In the Bible, Jesus gave a parable about a person who lost one sheep out of a hundred. This person could not accept the loss of even one sheep—one percent of his sheep. He went out to find it, and rejoiced at its discovery. This parable tallies with the “no one left behind” policy of many armies, and countries that do anything possible to locate and rescue their citizens. Coming to Nigeria, eleven million Nigerians are missing, and no one is concerned.
“A child miseducated is a child lost”
—John F. Kennedy
If a child that is educated wrongly is lost, what is the hope of a child who has had no encounter with formal education? Sadly, after a hundred and two years of corporate existence, Nigeria still allows millions of its citizens to swell the ranks of missing persons. The statistics that come next are plainly annoying.
According to information summarized by aworldatschool.org, Nigeria has 10.5 million children out of school. Out of this number, 9 million children have NEVER sat in front of a schoolteacher. 39% of Nigeria’s adults can neither read nor write. Among married adolescent girls, only 2% are in school, while in some areas, 34% of girls are out of school. For every satisfactory primary school classroom, there are 109 pupils. Still on the shameful records, almost 50% of primary school graduates cannot read, a problem worsened by primary schools staffed by unqualified teachers (40%).
How else can a country be shamed? Thanks to our 10.5 million out-of-school children, we hold the record as the country with the highest number of children not attending school. We ought to ask why India, with over a billion citizens is unable to throw away eleven million of its citizens. If India, China, Indonesia and Brazil did not exist, one would have been tempted to say that we hold that shameful record because of our large population. Fortunately, we cannot make such an excuse.
Today, May 27, is Children’s Day. In several events across Nigeria, public officials and their representatives would mouth the virtues of children, and use sufficient flattery to present themselves as bulwarks supporting proper growth and development of the Nigerian child. They would make false promises about improving access to education, healthcare and nutrition for children.
What those officials would conveniently skip is that while some children are in school, others are engaged in menial activities, some in child labour, some risk their lives chasing speeding vehicles on the highways in order to make more sales. Those officials would not mention that loopholes allow parents to deprive their children of formal education, preferring to turn them into zombies cramming religious texts, ripe for plucking by religious extremists. They would not say that several governments proclaim “free basic education”, but “free” never exists within the school walls. They would not say that our eleven million lost children have been neglected, and more are being forced to join the lost.
While most of us look at the relatively well-off children we know, I think it’s time we look at the others. As the person in Jesus’ parable did, we should go in search of the lost children, and bring them home. If we and our government choose to remain unconcerned, we should remember that the “agbero” (street tout), the pipeline bomber, and Mr Boko Bomber were once children. May our negligence not haunt us.
Happy Children’s Day!
Image Credit: wecatchfraud.com