By Peter Imouokhome
Exploring innovative ways to maximizing untapped human capital that abounds in Northern Nigeria amidst the spate of abductions of school children.
There is currently a northern puzzle begging for an expeditious solution this too at the risk of getting lost in the ever-expanding national maze that offers no seeming convergence. The education enigma in the north will require more than just a quorum of concerned citizens to accelerate the impact on all Nigerians.
Ostensibly, a global transformation currently sweeps across the human sphere on the wings of innovation and technology laying credence to the leading role education plays. For a sector that has proved to be an effective bridge and a synthesis between the basic nucleus — the family and the wider society — whilst offering deep illumination into the world of work and living, this call to action is an emergency.
At the centre of the bifurcated viewpoint between optimism and pessimism, it is more futuristic and wholesomely desirable to align with the former as a reaction to the unimpressive indices that paint a gory picture of a region strategic to agricultural sustainability and central to policy and governance.
According to UNICEF, “there is a net attendance rate of just 53% in primary schools in northern Nigeria though education at that level is free and compulsory. The levels for girls is even lower because of socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in formal education”
Still, while concerted efforts were underway by Northern Leaders, Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and International development partners like the World Bank to improve the rate of enrolment in schools across all levels amidst the spate of terrorism holding sway by the terrorist groups — Boko Haram and ISWAP in Northeastern states, enrolled students themselves became the target of an expanded scope called ‘bandits’ consisting dreadsome kidnappers, armed robbers, Fulani militias and of course terrorists for monetary gains.
Needless to say, the current situation poses an even worrisome quagmire with a more ferocious impact on the region.
We can only but imagine the physical and emotional trauma that a child within the basic and college ages of 8–16 will go through being exposed to harsh living conditions in the hinder forests — enclaves and camps of these bandits; having to be physically brutalized, subjected to torture and starvation and even video recorded in same conditions to spur the prompt payment of ransom.
Parents and guardians go through heartbreaks, mourning the absence of their children and wards, and directing endless pleas to the government for intervention with a benign hope to be re-united to them again. There also exists the psychological trauma victims go through in the aftermath of their celebrated release back to their families and societies. There remains indelible mental memory and physical scar.
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Have we pondered what the girl child is sexually subjected to by abductors with many molested or forcefully married to their captors? Minors become mothers within what looks like an endless period of captivity and families ultimately are saddled with an even greater burden to cater for the new-born babies.
How about the possibility of recourse to the use of children held captives as suicide bombers? This also is an imminent threat.
The foregoing considerations in a realist sense may seem like enough justifications why the government of Kano and Yobe states ordered more than 20 schools shut recently or why states like Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states have had dozens of schools shut for years. Yet, even more, northern states are pondering the total closure of schools in their territories.
Sadly, by so doing, we would only be advancing a 45-degree view to the current challenge — literally as against a 360-degree view. A two-pronged approach should necessarily open up a stratum of possibilities. I am certain that amidst the current threat of insecurity, we can bolster the expansion of knowledge and solidify human capital development in the northern region by exploring creative, innovative, technological and solution-driven approaches and alternatives to schools’ closure.
History of school children/student’s abduction:
1. 270 Chibok schoolgirls abducted in 2014
2. 300 students from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state kidnapped in February 2021
3. More than 300 schoolboys taken in Kagara Niger state — December 2020 with about 42 unaccounted for.
4. 27 Students kidnapped in Kagara, Niger state in February 2021
5. 300 boys kidnapped in Kankara, Katsina in December 2020
6. 110 schoolgirls kidnapped in Dapchi, Yobe state in Feb 2018
7. 210 students abducted more recently with 30 more non-accounted for at the Federal college of forestry mechanization in Mando Kaduna in Feb 2020
Education should thrive amidst insecurity. But how?
First, let’s consider the basis for a mass gathering of students
A keen introspection at the motive for the gathering of children and students in a single place amidst the growing insecurity which has long been prevalent can be undertaken. For lower levels of education, an argument can be made for the home-grown school feeding programme, an initiative of the federal government to reduce the rate of poverty and malnutrition amongst children and increase their capacity for learning. Also, the “Safe school initiative’ looks to serve as an ancillary measure to promote security by building fences around schools. Thus, it is generally the quest for uninterrupted and quality education for Northern states that have resulted in the gathering of children in central locations with boarding facilities.
With Covid-19 however comes the concern of adherence to guidelines, precautions and regulations. How was it possible to congregate students under the auspices of a government that have promulgated covid-19 guidelines to assure public health? Were these children adhering to laid down guidelines like social distancing, using protective coverings like facemasks and supplied with water and soaps while in these facilities?
Exploring ways to advance the education of the young ones as against the total closure of the education system.
Itis not in the least beneficial to begin the blame game. What is most important is that the prospects are present and staring at northern states in bewilderment. Huge opportunities abound for the adoption of educational resources that ride on technology and digital. These in themselves have the potential to increase the rate of development of the North exponentially.
Various educational services abound that gives the northern youths the ability to proceed with education from the comfort of their homes while taking advantage of several capabilities to learn without hindrances in a school-like environment without depriving them of the bond of their families. A key support structure to the successful implementation of this service will be the presence of viable energy to power educational implements and tools. In this regard, solar power generated devices can be explored for this region as it effectively offers a cost-effective solution that rides on local renewable sources.
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Each northern state should also explore the opportunity to sponsor some of its brightest students to well-structured schools in other states. This will ride on an inter-state educational partnerships scheme like is existent in the agricultural sector. A case in point is the production of LAKE rice — a partnership between the Lagos and Kebbi governments that went into force four years ago. The northern states would reap massive benefits by having their students learning from the best and in tune with the contemporary standard.
‘Education in cluster’ system can be adopted with instructors and teachers offering educational services to students who live within a range of residence. This will boost monitoring and offer a better student-teacher relationship and interaction for effective learning.
Northern states can also branch out technical colleges as an offshoot of the educational system with hands-on knowledge in handwork, fashion designing, craft, shoemaking, fabric to mention but a few. The advantages of this are enormous as it actualizes the purpose of education which is to bridge knowledge and ultimately its application to provide services to society. Students become experts in a field, earning a livelihood and also employ hands thereby reducing the rate of unemployment.
Weighing the Dangers in releasing school children back to society
On the flip side, while releasing these children back into the nuclear families and the society does not shield them entirely from the attacks of bandits, it mitigates the risk of a monumental loss and large-scale abductions when hundreds of children are forcefully taken captives and used to earn huge ransom from the government.
It is noteworthy also that the release of these children back into society will effectively transfer the primary responsibility for their safety back to the grassroots with policing and intelligence gathering gaining high momentum.
They also get to be protected from shuttling to and fro school with its attendant and associated dangers.
Why schools shouldn’t be shut-down
A total shutdown of schools in the affected states will have a ripple effect on the quality of knowledge, learning, development and standard of living. The impact of a shutdown may not be immediately felt but there are obviously more gruesome long-term implications.
There is the risk of poverty enthronement like they say that knowledge is Power or rather applied knowledge is.
The shutdown of schools would in itself offer incentives for students to be recruited for nefarious activities thereby increasing the crime rate. This is because the grapevine in these societies is such that kidnapping, robberies, and other social vices look to be lucrative and the easier way out of poverty.
Education should remain the basis of development and an avenue to maximizing self-advantage.
The learning must continue while the fight and struggle for stability in the north is sustained. Interestingly, the alternative forgone to the benefits realizable from the education of the young ones in Nigeria is the deployment of the young children to physical and menial labour. Street begging, early and forced child marriage, physical, menial and subsistence labour are waiting for avenues to the use of students
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