By Cheta Nwanze
It has been well acknowledged that primary school education is the foundation of individual and national development. The skills learnt at that level are the base on which the capacity for future economic productivity is built.
Primary school education takes up the first six years of Nigeria’s nine-year Basic Education Curriculum, which seeks to give every child resident in the country an adequate foundation for a successful and productive life.
The nine-year Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) covers ten subjects: Mathematics; Basic Science and Technology; English Studies; Religion and National Values; Cultural and Creative Arts; Business Studies; Nigerian Languages; Pre-vocational Studies; French; and Arabic.
In addition to technical skills, primary school education is also a vital component of the socialisation structure that looks to teach children socially acceptable norms, beliefs, values, and behaviours that they are expected to align with for successful integration into society.
This means that whenever children are deprived of quality primary school education, they are at risk of having a damaged foundation that exposes them to the likelihood of lifelong technical and social incompetence. This impairs their chances of achieving adequate integration into the family, workplace, and society as a whole. And, if a significant portion of a society’s children are deprived of proper primary school education, then the society itself is likely to eventually pay a high social and economic cost for this.
With this in mind, it becomes easier to grasp the importance of the statistic pointing out that 20 per cent of the world’s out-of-school children are in Nigeria. Primary education in Nigeria is compulsory and is officially free in public schools but UNICEF data says that close to 20 million Nigerian children between the ages of five and 14 years are out of school. These figure becomes even scarier when you take the data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2021 into account. 61 per cent of six to 11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.
Regional breakdowns of early education enrollment and school attendance rates give a clearer view of the issue. The Northern part of the country has very troubling school attendance rates, with states like Bornu, Bauchi, Sokoto, Gombe, and others with out-of-school rates that hover between 48-60 per cent and early education enrollment rates that are between 3 per cent and 7 per cent.
The out-of-school rates in the regions outside the North are much better with one-digit percentage figures being the norm but the poor early enrollment figures give cause for concern because it suggests that the primary school education process is not begun on time by most children in the country and this gets worrying when we consider the actual quality of the primary education being offered.
Quite disturbing, the South-East has poor early enrollment rates that are in the 6 per cent to 12 per cent range, with Anambra State having strikingly poor figures with over 20 per cent being out of school partly due to the insecurity related to the IPOB situation, while Ebonyi State shows growth with a 20 per cent early enrollment rate that is the highest in the country.
The out-of-school figures for female children in the core Northern regions are very troubling because they show that almost 60 per cent of girls in those areas are out-of-school and are being deprived of the education that would equip them with the tools required for optimal socioeconomic performance. Hopefully, the insecurity and the cultural barriers that help keep the girl child from education would soon be dealt with.
The socialisation role of primary school education deserves to be better appreciated and enhanced significantly in Nigeria, but especially in the troubled zones where locals are indulging in antisocial and destructive behaviour, which exists partly because people are not adequately conditioned by an effective socialisation process that would have been made available by a proper primary school education system.
•Cheta Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence.