The World Bank credit to 17 states to tackle the menace of out-of-school children is a welcome development. The Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, declared in Yola, Adamawa State, recently that the loan will be used to prosecute what is termed Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) programme. Fourteen states in North East, North-West and North-Central have benefitted from this fund, while other beneficiary states in the South are Oyo, Ebonyi and Rivers.
The minister stated that BESDA became effective in 2018, as the implementation began at the federal level two years ago, adding that all key activities at the federal level to kick-start implementation of the programme by the focus states had been completed.
According to him, “Each beneficiary state is expected to commence implementation in line with specific steps and guidelines provided under the programme. Adamawa State has successfully commenced the implementation process. Ensuring that out-of-school children are in school is not only a moral and legal obligation but also a productive investment that will guarantee the future of our children as enshrined in the Child Rights Act of 2003.”
For almost two decades now, governments in Nigeria have put in place policies that would mop up school-age children from the street or from child labour. For instance, in 2004 the Universal Basic Education (UBE) policy was strengthened through the signing into law the Commission’s Act. The cardinal objective was to reduce the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. The Act empowered the Commission to feed some categories of pupils or students in the Basic Education cadre. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari reinforced this policy with the introduction of Home-Grown School Feeding Programme since 2015. This is in addition to several incentives meant to encourage the girl-child and even Almajarai into the formal education sector.
It is appalling that in spite of all these efforts, a recent research carried out by the Ministry of Education revealed that there were as many as 13 million out-of-school children in the country. The majority of this huge numbers is in the North, where the Almajirai phenomenon is very prevalent. Not even the Tsangayi school system introduced in several states in the North has led to a drastic decrease in the number of young boys that roam our streets during formal school hours, when they are supposed to be undertaking studies that would prepare them for a better future. But they grow into adolescence without attainment of the minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. This situation is very unfortunate.
The World Bank loan worth N220 billion is another significant measure and an opportunity to take these young minds off our streets. Apart from this fund, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) is engaged in interventions towards attaining an objective which says, “All children have the right to go to school and learn, regardless of who they are, where they live or how much money their family has.” If these international organisations are committed to boosting basic education and removing children from the street into the classroom, state governments should do more for their indigenes, afterall today’s children are the future of our various states.
We call on the states that benefit from this loan to put in place all the necessary mechanisms for the achievement of the objectives of the Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) programme. If this is not done, it will be tragic and double loss for the country. First, the loans must be repaid, even if it would take two decades to do so. Secondly, if not taken out of the streets, these untrained children would become a liability on the country or even willing tools for violence, crime and even acts of terror in future. The authorities should not just talk about removing idle children from our streets. They should do so, no matter how difficult it would be.