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Too many children out of school in Nigeria and across the world

New statistics released last month reveal that 61 million primary school age children around the world were not in education during 2010.

This data from the Education for All Global Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows that real progress has been made in education, since in 1990 the figure was significantly higher at 105 million children out of school. And efforts to improve access for girls have been rewarded, because in 2010 girls accounted for 53% of out-of-school children, compared with 58% a decade earlier.

However, disappointingly, the overall figure for primary-aged children outside education has remained the same for the last three years of data. This is mainly because greater enrolment numbers have not kept pace with population rises, particularly in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for half of all out-of-school children and enrolment rates have improved far less here than in other regions. This means that almost one in four (23%) primary school age children in Sub-Saharan Africa have either never attended school or left school without completing primary education.

With the largest population on the continent, Nigeria alone had 10.5 million out-of-school children in 2010. This represented 42% of its primary age population and 3.6 million more children out of school than ten years ago. Education is seen as key to development in Nigeria, both for individuals and the nation as a whole. Universal Primary Education was introduced in 1976 and in 1999, the Federal government introduced Universal Basic Education (UBE), which stipulates every child should have nine years of compulsory schooling, six years of Primary and three years of Junior Secondary.

But while all children are meant to have access to free schooling for nine years, families are expected to pay for uniforms and learning materials. This means that children from poor households are often taken out of school. More investment is also needed in extra schools, classrooms and teachers to keep up with Nigeria’s growing population.

With population growth running at over 2.5% annually, United Nations forecasts predict Nigeria could grow from 160 million to 400 million by 2050. Such growth and the strain it places on land and resources and public services such as education is beginning to worry the country’s leaders. Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan warned that Nigerians were having too many children. He backed the use of birth control measures and urged families to have only as many children as they could afford. Admitting it was a sensitive issue because “we are extremely religious” and “believe that children are God’s gifts to man”, he nevertheless hinted that unless family sizes start to become smaller, legislation or policies aimed at reducing the number of births might be considered in the future.

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