Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
How far can the House of Representatives go in addressing the challenges of out of school children in the country?
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), no fewer than 13million children of school age are out of school in the country.
Across the country, the issue of out of school children has been a source of worry to concerned stakeholders. This menace is believed to be one of the factors responsible for the security challenges and other vices plaguing the country.
However, the House in a move akin to taking on the problem head-on, last Thursday, held a special session, devoted solely to discussing the menace of out of school children in the country and how to proffer lasting solutions to the challenge.
Mr Omowumi Ogunlola in a motion: “need for the House to deliberate on the matter of the millions of out of school children in Nigeria and to consider lasting solutions”, had told the House that the figures of out of school children in the country as provided by UBEC and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates a national crisis.
Ogunsola, while stating that unless urgent action is taken, the country is at risk of losing a generation of young people, expressed worry that after years of expensive interventions by the government, there is a possibility that the number of out or school children will get worse in the coming years.
According to him, ‘the issue of out of school children in the country is a time bomb, that can consume the country if certain steps are not taken to address it. We can see them around, hawking, begging for alms; even some of these children cater for their parents. What we are saying in essence is that there is need for the government, it goes beyond the issue of providing basic education for the children, because what we know is that the children cannot go and enrol themselves in school. It is the parents responsibility to do it.
“ More so, we know that some of these parents do not believe that there is need to send their children to school. So, I want to say that for the fact that the government has put these amenities in places for people to access, measures should be put in place for parents to be held responsible for children being out of school”.
The lawmaker added, “ by failing to ensure that these children are in school, we are in effect raising a generation of victims and victimizers, potential criminals and insurgents with the manifestations of the worst possibilities already being with us, and promise to become even more severe with time without immediate determined and urgent action.”
He decried the large number of out of school children in the country, stating that if left unaddressed, it would become a bigger burden on the country in the near future.
Though the number of out of school children is seemingly more prevalent in the Northern part of the country, the House leader, Honourable Alhassan Ado-Doguwa said it is not a Northern problem alone. Ado-Doguwa, while contributing to the motion noted that it is a problem that cuts across the entire country.
Therefore, the House leader posits that there is need for concerted efforts by all and sundry to address the challenge in the interest of the country.
“When you go to the streets of Kano, you see the almajiris as we call them there begging, not attending to the Islamic scheme of the education, which they were out for. This is out of school children. When you go to the North East, and those areas that have problem of insurgency, the insurgents were also products of school drop outs. They decided not to go to school to become useful to the nation, at the end, they become problems to the nation.
“Mr Speaker, I put it to you that in Lagos, what you call the area boys, most of them are people who decided not to go to school. They become area boys; some of them grow to become area fathers. It is unfortunate. It is out of school kids.
“The matter we are discussing here today includes the child that decided not to go to school in Enugu and decided to stay in the mining area, to mine without education. That is an out of school child. So, we are discussing a matter that is not only peculiar to the North. It is a colossal problem to the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he stated.
For the deputy minority leader, Toby Okechukwu, the population of the country, which is currently estimated to be about 200 million could either be an asset or a burden, depending on whether or not the populace are educated. He pointed out that it is only education that can make a remarkable difference in the life of one child and another.
“Two hundred million people is an asset. But without education, it becomes a burden. The difference between a Surulere boy,who is sitting there today as speaker and an alaye boy who is there looking for what to do or committing crime or begging on the street, might just be education.
“ The difference between a Senate president or myself, who is a deputy minority leader here today, the difference between myself who is sitting here today and the boy, who is engaged in one petty business or subsistence farming or crime might just be education. The difference between a Fulani boy, who walks one thousands kilometre to go and sell a cow and one who sits in Aso Rock or works as a minister might just be education,” Okechukwu posited.
The deputy minority leader further stated “What are we doing to the cultural practices that encourage this? The almajiri models you towards good behaviour. It gives you religious education. But we know it doesn’t give you the skill with which you can undertake life aspirations. It doesn’t give the empowerment, with which you can tend to yourself, tend to your parents and contribute to society.
“We have challenges. And I thought that the effort of President Jonathan in putting up hundreds of schools, Almajiri schools to make sure it is integrated into western education, I think we ought to have encouraged that. But sometimes Nigerians are minded towards the messenger and not the message. “
The speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, while setting the tone for the day’s business, had observed that in the last 20 years, the government has been pursuing programmes geared towards the reforms of the educational sector, with significant budgetary allocations to basic education; albeit without commensurate results.
“Over the last twenty years, the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has committed to a programme of educational reform that has resulted in the allocation of significant sums of money to fund basic education access in our country. These reforms have been intended mostly to address the availability gap by building new schools and providing teachers in previously underserved areas. These investments have not yielded the desired outcomes.
“In too many parts of the country, the school attendance rates have not improved, and the quality of education being received by those who enrol and attend still falls far short of our most fundamental expectations. We must consider that perhaps the time for a massive course correction has come.
“That process of course correction must begin first with a critical assessment of everything we have done so far, so that we can objectively determine for ourselves what works and what doesn’t, what can be learned from reform efforts and what is necessary to ensure that no Nigerian child, born in this age will ever be denied the benefits of an empowering education.”
The speaker added that “we have spent the past two decades building schools. It has not been enough. Now is the time to lift our ambitions to the consideration of bigger things and begin to build capacity for the future survival of our nation.
“The complex interconnectivity of modern life means that we cannot be satisfied with merely shoving more children into failing and failed school systems just so we can maintain the appearance of education access. We must aim for better.”
At the end of the debate which lasted for over four hours,the House mandated its committee on Basic Education to probe Federal Government expenditure on basic education, and identify how and what the funds were spent on, in the last ten years.
The Committee, as part of the investigation, is expected to ascertain the status of all ongoing projects by the Universal Basic Education Commission ( UBEC) across the country.
It is equally expected to ascertain the current figure of out of school children in the country, with the specific number in each state of the federation.
The Committee is expected to report back to the House in eight weeks; after which the Green Chamber shall convene a special public hearing to consider submissions by stakeholders on the issue of out of school children in the country with a view “ to identify the unique cultural, religious, social and economic factors” responsible for the menace.
Besides, the House resolved to commence the process of amending the National Youth Service Corps( NYSC) Act “ to establish a programme to identify, recruit and train willing, capable and promising young Nigerians to serve as teachers in under- served areas.”
Also, the Green chamber resolved that the 360 members should hold town hall meetings in the respective constituencies in the last weekend in March, to sensitise their constituents on the importance of education.
The outcome of the House probe on government expenditure on basic education through UBEC in the last ten years, and the intended public hearing on the menace of out of school children is expected to provide the basis for legislative interventions on the issue.
Though the challenges are daunting, especially as regards coming up with legislations to address age long cultural, religious and economic factors fueling the problem, analysts say they are not insurmountable, if the parliament applies itself diligently to them.