President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is finally taking some major steps to address a troubling challenge with educating millions of Nigerian children.
There are more out-of-school children aged 5-14 years in Nigeria than there are people in Togo.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says there are at least 10.5 million out-of-school children across the country — the highest globally.
Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, removed two of them from the streets in January 2022.
Best in Photo Ops. PhD.
How did we get here?
The swelling population of out-of-school children has been fuelled by socio-cultural and economic factors that have worsened over the years. Repeated attacks on schools that have led to the death and abduction of hundreds of students, especially in the north, have also not helped.
Some of the children most affected are girls, children with disabilities, children from the poorest households, in the streets, or affected by displacement or emergencies, and children in geographically distant areas.
The danger of having millions of out-of-school children who have limited future prospects is clear to everyone.
The almajiri “school system” has illustrated this many times (Image vis BBC Hausa)
Nigeria has been trying to deal with the problem for years, which is why there was an idea.
Alternate School Programme
President Buhari in January 2021 inaugurated a Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on the Alternate School Programme (ASP) and charged members with a simple goal — take the gospel of education to children on the streets.
OMG, will they be snatching kids off the streets?
No. Well, yes; but it’s complicated.
The out-of-school children being targeted by the programme are those loitering at the markets, motor parks, mechanic and spare parts villages, almajirai and street beggars.
The children will be gathered in groups by the government and taught four subjects including mathematics, and English language.
Talking about the programme at a media briefing on February 17, 2022, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, said, “We’re going to take the schools, teaching and learning to the places where these children are; be it in the sangaya setting, or in workshops where children are being used or in the shops where we have this kind of children.”
Why is an education programme being led by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, you ask?
That’s where the food comes in
The Alternate School Programme is not just about the education of out-of-school children, but also about their social protection.
The Federal Government claims to feed almost 10 million schoolchildren with its National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP). The programme started in 2016 and provides a daily meal for pupils in year one to three in public primary schools.
The feeding cost of ₦70 per child was recently increased to ₦100, raising daily spending to ₦1 billion.
One of the programme’s main goals is to encourage enrolment of students. But critics have faulted it because they don’t trust that it’s helping to improve enrolment and believe it’s just another outlet to divert public funds.
The NHGSFP will now be adapted for the Alternate School Programme for out-of-school children too. Farouq says children will be fed as they are educated.
And we all know lunch period is the best part of school.
Is that all?
The steering committee adopted a work plan to guide the effective implementation of the Alternate School Programme in October 2021. Part of the plan includes onboarding the children to traditional schools after the end of the programme. They will be onboarded for further vocational skills acquisition and to relevant National Social Investment Programmes.
“Will there still be food?”
Status of Alternate School Programme
The committee has been meeting for more than a year now, but the implementation timeline is unclear.
The minister, Farouq, said at the February 17 briefing that spots where the children will be reached are being identified all over the country.
Two at a time, baby!