Children And the Need For Quality Education
EDUCATION plays an integral part in children’s lives, as it is the path that is guaranteed to enable them attain to full potentials. Children can only blossom socially and absorb instructions, when exposed to quality education, which also helps them acquire basic knowledge. Sadly, however, many children cannot access quality education as a result of various factors.
According to Margaret Mead, “Children must be taught how to think, and not what to think.” And Plato said: “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
According to Helen Obiageli Oshikoya, a child development clinician and CEO of Nobelova Gradani, says child education is the driving force behind social, economic and political progress.
“As children learn to read, write and reason critically, their prospects for health, job security and quality of life also expand greatly. However, not every child has benefitted from the system called education. Primary school enrolment rates in the country tell only part of this regrettable story,” she explains.
In November 1989, after nearly a decade of negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). And for the first time in history, an international treaty recognised that children are not possessions, but are people who have human rights. It also recognised the incredible importance of parents and families in providing the best environment for children to grow. The UN Secretary-General launched the five-year Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) in September 2012 to accelerate progress towards the educational for all goal and the education-related Millennium Development Goals.
But is the Nigerian child feeling the impact of these good intentions? Oshikoya says no.
“Today in Nigeria, more that two million children in the northern region, which is the most affected area, do not have access to basic primary education. Most of these children, who started primary education, were unable to finish, while many of them that completed it will still miss out on secondary education. In Nigeria today, some half million adolescents are receiving post primary education. The major contributory factor to this dilemma is unaffordable cost. Poverty is the greatest barrier to high quality education, and even when primary education is free, there are also the additional costs of uniforms, books, teachers’ salaries and school maintenance, all of which create tremendous burden to poor families,” she explains.
Another key factor militating against child education is conflicts, which are preventing many from accessing quality education.
“For instance, the kidnapping of the over 300 Chibok girls has brought great emotional trauma to a lot of Northern Nigeria families and the fear of sending their children to school is growing every day. Forty per cent of out-of-school children live in conflict-affected poor countries, while millions are forced out of school by natural disasters globally each year. There is also the issue of gender discrimination. Girls face a unique set of barriers to education, such as child marriage, early pregnancy, and expectations related to domestic labour, not to mention unsafe. Some people under-value girl education, as a result of which fewer girls enroll and even among these, many are still likely to drop out of school later,” she says.
“The gender gap has significantly narrowed in primary education, but there has been limited progress at the secondary level,” she explains. “Child labour is a big issue. Poverty and vulnerability are pushing far too many young children out of school and into the world of work. Some children remain in school, but are disadvantaged in that they combine studies with work. In very poor households, children may be pulled out of school and into work in the face of external shocks such as natural disasters, rising costs, a parent’s sickness or unemployment.
“But by leaving school to enter the labour market prematurely, children miss a chance to lift themselves, their families, as well as their communities out of the cycle of poverty. Sometimes, children are exposed to the worst forms of labour, which is damaging to their physical, mental and emotional well-being.”
It has been generally acknowledged that child education is the bedrock of a nation’s human resources. And a nation that does not invest in educating its children is heading for disaster.
“As a nation, we must continue to provide quality education for our children, as well as advocate that parents send their children to school, even amid so much turmoil. The only way for poverty to be truly eradicated is by sowing the seeds of education so that the nation can reap the fruits of prosperity,” Oshikoya says.
Taiwo Akinlami, a child protection advocate and the CEO of Taiwo Akinlami Inspires, echoes Oshikoya’s view.
“I would like to sum up the value of education in the words of Dr. Nelson Mandela in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, where he submits that: ‘Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.’
“I think the major problems with education in Nigeria today can be categorised into two. The first is exclusion, while the second is lack of regulation, which has direct impact on the quality of education being received by children both at the private and public sectors,” he says.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in its 2013 report, one out of every five Nigerian children is out of school. The UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EAGMR) revealed that Nigeria holds the world’s record of having the highest number of its young people out of school, with about 10.5 million children out of school.
“And even for those of them in school, the quality of education is very poor. The problem, in my view, is simply because the sector is not regulated. I attended public schools from primary to higher institution. But today, I cannot send my children to a public school. Why? The public system has crashed completely, as it does not provide quality education anymore. The question is why did this happen? There is a plethora of reasons why the public school system has crashed, but I will share only one, which I believe is fundamental to all. This is the abandonment by the successive government at the federal, state and local levels, which are supposed to play the role of regulatory bodies.
“It is equally important to note that it is the same governments under whose watch the public school crashed that is now regulating the private school sector. Therefore, the private school sector is largely unregulated. In fact, the bigger you are, the more difficult is it for you to be regulated as a private school. And if care is not taken, the private school system will crash soon, just like the public school system. The strength of any public service such as education lies in sound, consistent and vigilant regulatory body, armed with global and uncompromised standard, and anchored on the best interest of the child,” Akinlami says.
Recommending the way forward, he suggests the salvaging the education sector, particularly the private school sector to ensure that it serves the child’s best interest, parents should constitute themselves into an informed and organised regulatory bodies. “I think the primary mandate of the regulatory body is to insist on quality education, provided in a protected environment. It is important for parents to note that they are already playing the role of a regulatory body in every other area of their existence. For example, we have the Nigeria Police, which cannot adequately provide security. So, as citizens, we provide for ourselves alternative means of securing our lives and property.
“It is pertinent for us to know and accept that the people’s welfare and security is the primary aim of government in a modern state. It is important to also note that where the government does not live up to the foregoing responsibility, the onus is on the people to do so, which constitutes a pressure. Parents have to take responsibility in their own best interest, as well as that of their precious children,” Akinlami explains.
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