Fareedah Oyolola, Tomisin Ogunubi,Tanitoluwa Adewunmi, Abdullahi Salihu.
This is me marking the class register for the world’s brightest minds that all four of these children represent, so they might as well respond “present”.
Fareedah Oyolola is a secondary school student at Greensprings school, Lagos Nigeria, honoured as one of the brightest students in the world by the John Hopkins centre for talented youths. Tomisin Ogunubi at age 15, developed an exceptional application to find lost children and she called it “ My locator”. Tanitoluwa on the other hand is recognised as the world chess champion 2020 and achieved this feat at just age 10. My personal favourite (simply because I got to meet with him personally), is Abdullahi Salihu- a 9 year old pacesetter from Misau local government, Bauchi state Nigeria who is already dabbling with inventions. He created a mini torchlight which his family uses to navigate their way in the dark using local materials and finger batteries!
Abdullahi Salihu (Young boy seated) and his invention
These four bright minds are perfect hallmarks of excellence which every child could attain if given the right opportunity and the best possible environment to thrive.
However, as a result of several factors such as poverty, insecurity, cultural and religious barriers amongst others, over 20 million Nigerian children are not in school according to a latest UNESCO report. A 2018 statistics by the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF) says that about 10.5 million children were not in school. Distressingly, this number swelled to an alarming 13.2 million by 2019 and the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic which spurred the world-wide lock-down only contributed to more students dropping out of school.
The survey said something else; there is still a huge number of those who are in school, but are learning nothing, noting that schooling does not always lead to learning. It concluded that in Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than those out of school.
Now while basic education is supposedly ‘free’ and compulsory, the question is why do we still have a staggering number of out of school children and even worse, why do we still have non-learners in schools?
A number of factors are responsible,but the one that catches my attention is the fact that a large number of pupils and students of public primary and secondary schools in Nigeria still have children whose parents struggle to pay their children’s school levies which could be as low as a thousand naira only (N1000)- for states where school levies are required. In states where parents are only required to pay for the Parents, Teachers Association (PTA) levy, some still struggle to pay.
Although the Universal Basic Education Act states basic education is free and compulsory, many Nigerian children are still deprived from learning because some government schools still demand for some level of payments for textbooks, school uniforms and other levies. Out of curiosity and with the company of a few friends, I had a chat with a school administrator of an LEA primary and secondary school in the FCT, Nigeria to gather information on the challenges pupils and students might be facing regarding their learning and the details I got, are heartbreaking to say the least.The school has a required levy of one thousand-two hundred naira only (N1200) per term still, parents of about 110 students and pupils cannot afford to pay the fees of their wards. As disheartening as this is, it is the current reality that we live in.
Oyare on a visit to Birishin Fulani Primary school, Bauchi State Nigeria
As a media and communications officer for Connected Development, I embarked on a work trip to Bauchi for a project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID);LEARN to Read, a project aimed at improving early grade reading outcomes. It was on this trip that I got the lifetime opportunity to interact with promising young bright minds like Abdullahi Salihu. Unlike Abdullahi who was from a more privileged and supportive family- which was a contributory factor to his excelling academic record, most of his counterparts in the state’s capital are not as privileged as he is. In Birishin Fulani Primary School for example, my team and I noted two primary one pupils (Amina and Isa) with untapped potentials who were having a hard time learning in school. We probed the class teachers and parents of these pupils to understand the cause of their challenges. While the teachers attributed the poor performance of the pupils to the nonchalance of their parents towards their children’s education, the parents blamed poverty as the reason why they could not give their children the full academic support that they needed. 7-years old Amina for example had no school shoes, sandals or proper school uniform and always had to assist her mum in hawking groundnuts or selling plastic bottles picked from waste bins after school. Isa on the other hand is an introverted pupil who needed extra attention from his teachers to come out of his shell but for the overcrowded classes, Isa was lagging behind for a long time before his class teacher took the initiative to relocate his seat for close monitoring.
Amina Picking pet bottles from waste bins to sell after school
The poor infrastructural condition of the school building could not go unnoticed as we noted that pupils had to sit on the floors because the classes had no chairs or tables.
Primary 1 Pupils of Birishin Fulani Primary school in class their classroom
There are a myriad of challenges contributing to the number of out of school children in the country and even more to the number of early graders in school who are not learning. The question is, how much attention and priority is being given to the education sector, particularly to basic education? Although the Federal government has allocated an 8.8 percent budget to the education sector, this still falls short of the 15-20 per cent recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Despite the 3 percent allocation from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for Basic Education which resides with the Central Bank of Nigeria and the commitment of the federal government to cater for 50 percent of states basic education needs, state governments have been guilty of paying lip service to funding education as the budget performance marks terribly low.
It is imminent that now more than ever, priority should be given to ensuring quality basic education for all Nigerian children because as much as every child has an innate greatness they potentially can exhibit, our nation is only as great as the potentials we harness. At Connected Development in collaboration with USAID LEARN to Read, we are mobilising community resources with the spirit of Open Government Partnership (OGP),aimed at ensuring quality primary education across the country, championing one bright mind at a time.