speaking at the media dialogue, a representative of the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Omokore Oluseyi, concurred that HIV/AIDS, malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and rising cases of malnutrition were major contributors to death among children.
He regretted that these diseases claimed children’s lives or adversely affected their development.
He, however, assured that government was committed to improving outcomes from interventions targeted at drastically reducing infant and under-five mortality.