Ibrahim, 13, was abducted from school in northwest Nigeria in late 2020. Gunmen attacked his school around midnight, kidnapping him and his classmates. They spent a week in captivity before being rescued. “Ibrahim is not going back to that school, or any other school anytime soon,” said his traumatized father.
Like Ibrahim, too many Nigerian children today are not in school, and for those who are, too many are not getting the kind of education they need to succeed in life. This needs to change.
With approximately 10.2 million children out of primary school and 8.1 million out of junior secondary school, Nigeria has one of the highest rates of children out of school in the world. One in three children in the country is out of school and Nigeria’s out-of-school population accounts for 15 percent of the world total.
Some 66 percent of all children out of school are in the Northeast and Northwest, where schools continue to be attacked and schoolchildren kidnapped. This has caused the learning interruption of 1.3 million children due to the preventive closure of schools in 2021. Between 2017 and 2021, 84 schools were attacked by armed groups, 29 of these attacks were carried out in 2021. In 2021 alone , 1,446 schoolchildren and 24 teachers and other school staff members were abducted by armed men in the northwest.
Furthermore, for those children who do make it to the classroom, most do not learn enough. In fact, 75 percent of children aged seven to 14 in Nigeria cannot read a simple sentence or solve a basic math problem. Poor learning fuels school dropout, depriving children of their fundamental right to a quality education.
Early childhood education, which paves the way for learning in school and throughout life, is out of reach for most young children in Nigeria. Just over a third (38%) of children between the ages of three and five attend early childhood learning programmes.
Behind these enormous challenges is the low funding of public education.
Between 2001 and 2017, Nigeria allocated an average of 1.97% of GDP per year to education, below the recommended global benchmark of 4-6%. While 10.1 percent was allocated to education at the federal and state levels in 2022, there is still a long way to go to reach international benchmarks of 15 to 20 percent of national budgets spent on education. Regressive spending patterns also show that salaries account for 90 percent of total recurrent spending, leaving less than 10 percent for supporting quality learning.
Due to this chronic underinvestment, there is only one basic secondary school for every five primary schools and a shortage of 175,000 basic education teachers across the country.
As we embark on a new year, we can turn this challenge into an opportunity with the right investments. By improving access to quality and inclusive education for all children, including the provision of life skills, digital skills and 21st century job skills for adolescents, we can build the next generation of young Nigerians who will transform the country. And we will also be able to unleash positive economic and security impacts that will be felt around the world.
To give some ideas of what can be done, in Nigeria, among other interventions, together with partners, we are supporting two models that can make a difference: Reading and Numeracy Activity (RANA) and Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL).
RANA works to enhance the capacities of teachers to provide quality literacy and numeracy for girls and boys in grades 1-3. TaRL targets scholars in grades 4-6 with targeted and personalized support in reading and mathematics depending on their level of learning.
RANA and TaRL are providing promising results for children. Children who participated in the TaRL pilot program, for example, saw their reading and math skills improve dramatically. Children able to read a full paragraph increased from 14 percent to 45 percent, while those who could do simple subtraction increased from 11 percent to 59 percent in the space of one year. It is now necessary to introduce these models throughout the country to benefit all children in Nigeria.
UNICEF welcomes the Nigerian Government’s commitment to increase annual domestic spending on education by 50% over the next two years and 100% by 2025 and improve school safety and the quality of learning. Only with a significant increase in spending and more efficient education planning, budgeting and delivery through proven interventions such as RANA and TaRL, can Nigeria create a generation of educated youth capable of contributing to one of Africa’s largest economies. .
UNICEF calls on all citizens, communities, families and different actors and sectors to commit to education. The education of children is the responsibility of all adults. Every child in Nigeria has the right to education, which is the key to their development and the prosperity of Nigeria.
Munduate is the Country Representative, UNICEF Nigeria