Nigeria’s out-of-school children: Whose report shall we believe?


The title of this article is straight from the scriptures but I dare say that it is quite appropriate at a period that a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Nigeria’s out-of-school children indicate that the number has jumped to 20 million from a previous figure of 10m while the Nigerian authorities insisted that it has dropped to about 6m.

The tendency is for many people especially those who are cynical about government to believe the UNESCO report which was issued a few weeks ago, but long before now, specifically in January 2022, education minister Adamu Adamu announced a drop in the number which appeared to have been largely ignored by cynics.

Perhaps more intriguing is the fact that,the minister’s position which was delivered at a news conference in Abuja literally flew under the news radar. But when the UNESCO report was issued more than eight months later in September, it not only made the news, it was also the subject of news commentaries and analyses on many media platforms. So it is obvious which of the reports that many Nigerians were propped up to believe.

But like a prolific writer and public affairs analyst,Tope Ajayi, said in a recent article titled “Rufai Oseni: Let us interrogate the numbers”, which was in reaction to the manner the Arise TV anchor held on to the UNESCO position like the Holy Grail, there is real need to question it.

Rather than swallow hook, line and sinker, reports that may not have any basis in fact,many Nigerians should scrutinize how the reports were arrived at. You can’t choose to be cynical about one report and accept another without asking questions.

Indeed for most part of the last ten years, UNESCO had stuck to 10m as the population of Nigeria’s out-of-school children, so it won’t be out of place to ask when the numbers doubled to 20m.

It may be easy, and I dare say, lazy to ascribe it to the security situation in parts of the country known for high number of children who are not in school,but this cannot be entirely true on the basis of what has been put in place since at least 2018.

The snag here is that only 5 of the 17 states known to have more school age children on the streets have had some security concerns in recent times.

So it is not surprising that government officials in a number of those states have called the UNESCO report to question and their position could be viewed from the angle of Federal Government’s Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) initiative which Nigeria’s education minister was quoted in January 2021 as saying that it was responsible for the decline in the number of out of school children.

Speaking at the 2020 ministerial briefing, the Minister was empathic that the number of out-of-school children has reduced from 10.1million in 2019 to 6.95 million in 2020.

But it seems like many people would rather prefer the more apocalyptic UNESCO report of a 100% rise without even a thought for what the affected states and the federal government had done in recent times to ramp up school registration.

BESDA, for instance is a World Bank-funded initiative which the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) first alluded to as a game changer sometime in August but because the group’s position does not amount to a doomsday scenario, it went largely unnoticed by same people who were quick to act like an echo chamber for the damning report.

So the question is what is in that UNESCO report that made it more believable than that of the Nigerian authorities?

A cursory look at the report showed that it was developed by an independent team and published by UNESCO but there is no sign that those who complied it took the government’s inputs into consideration.

If it did, there would have been a reference to BESDA and its impact in the 17 states with high incidences of out-of-school children.

It as a $611m World Bank-backed project which began in January 2018 and is focused on states with the highest number of out-of-school children.

Data obtained from the Education ministry show that in one year alone, a total of 1,053,422 out-of-school children were enrolled in schools in the 17 beneficiary states under the BESDA programme as follows: Adamawa, 25,714; Bauchi, 83,391; Borno, 62,336; Ebonyi, 65,471; Gombe, 52,600; Jigawa, 47,416; Kaduna, 39,091; Kano, 302434; Katsina, 26,555; Kebbi, 25,556; Niger, 73,568; Oyo, 40,007; Rivers, 22,782; Sokoto, 71,000; Taraba, 24,246; Yobe, 72,000 and Zamfara, 19,055.

The data are not only publicly available but could also be sourced directly from each of the states, but it is doubtful that those who complied the UNESCO report did so.

Besides, the last known data for out-of- school children came from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) which has only just kicked off a new process of ascertaining the accurate number so it beggars belief that some Nigerians would rather believe a report that has little depth as long as it speaks to their bias.

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