Buhari’s directive on out-of-school children

February 3, 2021
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Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to coordinate and lead the deployment of a National Plan to address the issue of out-of-school children in the country. Inaugurating the 18-member Presidential Steering Committee on Alternate School Programme (ASP) co-chaired by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and the Minister of Education, the president said it was unacceptable to see children abandoning formal school to engage in menial jobs and child labour in the markets, streets and workshops. According to him, the National Plan to be deployed by the Federal Government through the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry would ensure a holistic and comprehensive inclusiveness of appropriate basic education for vulnerable children.

President Buhari said: “To commence this special education initiative, emphasis should be given to first provide a limited scope of subjects in Mathematics, English language, Basic Science and Social studies. Gradually, the initiative will be scaled up to ensure the acquisition of relevant technical skills in the process that can enable the beneficiaries to participate in gainful economic activities. While we continue to sustain our efforts on providing formal and conventional education through the activities of the Universal Basic Education Commission under the Federal Ministry of Education, it is still a common sight to notice children abandoning formal school to become apprentices in shops, workshops and markets, whilst many others choose to loiter at markets, become cart pushers and hawkers. These are not acceptable.”

It is indeed salutary that President Buhari is concerned about the question of the out-of-school children in the country. Even before he set up an 18-man committee recently, the problem of the out-of-school children had assumed a scandalous dimension. The truth, however, is that if the Federal Government’s programme for nomadic education embarked upon decades ago had been fruitful, at least by a modicum of 25 per cent, it would have prevented the current shamefully scandalous situation threatening the country’s dignity. Sadly, even the states that have done well enough in getting children enrolled in school now do poorly, having acquired the liabilities of other states through migration. It is therefore time to buckle up and do much more than is being done at the moment. Already, the country is challenged by the literacy level of its supposedly educated youth population, considered by many to be largely unemployable: adding a criminally high number of out-of -school children to the mix would simply worsen matter.

Besides, there can be no doubt that illiteracy aggravates the poverty trap. The chances of the out-of-school children getting out of the poverty trap are virtually non-existent. Unless there is urgent state intervention, their lives can be permanently ruled by the same poverty that put them out of school in the first instance.  Without any skills and the benefit of basic tuition, their visions of life are dimmed and their imaginations compromised: they are only hewers of wood and carriers of water. The terrorism and banditry in the North which have claimed thousands of lives apparently feed off the predatory Almajiri system which keeps school-age children out of school. It is therefore gratifying that President Buhari initiated an 18-man committee to address the menace.

To be sure, the menace deserves to be treated as a national emergency and it is apt that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs co-chairman of the presidential committee set up to address it. We hope that the committee will not follow its predecessors in the well-known route of blurred vision. This is one golden opportunity to snatch a whole generation from the jaws of poverty and misery and give it renewed hope. The committee cannot afford to fail.

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