The Vice chancellor of Buckingham University, United Kingdom, Prof. James Tooley, has faulted the report that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria has 10.5 million out-of- school children – the highest in the world.
Tooley, however, said the figure is not likely accurate based on previous research he had conducted in Lagos.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion themed, “Out of school children: Who should do what,” organised by the Global School Forum (GSF) in conjunction with Association for Formidable Educational Development (AFED) in Abuja, the Professor of Education Policy and Research said many of the children not accounted for in public and recognised private primary schools could be found in low-cost private schools serving the poor.
Tooley is set to prove or disprove his hypothesis in a study he said he had got funding to conduct in northern and eastern Nigeria.
“There is lot of data out there that suggests Nigeria has a really big problem. It is said that Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world.
“I am not sure it is true. The statistics are based on number of returns to government from registered schools without considering children in low cost private schools,” he said.
Tooley said he was confident the study would yield similar results to the one he did in Lagos about 22 years ago that showed that many of the 30- 35 per cent of children not attending school in Lagos back then were in low cost private schools.
He said that study reduced the number of out-of-school children in Lagos to four to five per cent.
“Twenty-two years ago it was said that 30-35 per cent of children in Lagos state were out of school. The more I went into the poor areas of Lagos, I could not see out-of-school children; I saw hundreds of children in unregistered schools.
“The official figure of out-of-school children for the north and the east is very high. But it was the same situation when I visited Sokoto. As I went into the poorer areas is Sokoto, there are many low-cost private schools in these communities. And there are more girls attending these schools than boys.
“We want to find out for sure. I may be wrong; it is a hypothesis but the situation in Sokoto seems to be the same as Lagos,” he said.
Even if his hypothesis is disproved, Tooley said the government could tackle the out-of-school crisis by recognising low cost private schools as avenue to mop up children, especially as research had also shown that learning takes place in such school more than public-funded schools.
Tooley said the phenomenon of the poor patronising low-cost private schools for their wards was not limited to Nigeria, but was the case in Ghana, Kenya, India, Pakistan and other countries as well.
“It is not just happening in Lagos. It is the same in Kampala, Pakistan, India, and Accra – all over the global south. There are many other studies after mine that have looked at this phenomenon. Poor parents can spend 10 per cent of their total income on school fees for the whole family and there are low-cost schools serving these families,” he said.
In his remarks, President of AFED, Mr. Orji Emmanuel, urged government to recognise the role low cost private schools play, rather than demonise them. He said they should be regarded as a homegrown solution to a local problem.
“We believe that government cannot do it alone but non-state actors cannot do anything without government support. We have been able to achieve something meaningful in Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and Osun because the government gave us a chance,” he said of low-cost private schools under AFED.
He added’ “Fresh graduates can be trained to start low-cost schools instead of searching for jobs. It can be seen as a Nigerian solution to address out-of-school children problem.”
Emmanuel further added that AFED would not stop its drive to drastically reduce the number of out-of-school children, using the medium to invite major players to be a part of the association‘s third African Education Conference holding between June 15 and 16 in Abuja.
Nasarawa State Education Commissioner, Hajiya Fatu Sabo, urged Tooley to choose her state as one of those to be studied in northern Nigeria, promising the Governor Abdullahi Sule-led administration’s cooperation to make the study a success.
Impact and Innovation Manager for GSF, Habib Kolade, said the Foundation was ready to contribute its quota to addressing the problems of out-of-school children in Nigeria.