EQUAL OPPORTUNITY TO THE AFRICAN CHILD BY 2030

PREAMBLE:

In 1991, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the then OAU instituted the Day of the African Child (DAC) for the first time in memory of the 16th June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa. During that time students marched in protest against the poor quality of education they received and demanded to be taught in their own languages.

Since then, the OAU and its successor, the AU, have used the DAC to remember these children, to celebrate children in Africa as well as to inspire a sober reflection and action towards addressing the plethora of challenges that children in Africa face on a daily basis. The African Committee selects the theme for the DAC every year.  The theme selected for 2017 DAC is “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for children in Africa: Accelerating protection, empowerment, and equal opportunity”. The child friendly version of the theme is simply “Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for children in Africa by 2030”.

Currently, there are a number of commonalities between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and children’s rights. For instance, the guiding principles that inform the SDGs and children’s rights – such as inclusivity, participation, equity, and good governance are critical to both. There are a number of Goals that are directly provided for in children’s rights- such as the one on free and compulsory primary education. The reporting requirements under child rights instruments as well as the SDGs framework are both mainly intended for the purpose of holding governments accountable.

The general objective of the celebration of the DAC in 2017 is to call attention to the linkages between the SDGs and the African Children’s Charter, with the goal of inspiring States Parties to accelerate efforts towards realizing all children’s rights as provided by the Charter, as a contribution towards accelerating the promotion and protection of all children’s rights in Africa. It aims to set out the relevance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for children in Africa for all countries on the African continent.

CONCEPT OF EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

Equal opportunity arises from the similar treatment of all people, unhampered by artificial barriers or prejudices or preferences, except when particular distinctions can be explicitly justified. The concept of equal opportunity is the concept of human right. This means that nobody should be denied access to the basic amenities of life. This also means that education, health, good portable water, electricity etc are the rights of the citizens and no one should be denied such rights and it is the responsibility of the government to provide such right basic amenities of life. But the question still remains Is equal opportunity equal to all? Principle of non-discrimination emphasizes that opportunities in education, employment, advancement, benefits and resource distribution, and other areas should be freely available to all citizens irrespective of their age, race, sex, religion, political association, ethnic origin, or any other individual or group characteristic unrelated to ability, performance and qualification.
The African child today is faced with various challenges that cuts across child labour, lack of opportunities to access portable water, quality education and healthcare etc. despite several laws, programs and goals formulated to address the challenging situation of the African child, most African government still seems to pay lip service toward achieving and fulfilling the several goals and agenda. For this day celebration, this paper will be looking at equal opportunity for the Nigeria child as it regards to education from the perspective of the SDGs slogan “leave no one behind”.

Many factors today have contributed to creating inequality in the education sector whereby many children have been denied access to education in Nigeria and presently it is recorded that over 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria which made up 47% of out-of- school children across the globe been the highest number. Now, looking at the 1976, Soweto uprising by students that led to the celebration of the Day for the African Child (DAC), for us in Nigeria, “Is it possible for the Nigeria child/Student to led similar protest’, Do students/ pupils at all levels have access to quality education?, Despite the outcry over the quality of education in the country at all levels and government efforts and funding in the sector, why have it not yielded good results?

Challenges and factors hindering access and equal opportunity in quality education delivery in Nigeria

Poor teaching and learning environment: The deplorable state of education in the country in the area of teaching and learning facilities and infrastructures are alarming. The classroom infrastructure especially in public schools are low private schools are very poor characterized by dilapidated classrooms, broken furniture, overcrowded classrooms etc. Many children in the rural areas are either learning under the trees, sitting on the bare floor to learn or in dilapidated classroom. The conditions of the schools and the overcrowded classrooms could be attributed to the poor learning outcomes/ performance in schools. Some schools have up to 100 pupils to one teacher, inadequate textbooks, legible chalkboards, chalk etc. lack of teaching materials was found to be the second most demotivating factor in the national teacher motivation survey, after issues related to pay and conditions (Sherry 2008; see also Dunne et al. 2013 and section 10.4).  Also many schools are without separated toilets for boys and girls and most cases the hygiene condition of the toilets and other WASH facilities are very bad.

Gender disparities: There still exist high gender disparities in education in Nigeria despite concerted efforts of the government and other education stakeholders and despite it featuring prominently in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education For all (EFA) agendas and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Gender inequality in education in Nigeria could be looked at; girls education challenge in the north and boys education challenge in the south. The rate of enrollment, retention, transition and completion in schools among girls in northern Nigeria is relatively low compared to that of the boys (according to Afri-Dev info 2015, 62.8% of girls in North West have no education compare to 46.9% boys NW) while in the south especially south East, the rate of boys’ enrollment, retention, transition and completion in schools is low compared to girls.

Apart from enrollment, retention and completion in schools, other gender based issues that creates inequalities are Violence Against Girls (VAG) in schools, inadequate females teachers/ role models, inadequate separate toilets for boys and girls in schools, stereotype text books and learning materials, early/ forced marriage, distance of schools from communities, cultural beliefs, religious misconception etc.

Violence / abuse: Although the theme of the 2017 edition of Children’s Day was “Child Protection and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Issues and Opportunities,” half of Nigerian children sadly still experience physical violence and the shameful phenomenon is prevalent across the 36 states of Nigeria. Evidence from 2011 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) shows that in Nigeria, 91 percent of children age 2-14 years have been subjected to at least one form of psychological or physical punishment by their mothers/caretakers or other household members. More importantly, 34 percent of children were subjected to severe physical punishment. On the other hand, 61 percent of mothers/caretakers believed that children should be physically disciplined. Also, media reports state that the findings of the 2014 Nigeria violence against children survey conducted by the National Population Commission with the support of the United Centre’s for Disease Control and UNICEF, show that approximately six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence.

In schools, children experience one form of violence and abuse to the other, there has been increase in rape cases without prosecution, girls’ molestation by male teachers, boko haram attack on girls in schools

Illiteracy of parents, attitudes and low value for education among stakeholders: Statistics have shown that the literacy level of parents affects the child education in the sense that educated parents show great interest in the education of their children than the illiterate parents. This means that the literacy level of one’s parents determines the value the place on education of the children and children access to education. For the girl-child, most times it is believed that if she is educated, it will be difficult for her to get married. Apart from the parents, the low value on education by the society has dampened the children interest in education. Most state government low priority on education hence their low investment on education which have led to the poor and deplorable state of education in the country. E.g. despite the 26% recommended benchmark for budget allocation many state allocate as low as 3% to education even at the national level, the 2017 budget for education is 6%. The low value for education even as we have high number of unemployed graduates have made children to put interest in entertainment and sports than education.

Distance of schools: despite the federal government policy that states that schools should not be 3km away from the community. But in many communities in the rural areas, pupils walked 5-7km to schools everyday and before they arrived in schools, they are tired and worn out, hungry and cannot learn effectively in classes. Some of these paths to schools are lonely bush path even as some of the pupils especially the girls are been attacked on the way to schools. The long distance to schools have made many parents to drop their children from schools especially the young ones and even children with disability.

Poverty/ Hidden cost of education: The economic background or income base of parents often plays a major role in children access to education. The income base of the family most times determines the child access, retention and completion in schools. Children from low income or poor families are mostly among the children that missed out of school. Children who have attended primary school come mainly from the poorest households. The poorer the family the higher the case for children likely not to have access to education as a result of hidden cost of education (books, uniforms etc), preference for boys, children used as labour (hawking, house helps to rich families etc) to increase base of families, early marriage etc. PTA levies, school uniform, writing materials are some of the reasons children especially from poor homes cannot have access to education.

Teachers’ Development: The issue of teachers’ quality and quantity is a key problem in the education sector as it has affected the quality of learners that graduates from all levels of the education system. The recommended teaching standard in Nigeria is the National Certificate for Education (NCE) but possession of the paper qualification is no guarantee of professional competence among teachers. Therefore there is need to look at the training and retraining of teachers to boost the learning performance of students in schools.

Other issues faced by teachers are overcrowded classrooms, sometimes especially at the rural areas, 2 or 3 teachers are left to take care of over 1000 pupils with poor teaching and learning facilities, poor remuneration and incentives etc.

To ensure that we have quality education delivery and building students that can compete favourably with their counterparts across the country, there is urgent need to look at the teachers’ welfare. The quality of students is dependent on the quality of teachers and it also determines the economic growth of the nation.

Disability: People with disability are among the most marginalized and excluded groups in the delivery of quality education. Though the 2006 convention on the rights of persons with Disabilities commits governments to ensure an Inclusive education system at all levels (United Nations 2006). Even the SDGs 4 stressed on inclusive education with the goal; ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

In the education sector, people with disability are not given the necessary opportunities to learn with their counterparts in all levels of education. The society still views people with disability as people that have no right to the walls of the classroom and often discriminated even when the forced themselves to schools. There are few special schools for people with disability with inadequate teaching and learning materials. Even now as we advocate for inclusive education, the questions remains how inclusive could our schools be when it is not conducive for children without disability? In this case, are we ready to move with the new trend of making schools inclusive for all children? There are still issues of schools built without ramps, teachers not trained to identify and teach children with disability, lack of data / statistics on children with disability.

Culture / religion: there are several gender cultural reasons related to religion and / or lifestyle that affect girls’ and boys’ participation in schooling. As regards religious issues, they are strongly gendered, impacting differently on girls and boys. E.g. girls in the northern part of the country especially from poor homes are disadvantaged in regards to opportunities in school because of traditions of early marriage and hawking, which in turn is often driven by the need to save for kayan daki (dowry).

Location / region: Apart from the ELDs states, some states or communities are marginalized and excluded in accessing basic amenities which is their fundamental human right which education is inclusive. The marginalization and exclusion of these communities hinders the opportunities of children having access to education within the locality; some of the children marginalized in this situation are children from the riverine areas, erosion menace, urban slums, nomads, rural hard to reach communities etc. In 2015, 81% of children aged 6–11 years in urban areas attended primary school, compared with 59% in rural areas (NEDS 2015). Education to children who find themselves in these environment or situation are most times a mirage as they are often neglected with little or no attention from the government. In most cases, education in these locations are characterized by poor teaching and learning facilities, lack of teachers, WASH facilities in schools etc.

Way forward

To ensure that children go to school and have equal opportunities in education, the following are suggested way forward to revamp our educational system.

  • Government should construct more classrooms or renovate dilapidated classrooms and furnish with modern teaching and learning facilities.
  • Need for constant training and retraining of teachers.
  • Education should design to meet the needs of the child looking at social, economic and physical conditions of the child.
  • Enforcement of sanctions on parents/ guardians and government for failure to send children to school and provision of quality education.
  • Implementation of various policies and programs backing it up with adequate funding and political will by the government.
  • Schools should be constructed with ramps for the physically challenged persons.
  • Learning aids should be for persons with disability and teachers should be trained to teach persons with disability.
  • Government should support and fund and ensure effective management of a gender and disability friendly database.
  • Legislation to sanction state government that refused to access their UBE matching grant.
  • Need to enforce penalty to offenders of violence and abuse against girls in schools at all levels.
  • Create incentives for teachers posted to rural and hard to reach communities to motivate them
  • Increase advocacy and awareness on the importance for education of boys and girls
  • Government and education stakeholders should come up with initiative that promotes and encourages students interest in education
  • Need for government concerted effort to address the issue of data by strengthening the Education Management and Information System (EMIS) at the national and state level for planning purposes.
  • Provisions of conditional cash transfer (CCT) to poor and indigent families to enable them send their children to school.
  • Increase community participation in school management and governance.
  • Setting up of effective monitoring and evaluation mechanism from the local to national level.