In an effort to reduce the rate of out of school children in Zamfara State, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is embarking on household mapping of out of school children in some local governments. HENRY TYOHEMBA who was in the state recently to examine the project writes that significant progress is being recorded as about 83,523 children have been identified through the programme.
Bounded in the north by Sokoto State, Maradun is a local government area in Zamfara State occupying the northern axis of the state. The local government with an estimated population of 210, 852 according to the 2006 census is boosting enrolment of school children through the household community mapping introduced by UNICEF.
Despite the effect of COVID-19 pandemic which has distorted academic activities in the country, an investigation into the project introduced by UNICEF to restrain the issue of out of school children in Nigeria has shown the need for federal and state governments to expand it in their domains.
Being one of the educationally disadvantaged states in the country, Zamfara is battling with the issue of out of school children. A 2019 report by UNICEF also indicated that Zamfara is one among the ten states in Nigeria with the highest number of out of school children.
Although there are concerted efforts by government and development partners to tackle the challenge over the years, the persistent numbers of children not going to school is becoming worrisome. Today, Nigeria has more than 10 million out of school children predominated in the northern part of the country.
To curb the ugly trend, UNICEF is collaborating with government institutions, traditional leaders, civil society organisations, faith-based organisations, communities and other development partners to find solutions that will result in getting the out-of-school children back to school using household community mapping in some of the affected states in Nigeria.
The exercise uses baseline approach to identify communities with a high number of out of school children through the help of School-based Management Committees (SBMCs), mothers association and others by tracking the out-of-school children, enrolling them in grade one every year and ensuring their subsequent progression to higher grades within the school system for a minimum of 5 years of schooling within the project time frame.
It was initiated to assist households in sending their children and keeping them in school, with the benefitting communities receiving an unconditional cash transfer of N8,000 per child that falls between six and 11 years for the period of two years.
In Zamfara, the programme which is currently being run in three local governments-Zurmi, Maradun and Bukkuyum are recording tremendous successes. LEADERSHIP was out in the state recently to examine the current situation and effort being put in place by UNICEF and the state government towards overcoming the challenge of out of school children and discovered some level of progress.
Our investigation revealed that the introduction of the household community mapping of out of school children is helping to identify many children who were not visible through its approach of going deep into the communities to track these children.
In one of the tours to Maradun Local Government, a data made available to our correspondent indicated that the House Hold Community Mapping of Schools is boosting enrollment in the area.
Since the programme commenced in the locality, a total of 83,523 (Males 48,516 and Females 35,007) children between the ages of 3 and 17 years were covered in Maradun and the general enrollment has increased from 22,240 in 2016 to 35,790 in 2019
The education secretary of Maradun, Makau Marafa told our correspondent that so many other programmes adopted by UNICEF and partners were helping the community to tackle issues confronting education delivery in the area. "In Maradun, more than 70 per cent of out of school children return to school as a result of the interventions. We have Cash transfer which enables beneficiaries to stay in school. The major problem of our area is poverty but as a result of Cash transfer, those who cannot afford to buy uniforms for their children can do it now.
"I interview so many mothers who benefitted from Cash transfer and they are raising goats, cows as a result of what they are keeping out of this money so these programmes are making a great impact in bringing the student back to school and also enrolling school-age children and retaining them to school.
"We have so many areas in our local government which were abandoned. We thought it was not visible but with the coming of this mapping it helped to go deep into the area."
Marafa also said the local government adopted other efforts to reduce out of school children. Prominent among which is the enrolment drive campaign where UNICEF, mothers association, Emirs and others come together during the October, November, December to push for enrolment campaign, canvassing all communities to ensure children return to school.
A UNICEF consultant, Joshua Ayanlakin, who also visited Maradun, said UNICEF would go into the communities to identify the children and continue to monitor their progress through 'individual tracking' from primary 1-2, primary 2-3 and upward.
He said UNICEF, after identifying the children empowers them in various ways. "We have Cash Transfer which is one of the interventions where each child gets N5000 for a period of two years that is six tranches. We give them N8000 each so that parents will be able to afford schoolings like sandal, bags and other things and invest the money to ensure children start and complete basic education.
"Secondly, it may not be direct to the children but it goes to ensuring the environment is conducive for children to learn. We have 45 schools or more than we are intervening in Maradun here and each of the school has gotten N250,000 to improve the learning environment. We have additional grants again, some got N1 million for construction of toilets and boreholes, completion of buildings and so. We also build the capacity of teachers on record keeping and so on and so forth.
Others who spoke to our correspondent commended achievements of so many projects being carried out in the state with the support of UNICEF. In one of such, the director, Planning, Research and Statistics, Ministry of Education, Ibrahim Mailalle who is in charge of the Education Management Information System (EMIS), Ministry of Education, Zamfara adopted the state government is receiving support from UNICEF to conduct Annual School Census which playing a key role for appropriate planning in Zamfara.
According to him, "One of the areas we have been receiving support is the conduct of Annual School Census and for the past five years, UNICEF has been supporting us and now we are at the stage that even without UNICEF technical support we can conduct Annual School because the capacity of our planning officers and also EMIS officers has been empowered in terms of fieldwork.
"The ASC is helping Zamfara in terms of planning because anything you want to do now data is important. So it is used by the chief executives for decision making, it is used for all the stakeholders for planning purposes because it is only when we use this data we will be able to know where we are and where we are going to.
"The data help us to know what number of teachers we have at primary and secondary schools, what number of teachers we have in the private sector. Also, after having the gross number of the teachers then we also come to identify what are the numbers of teachers that are qualified so through this it helped our board to look for teachers where they are lacking and also know what type of teachers they lack.
"We have only one serious challenge in carrying out all these, that is the insecurity challenge we suffer a lot sometimes to reach some areas so sometimes we had to go back, we have to do extra homework to identify who are the people that will be able to conduct that exercise who came from that area because they know the route they can try to enter the schools because we don't want any situation whereby we have inaccurate data and the best thing to do is to go to the schools."
That notwithstanding, the chairperson of High-Level Women Advocates (HiLWA), Zamfara said they are working tirelessly with UNICEF to ensure girls get quality education and the issue of hawking become a thing of the past. She said the state would be holding the first national conference in Zamfara to build the capacity of its members in tackling these issues.
According to her, "There are two bills that we are pursuing that are going to have a very positive influence, especially on girl child education. One is for 30 per cent appointment of women in education decision making and the other one is a law to stop hawking and begging during school hours."
Meanwhile, the director, special programme/UNICEF focal person in Zamfara, Mr Muazu Mohammed said the major challenge that the state is currently facing is insecurity which makes it difficult to reach out intervention in some communities.