Borno state is often cited as having the highest number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. But Africa’s most populous country has about 20 million out-of-school children, according to the latest global data on out-of-school children by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
This means that Borno’s 1.80 million children are 9 per cent of Nigeria’s total sum of out-of-school children implying the country has another set of 91 per cent of out–of–school children scattered across the country to deal with.
For Borno, fourteen years after Boko Haram, an Islamist rebel group triggered an insurgency, about 1.80 million children have lost access to school and formal education. This is according to the state’s government.
A close look at two separate but related reports on multidimensional poverty in Nigeria has shown that Africa’s largest economy has an army of poor children needing intervention in early childhood education to better their lives and improve access to opportunities. Borno is the tip of the iceberg.
First, in 2022, the National Bureau of Statistics in its Nigeria Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report showed that of the almost 100 million children in Nigeria, 67.28 million are multidimensionally poor.
Child poverty is particularly prevalent in rural areas, with almost 90 per cent of rural children experiencing poverty.
Across zones, the Child MPI shows higher poverty in the North East and North West, where over 90 per cent of children are poor, and lower poverty in the South East and South West, where it is 74.0 per cent and 65.10 per cent, respectively. Borno state is in the North East alongside Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe.
Second, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Multidimensional Child Poverty in Nigeria report of 2021 stated that children aged 3-4 years old who attend an Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme show lower multidimensional deprivation rates in contrast to children who do not attend an ECE programme (23.5 per cent versus 64.1 per cent).
The components of multidimensional poverty are monetary poverty, education, and basic infrastructure services. And UNICEF’s report lends weight to the need to act swiftly in arresting the rising numbers of out-of-school children.
Studies on educational investments in early childhood have shown that expenditures in this stage of life increase the cognitive and non-cognitive development of children and increase the investment return in later stages of their lives. Early childhood education can boost children’s earnings later in life.
Early childhood, beginning in infancy, is a period of profound advances in reasoning, language acquisition, and problem-solving, and importantly, a child’s environment can dramatically influence the degree and pace of these advances.
By supporting development when children are very young, early childhood development and education programmes can complement parental investments and produce large benefits to children, parents, and society.
With the correlation between early childhood education and multidimensional poverty, Borno’s 1.80 million out-of-school children and Nigeria’s 67.28 million multidimensionally poor children form a group of at-risk demography of Africa’s most populous country. To better their future early childhood education is required.
Formal education through schools equips learners with the knowledge and skills they need to explore, understand and act on their environment. This translates into better standards of living.
An army of children without access to schools means that 18 to 20 years later, there will be a swell of youth without the requisite knowledge and skills to survive and thrive in a fast-paced world.
Borno’s 1.80 million children have been attributed to the insurgency, which has destroyed schools and developed a pattern of kidnappings, with a corresponding deepening of multidimensional poverty.
Children are a strategic population of concern in Nigeria for a number of reasons. To begin with, nearly half of all Nigerians are children under the age of 18 (47.2%).
Second, investing in children has both immediate and long-term benefits. Children who are absent from school or undernourished, for example, are likely to suffer for the rest of their lives. Children who are well-nourished, attend a school or can be productively trained and employed, on the other hand, benefit from an achievement that will benefit them for years to come.
Third, investing in children’s productive capacity, health, education, and cognitive development—has a ripple effect on the economy and beyond, as these children will be more productive, creative, and skilled workers, family, and community members, benefiting both themselves and the larger society.
Early childhood education enables literacy and numeracy. This helps to spread awareness among the people of their rights.
People with good literacy and numeracy skills enjoy a higher standard of living, have better opportunities of finding jobs, and are able to continue to learn new skills that will help them in the workplace.
A country with high literacy and numeracy rates is more likely to attract a large pool of investors and entrepreneurs as well as the inflow of money which in turn have a great impact on the country’s economy.