How Poverty Affects My Learning

Temitope Mustapha, Abuja

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Every morning, 12-year-old Gabriel Johnson (not his real name) works in the neighbourhood before joining his peers in school.

His routines include, weeding people’s overgrown compounds for a token and sometimes helping them do other chores.

Once Gabriel receives 500 or 700 naira, depending on the volume of the tasks and the compassion level of individuals who engage him, he heads for his LEA Primary School, Buzunkure in Kuje Area Council, Abuja.

“I go to people’s houses to help them so that I can have money to go to school,” the primary 2 pupil says of his efforts to make money so he can go to school.

“I do go to clear grasses in people’s compound very early in the morning before going to school like three times every week and sometimes I use to work on farm.”

Little Gabriel does not spend his wage from the menial job, he gives part of it to his mother who also engages in all kinds of menial jobs to keep the family going.

“When I collect this money I use to give my mother to add to what she will use to cook for us and sometimes she buys whatever my younger ones and I need for the day,” he says.

“My father use to work on the farm too for people but when I add my own our money can be plenty, Gabriel narrated.

But while he does all this, he loses out in some learning hours. He will get to school by 9 am, and at that time, his peers are already done with the first lesson of the day.

His plights fit into millions of other children who miss out of school in Nigeria due to poverty and other related factors.

According to a recent survey by UNESCO, Nigeria now has about 20 million out-of-school children.

As his mates were gearing up for the new academic session that opened in mid-September, young Johnson had no books and other writing materials to prepare for such resumption. Yet, he was looking forward to resuming school with his friends.

“I didn’t have books to write and even, text books to read,” he laments, so, I felt like doing some small works so that I can go to school.”

The 12-year-old primary 2 pupil is among the 63 per cent of pupils in schools across the country facing numeracy and literacy challenges.

In Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, many children in the suburbs are in the moulds of little, they must engage in one form of labour or the other before they could go to school. Primary education in Nigeria is free, but many families still find it difficult to enrol their kids while others are forced to withdraw theirs due to biting economic hardship.

Like Gabriel 12-year-old Jennifer Peter and her brother, Abednego, lend helping hands to their struggling parents. In torn and loose clothes, the two siblings work on their father’s farm, wiping sweat off their faces as they apply manure to the maize plantation.

“My brother and I did the planting on this farm,” says Jennifer, pointing to a large expanse of farmland situated at Idu Kooro area of Abuja.

“We come as early as 6 am before we go to school,  to help my father to plant groundnut also in three other farms that belong to us in Hulunmi and Paipe village.”  

Jennifer is in Primary 5, at the LEA Primary School Idu Kooro 2.

Gabriel and Jennifer are within the age bracket 12-14years, appropriate ages for junior secondary school yet, the need to support their family for survival has retained them in primary school, a learning stage for the age group, 6-11years.

Working ahead of school hours is deterring many children from accessing quality education. Many more children hawk items on high ways during the school hours while others come back from school to join them to run after motorists with loaves of bread and other consumables.

This runs contrary to the provision of the Child Rights Act which is domesticated in Abuja. Section 28 of the Child Rights Act 2003 prohibits the employment of children and forbids anyone below age 18 from performing any work that interferes with the child’s education, health, physical, mental or social development.

The 2021 Nigeria Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS 6) also revealed that three out of every ten children aged 5-17years, representing 31 percent are engaged in child labour

Education is one of the fundamental human rights of children, and it is well-articulated in the UN Convention on the rights of the child. Regrettably, many children in Nigeria  face a foundational learning crisis in which learning is not taking place, even for children that are in school.

Despite the huge investment of Nigeria in basic education level, the country still records crises in numeracy and literacy at the elementary stage of learning.

Nigeria, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), introduced Foundational Literacy and Numeracy via programs such as Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) and Reading and Numeracy Activities (RANA).

Gabriel and Jennifer both attend classes, but they appear to be marking attendance registers without actually learning. Poverty and child labour are limiting their foundational learning progress.

Encouraging Gabriel to perform basic numeracy and literacy tasks has been a difficult task. “I cannot read it, I cannot read anything here,” he said.

A new source of foundational learning data, Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS 6), revealed that 27 per cent of children aged 7-14 years have foundational reading skills while only 25 per cent are with foundational numeracy skills.

MICS 6 was carried out in 2021 by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) as part of the global Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and others.

Speaking about the foundational learning crisis in Nigeria, UNICEF Senior Education Manager Michael Banda identified economic barriers and opportunistic cost, including free education.

“This includes uniforms, shoes, books and so forth which families have to provide and because of that, families are unable, and in many cases, families involve their children to raise money to even feed and not necessarily that the money would be spent on school requisite.

“Now these economic barriers have led to steady increase in child labour. These children are supposed to be in school at specific hours, and yet they are involved in some economic activities at this same period.

“They’re likely to report to school late, they’re likely also to enrol in school at an older age, they’re likely to drop out of school at 16, and they’re to underperform in the school at that age of 16.

Banda said children in this category are likely also not to complete the full circle of basic education, thereby increasing the number of dropouts in Nigeria and out-of-school children.

“So child labour has a lot of consequences on an individual child as well as the families,” he added.

 Mrs. Odinaka Ahanonu, Policy Advisor, Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA) said child labour affects the early age of child learning.

“When a child is involved in child labour, it will affect their growth and development, Children whose early age of learning is affected do not contribute to the development of the nation, they often lack the basic educational grounding which would enable them to acquire skills and to improve their prospects for a decent adult working life.”

 With the instances of Johnson and Jennifer, a lot still needs to be done to scale-up foundational literacy and numeracy in Nigeria.

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