Insecurity: UNICEF decries 1m Out of School Children in Nigeria

Jack Acheme, Kano

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UNICEF has decried the growing out school children in Nigeria due to insecurity, saying as more than 37 million Nigerian children start the new school year but at least one million are being left behind – afraid to return to school due to insecurity.

The UN agency said learners are being cut off from their education and other vital benefits schools provide, as families and communities remain fearful of sending children back to their classrooms due to the spate of school attacks and student abductions in Nigeria over the last several months and the current climate of insecurity.

“A child’s first day of school should be an exciting event for parents and children – a landmark moment in their young lives, signalling new learning and new friends that will impact their future. This moment is being stolen from around a million Nigerian children this year, as insecurity threatens their safety and education.

“It is unacceptable that communities should be worried to send their children to school over fears they will be abducted from what should be a safe space. It is unacceptable that children need to fear returning to their friends and classrooms – and that parents are afraid that if they send their children to school, they may never return. This insecurity must end so that children can return to their normal lives and benefit from all the important things being in school brings to them,” UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins said.

Digital freeze
In a related development, UNICEF and partners around the world are joining in a global ‘digital freeze’ on September 16, to protest children unable to access the classroom due to Covid-19 restrictions or other challenges, with social media platforms ‘frozen’ to draw attention to how many children are at risk of missing out on education. The organization estimates that a return to school has been delayed for an estimated 140 million children globally due to Covid-19.

For an estimated eight million of these students, the wait for their first day of in-person learning has been over a year and counting, as they live in places where schools have been closed throughout the pandemic. In Nigeria, education was delayed for many children due to Covid-19 restrictions during 2020, along with additional challenge of school closures due to prevailing insecurity across the country

So far this year, there have been 20 attacks on schools in Nigeria, with 1,436 children abducted and 16 children dead. More than 200 children are still missing.

“Most of us can remember the excitement of returning to school, and the joy of meeting our teachers and fellow students again. But for so many Nigerian children whose education already suffered during Covid-19 lockdowns, that important day has been indefinitely postponed and for many children still missing, it is unclear when they will ever come back home or enter a classroom again.

“For the most vulnerable children – including children affected by conflict, girl children and children with disabilities, their risk of never stepping into a classroom in their lifetime is skyrocketing. We need to end this insecurity and make our priorities clear – that Nigerian children can and must be allowed to benefit from an education in a safe space,” Peter Hawkins added.

Remote learning
Hawkins said while countries worldwide including Nigeria, are taking some actions to provide remote learning many students are not being reached. In addition to lack of assets for remote learning, the youngest children may not be able to participate due to a lack of support using the technology, a poor learning environment, pressure to do household chores, or being forced to work.

According to him, studies have shown that positive school experiences are a predictor of children’s future social, emotional and educational outcomes. Children who fall behind in learning during the early years often stay behind for the remaining time they spend in school, and the gap widens over the years. The number of years of education a child receives also directly affects their future earnings.

“Every hour a child spends in the classroom is precious – an opportunity to expand their horizons, maximize their potential and build their country’s future. With each passing moment, countless amounts of opportunity are lost,” he said.

“We must put our children’s future first. We can and must tackle the insecurity, stop attacks on education, and keep schools open. The clock is ticking for our young students.”

UNICEF is urging governments to reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible ad to provide a comprehensive recovery response for students.

 

Nneka Ukachukwu

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