The 2007 Global Monitoring Report of Education for All, issued by UNICEF, puts Nigeria as Number One among countries with the highest number of out-of-school children. The report also said that 60 percent of school age children in Nigeria fail to complete primary education. In 1999 Nigeria’s population was estimated at 124 million, with 22 million of this under the age of six. A survey conducted that year (1999) showed that 50 percent of children aged between three and six years did not have access to any form of organized early education program. In fact, UNICEF estimates for 2000 is that, of the 23 million children under the age of six in Nigeria, only 4.6 million or 24.7 percent was enrolled in pre-primary education.
In Nigeria, governments at federal, state and local levels are not directly involved in establishing early education centers. Government’s role is limited to providing policy guidelines, a national curriculum and some form of regulation of the centers. From 414, in 1984, private proprietors, with eye on profit, had established over 12,000 nursery schools by 1996. A decade later, the number would have greatly increased. On its part, the UNICEF, in collaboration with Nigeria’s federal government, has established 2,045 community-based low cost early child care centers in rural and poor urban areas, serving 75,000 children in 12 selected states (Nigeria has 36 states). Yet, as Nigeria’s minister of education lamented, recently, what Nigeria has, so far, is far from what is needed for the over 20 million children in need of early childhood education and development. Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper quoted Mrs. Aishatu Jibril Dukku, the Minister of State for Education, on October 12, 2007 as saying that “only an insignificant number of Nigerian children receive any form of pre-primary education.”
WHO IS AT RISK – AND WHY?
When it comes to lack of access to early childhood education, the child most at risk is the one that lives in a rural area. Nigeria’s, and much of Africa’s, formal economy is urban-based. A consequence of this is that the rural economy is informal and poor, making it unattractive for private proprietors to invest in early childhood education. So, unable to pay for quality education from private proprietors, people in the rural areas either lack early education centers or they substandard ones that charge the fees that they can afford. In many cases, these centers are not registered, as they do not meet registration guidelines, and invariably are not supervised by government education departments. Often, their obscure locations make it hard for government officials to reach, even when they have legal status. Early education centers in rural areas often lack qualified teachers, just as they lack necessary equipment and teaching materials. Also, relative to their urban counterparts, children in rural areas lack access to health care and good nutrition and are often the target of preventable childhood diseases, due to lack of adequate immunization. As a consequence, more than any other, children in rural Africa enter the primary school, if they are lucky to do so, lacking the skills that they need to succeed.
Photo shows students in Abia State of Nigeria in the classroom. Basic facilities are lacking.
Research evidence suggests that early childhood education has positive influences for a child in his or her affective, conceptual and social development, and that what is learnt at an early age shapes the child’s life, thereafter. In fact, investment in quality early learning is believed to be an effective approach to preventing problems in the future that may result in poverty, homelessness, or even incarceration. In addition, there appears to be a correlation between access to quality early learning opportunities and higher education levels and academic achievements, later in life. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s official policy and practices in early childhood education leaves many deserving children behind, particularly in rural areas of the country. The intervention of nonprofit organizations, particularly from outside Nigeria, with funds and technical assistance, in the early education sector in Nigeria, has the potential of ensuring that all of Nigeria’s children have the opportunity to succeed throughout their school years and later in life, irrespective of the circumstances of their birth and their station in life.