Kano State’s launching of free and compulsory basic and secondary education policy the other day with fanfare amidst concern for the impact of campaign by a terror group against western education in parts of northern region is a remarkable lesson that all states in the north should embrace immediately.
Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was among top officials, educationists, scholars and political leaders who attended a two-day summit used as the launch pad. Development partners including DFID, USAID, UNESCO and top diplomats from United States, United Kingdom, UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, among others reportedly witnessed the event in Kano city.
Governor of the state, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje noted that, the objective of the summit, which heralded the policy was “to discuss, analyse and generate ideas towards the implementation of our vision for free and compulsory basic and secondary education.” The governor also noted at the launch that his commitment to the policy was borne out of a promise he made on assumption of office for the second term on May 29, 2019, “to provide free and compulsory education from Primary to Senior Secondary School level.’’
It is gratifying to note that the governor of the commercial capital of the north and the most populous state recognises the pivotal role of education as the primary agent of change in our society.
The huge turnout by diplomats and other development partners clearly indicates that the government of Kano State is not alone in the crusade to address a specific fundamental challenge of our society – fighting millions of out-of-school children (OOSC).
It has been disturbing to note from available statistics that Nigeria has over 10.5 million out-of-school children. But it has also been more alarming to note that 60% of that figure represent the girl-child. Also eight million of those out-of-school children are in 10 northern states of Nigeria with Kano having the lion’s share. Specifically, available figures indicate that over three million of these out of school children are in Kano.
However, a recent survey has revealed that most of these children are Almajiri from other northern states and children from the Republic of Niger, Chad and Northern part of Cameroun. And so, to ensure sustainability in the integration of the Almajiri system of education, there is the need for regional coordination and legislation to control the movement of Almajiris from one state to another. The governor noted the expediency of inter-state co-operation and control of migration in his address to participants.
In view of this daunting challenge, it is salient to note that this government has set up a committee to conduct a census of all out-of-school children with a view to updating the available data and ensuring adequate planning in preparation for the implementation of this all-important education policy. This will further consolidate the commitment of the state government to the Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA), a UNICEP programme, which is aimed at ensuring equitable access to basic education for out-of-school-children.
Intrinsically linked to this policy is the issue of Quar’anic and Islamiyya schools for which statistics has indicated that there are 13,619 of these schools with over 2.5 million pupils. In order to streamline these schools and integrate them into the free and compulsory education programme, Kano State Government has set up Qur’anic and Islamiyyah Schools Management Board. This is how it should be to avoid ad-hocism that dots our policy environment, where discipline of execution has become a huge challenge.
According to report too, the Kano State Government at the summit announced that it had abolished the payment of school fees in all public secondary schools with effect from September 2019. Accordingly, government has commenced the direct funding of such schools numbering 1180 with a total students’ population of 834,366 at a total cost of about 200 million naira per month or 2.4 billion naira per annum.
The Kano State initiative is significant for the country for a number of reasons. Three years after the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) and the promise to provide universal primary and secondary education, there has been no progress in reducing the global number of out-of-school children, adolescents and youth.
New data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) show that there are still about 258.4 million children and youth are out of school for the school year ending in 2018. As in previous years, sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest out-of-school rates for all age groups. Of the 59 million out-of-school children (OOSC) of primary school age, 32 million, or more than one-half, live in sub-Saharan Africa. Southern Asia has the second-highest number of OOSC with 13 million. Sub-Saharan Africa also has the highest rate of exclusion, with 19% of primary school-age children denied the right to education, followed by Northern Africa and Western Asia (9%) and Southern Asia (7%). So, without urgent action, the situation will likely get worse as the region faces a rising demand for education due to a still-growing school-age population.
Specifically on Nigeria, UNICEF states that about 10.5 million children are not in school even though primary education is officially free and compulsory. These latest out-of-school figures underscore that Nigeria is still far from universal access to primary and secondary education. So, of what use is borrowing money to invest in infrastructure, without building the minds that will use them patriotically? Essentially, untrained children will filter away the nation’s wealth.
To achieve this, the state will need to modify the curriculum in such a way that it would tally with the national curriculum; and integrate the Almajiri education system into the modern academic curriculum of the state. This is a soft landing for the Almajiri system and will give respite to supporters of the Islamic education system.
Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the education growth strategy from Kano is a rapid response too to the president’s charge to governors to enforce free basic education and overhaul the Almajiri practice in the North. Besides, it is in line with the 2003 Child Rights Act, which recognises access to basic education as part of the rights of a child.
So, the state government should be commended for this intervention, which hopefully will reduce out-of-school-children (OOSC) in the state. The state also deserves a pat on the back too for seeing the enrolment of OOSC not only as a moral and legal obligation but a productive investment that is worthwhile.
However, the Kano State government should match words with action, because the issue of OOSC is beyond pronouncements as experts have attributed the persistence in Sub-Saharan Africa to a variety of supply and demand side barriers. They argue that children’s poor access to education may be occasioned by inadequate number of qualified teachers, materials and schools, particularly for children in remote areas, children living with disabilities, children in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and ethno-linguistic minorities. On the demand side, they opine that poor demand for education leading to exclusion from school may be driven by misperceptions about the benefits of schooling, or poor quality of education; or misconceptions about education, such as Boko Haram that sees western education as ‘evil’, which has heightened the issue in the North East.
Similarly, perception that education is not empowering; and so going to school does not make one successful or prosperous, has found expression in the gendered nature of OOSC in the South East. So, there is the spatial dimension to OOSC in Nigeria. Furthermore, it has been alleged that poor border control is leading to influx of children from neighbouring countries, which may account for the high number of OOSC in Nigeria, a situation the Governor of Kano State has alluded to.
Obviously, the solution to OOSC lies in multi-level interventions and investments in basic and secondary education, because there is no single measure to drive demand for children school enrolment. Therefore, Kano State government should provide state-of-the-art infrastructural facilities, capacity building for teachers and many other programmes to promote effective teaching and learning in the state.
Notwithstanding, what is launched in Kano State is the right way to go and all the Northern states should key into it because the high rate of OOSC points to a bleak future for Nigeria, unless the issue of OOSC is addressed. Doubtless, there is a link between quality in education and development in a democracy. According to Nelson Mandela, “An educated, enlightened and informed population is one of the surest ways of promoting the health of a democracy.” Essentially, education is a leveller, makes citizens to have choices, strengthens the office of the citizen and develops critical minds needed to question duty bearers and bring them to account, which is essential for social justice.
Similarly, the authorities and implementation committees should compel, induce and sensitise parents particularly, the rural and non-literate parents that universal basic and secondary education is free, because most of them may not know. Also, birth registration linked to national identity card should be used to address the influx of children from neighbouring countries. In the same vein, immigration officials should properly document children entering through various borders by taking their details to track their movements and length of stay in the country, lest success of the Kano initiative may lead to uncontrolled relocation to Kano.