10.5 million is more than the population of some countries – Burundi, Sierra Leone, Togo, Libya and Botswana to mention a few.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) which brandishes these figures claims that Nigeria leads 12 other countries along with which it accounts for 47 percent of the global out-of-school children population.
The other countries are Pakistan (5.1 million); Ethiopia (2.4 million); India (2.3 million); Philippines (1.5 million); Cote D’Ivoire (1.2 million); Burkina Faso (1 million); Niger (1 million); Kenya (1 million); Yemen (0.9 million); Mali (0.8 million) and South Africa (0.7 million).
As it stands, Nigeria holds the world record of having the highest number of its children out of school, with an estimated one out of three children of school age not in school.
This is a title Nigeria loathes to hold in the international community especially after chairing the committee of E-9 countries (countries with the highest population of illiterates) up until November 2012. Ironically, inwardly it parades these figures to support many of its policies.
It is based on these figures that the Almajiri education programme was launched and, though the schools are yet to be handed over to state governments for final take-off, another programme for boys who are out of school has been launched in the southeast.
As at last Tuesday, 100 of the 148 schools have been completed and there is hope that 124 would be able to resume academic work next month, September.
Again, these schools are spread across the country on the basis of figures provided by UNESCO indicating the zonal prevalence of out of school children. The percentage is – North East 52.5, North West 50.9, North Central 23.5, South South 9.2, South East 8.6 and South West 8.2.
In terms of the spread of the out-of-school children, the North East and East Western states have the highest percentage on state by state basis. Zamfara has 73.2, Borno, 73.4, Kebbi 69.1, Sokoto 65.3, Jigawa 61.6, Bauchi 58.2 and Katsina 55.1. Niger State tops the list in the North Central with 50.8 percent. Oyo State has the highest in the Southern region with 20.3 percent out-of-school children.
Other states with high percentage out of school children include; Kano 40 percent, Gombe 38.2 percent, Adamawa 32.9 percent, Taraba 31.9 percent, Kaduna 23. 2 percent, Kwara 23.1 percent, Nasarawa 22.7 percent, while Ebonyi tops in the South East with 18 percent.
Still in trying to cut down the controversial figure, the federal government introduced a one year early childhood care and development education to the 6-3-3-4 education system in the country.
The National Council on Education (the highest decision making body of the education sector) at its last meeting which ended on June 28, made it compulsory for all public schools to admit pupils for one pre-school year.
So it was quite a shock when the Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai, announced that three years after UNESCO released the figures, three years after federal government had allocated a whooping N10.2 billion to Almajiri and boy child education projects and one year after an educational policy, the federal government was finally going to verify if indeed there were 10.5 million children out of school in Nigeria.
“We are not saying that the report from international bodies that about 10.1 million Nigerian children are out of school is not correct, but we want to conduct a census to ascertain this figure,” she said at a World Bank event to launch a report on Nigeria’s education and skill policies.
“We believe that we should not have the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. Attention is therefore being given to addressing the situation,” the minister stated.
The Federal Ministry of Education under Rufa’i has been particular about Education Management Information System (EMIS) – getting accurate data to plan and implement policies. It released a report compiling data on different sub-sectors of education in 2011, which had not happened in at least five years.
But the ministry has failed to deliver on its promise to make it a yearly affair. The second quarter of 2013 has ended and figures for 2012 are yet to be released.
As for the intended school census, the project was launched March this year by the minister at a meeting with commissioners for education of the 36 states and the FCT. It should have been completed on April 20.
But it is interesting to note that regardless of the confusion about the number of out of school children, international organisations are willing to invest in turning around the situation. Perhaps their reasoning is directed mainly at hastening to ensure that many countries meet the international development goals (MDGs and EFA) by 2015.
There is the United States of America International Development (USAID) offering a grant of $410 million (about N17bn) to be used in about seven states in northern Nigeria where cases of out of school children is rampant.
At the World Bank event last week, the Bretton Woods institution estimated that Nigeria will need some $199 million (N31.8 billion) in extra funding every year for the next three years to strengthen mechanisms it needs to drive reform in education.
“The obstacle that fuels the situation is the issue of poverty,” said the bank’s country director Marie-Francoise Marie-Nelly. “You find out that a number of children do not go to school because of funds, despite the government policy of free education.
“In addition, inadequate nutrition; 40 per cent of children in Nigeria are malnourished and it is affecting their ability to learn. It is important to say that culture, religion, gender biases all together also affect the quality of outcome in education.”
Lately, security challenges have also taken the blame. Many parents in states most affected by the Boko Haram crisis have withdrawn their children from formal schools opting for Quranic education.
The fact remains that there are children in Nigeria who do not attend school. But where they are, who they are and how many they are still remains a game of numbers.