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As Nigeria celebrates Children’s Day, access to free education and security of school environments topped requests from children to the incoming government of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, which would be inaugurated on May 29.
Other priority areas for the children include scholarships, provision of learning aids and recruitment of more teachers.
The children also prayed not to experience incessant strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other related associations when they gain admission into higher institutions.
The theme for this year’s celebration is More Money for Primary Education.
President Muhammadu Buhari proposed N1.79trillion for the education sector, representing about 8.8 per cent of the 2023 budget.
Despite being the highest he has made to the sector since he assumed office in 2015, it is still less than half of the percentage recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for expenditure on the sector.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that primary education is officially free and compulsory in Nigeria, but at least 18 million of the country’s children aged between 5 and 14 years are not in school.
In 2022, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said that since December 2020, no fewer than 1,436 school children had been abducted in Nigeria, mainly in North Central and North West,
The UNICEF also revealed that at least 16 school children lost their lives to different non-state armed attacks in the federation while 17 teachers were kidnapped from schools.
UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, had said, “Unsafe schools, occasioned by attacks on schools and abduction of students, are reprehensible, a brutal violation of the rights of the victims to education, and totally unacceptable. Their occurrences cut short the futures and dreams of the affected students.
“Attacks on learning institutions render the learning environment insecure and discourage parents and caregivers from sending their wards to schools, while the learners themselves become fearful of the legitimate pursuit of learning,” Hawkins said.
He noted that the invisible harm school attacks “inflict on the victims’ mental health was incalculable and irredeemable. Girls have particularly been targeted, exacerbating the figures of out-of-school children in Nigeria, 60 per cent of whom are girls.
“It is a trajectory which must be halted, and every hand in Nigeria must be on deck to ensure that learning in Nigeria is not a dangerous enterprise for any child, particularly for girls.”
Daily Trust Saturday reports that since the time UNICEF issued the statement, more attacks had been carried out in towns and villages, forcing many children and their parents to flee.
Many are still in captivity in many parts of the country.
Situation in schools
A visit to some of the public schools in the country revealed the needs and challenges of school children as the future leaders were seen learning under dilapidated structures without learning aids.
Poorly motivated teachers are some of the common features in most of the schools.
Kanna Mustapha, a secondary school student in Maiduguri, the state capital, said the memory of the Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls still hunted her contemporaries.
“We were very young in primary school when the incidents happened, but the issue is always on the front burner of discussions.
“As you can see, 9 years after, some of the Chibok girls are still in captivity while others are returning home with babies. Their lives will never be the same.
“I pray abductions would stop so that parents that are sceptical about western education would allow their children go to school,” she said.
Almustapha Kabir, a junior secondary school student of Namu Model School in Maiduguri, advised the incoming administration to ensure that schools are safe.
“I want him to provide enough security to boarding schools to avoid kidnapping or killing of children. Many children have abandoned school in villages because of insecurity in Borno and Yobe states,” he said.
In Kano, Farouk Umar Ibrahim, who is a secondary school leaver seeking admission into the university, expressed concern over incessant ASUU strikes in the country.
“I would like to call the attention of the next president to try as much as possible not to allow ASUU strike to happen during his tenure,” he said.
A 13-year-old Fatima Abdullahi, who is in JSS 3, said, “the government should provide us with competent and qualified teachers and learning equipment.
“Also, we need the government to pay good salaries to our teachers and on time to make them more hardworking and punctual.”
A 12-year-old Simon Effiong of Prominent Children School, Calabar, also urged the Tinubu/Shettima administration to tackle the rising economic hardship in the country.
He said many parents did not have enough money to pay house rents, buy foodstuff, medicine and also pay school fees and other charges at schools.
He said, “I want the incoming president to provide free education for all Nigerian children in primary schools. They should pay our teachers good salaries. The president should support our parents. My father cannot pay all my siblings’ school fees and buy books because he buys food and pays house rent.”
Cecilia Cobham, a pupil of Government Primary School, Calabar, who recently took the Common Entrance examination, added, “I want the president-elect to provide steady electricity and adequate security. There are too many killings and robberies in Nigeria. We do not have light and there are bad roads. We need plenty policemen in our schools.”
In Lagos, a state governed by the president-elect Tinubu for eight years, a 9-year-old Samuel Oluwatobi-Gold, urged the former governor to supply them with more textbooks and notebooks to aid their learning.
He further implored the government to slash school fees to ease the burden on their parents.
It was learnt that most parents prefer to take their children to private schools no matter how poorly managed, on the ground that public schools are worse, although the authorities claim they are free.
Grace Odili, a 9-year-old Primary 4 pupil of Afolabi Nursery/Primary School, Bolade, Oshodi, said the government should make the learning environment comfortable for children by providing basic facilities, such as chairs, tables, among others.
In Benue State, a primary school pupil in Makurdi, Ighalo Osemudiame David, said he expected the new president to boost the morale of teachers as education is key to the development of the dreams and aspirations of the Nigerian child.
“As a Nigerian child, I am asking the new president to provide good teaching facilities for schools; facilities like chalkboards, chalks, desks, laboratories, libraries, writing materials should be given to students for free or low cost,” David said.
Chigbo Emmanuel Chinedu, a primary school pupil, urged the incoming president to build classes that are well spaced, ventilated and neatly kept, as well as provide social amenities, such as electricity and water.
A junior secondary school student, Jose Sesugh, appealed to the new president to make education free for primary and secondary school children in order to minimise the number of out-of-school children in the state.
Sesugh worried that most of his friends have been skipping classes while some have withdrawn due to inability of their parents to pay their fees.
“Some of my mates have changed schools and some have stopped coming because of school fees. Sometimes, the schools ask the children to go home when lessons are going on. So many people miss classes and it affects them. If we have free education, everyone will like to come to school. Some also skip school due to sickness and when they are sick, their parents are called to take them home because schools are not well-equipped,” he said, while calling on the government to take over the education of orphans who are in many displaced persons camps in the state and across the country.
Enyinta Chelsea of Holy Child Covenant School urged the incoming administration to expand the curriculum to encourage skills and vocational training. She also urged the incoming president to make it compulsory for all schools in the country to participate in sporting activities.
Enyinta said that sports enhanced the psychological and physical fitness of a child, which are needed for learning.
“We need learning equipment, good labs to enhance teaching and learning in our schools,” she said.
Okereke Ifunnanya of Stella Marris College, Umueri, Oyi Local Government Council of Anambra State, pleaded with the government to prioritise primary and secondary school education so that no child would be left behind.
Expert counsels incoming government
An educationist, Michael Sule, said one of the best things that Nigerian children could have was quality education that would set the path for their future endeavours.
The incoming government should be intentional in providing the necessary and enabling environment for basic and secondary education, especially in public schools.
“It is high time the governments got back to providing the right teaching and learning materials, build and equip laboratories, provide up to date libraries, feeding in schools, scholarship to indigent students and above all ensure only qualified teachers teach in schools,” he said.
He further said there was a need to review curriculum and change many aspects that are not relevant, and more importantly, provide security in schools to avoid any further abduction of students and teachers.
“If the new government prioritises enhancing basic and secondary education, the issue of out-of-school children will be history,” he added.
Chidimma C. Okeke (Abuja), Jide Olasunkanmi (Lagos), Titus Eleweke (Awka), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi), Salim Umar Ibrahim (Kano), Eyo Charles (Calabar) & Olatunji Omirin (Maiduguri)
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