Improving the quality of education of vulnerable children outside mainstream schools

It all started with a random amateur video shared via a social media platform. As I clicked on the video and started watching it, I wondered in which world I was. The video was of the event of a group of five boys of around 13 years of age. The boys were interviewed in Yoruba language and apparently, they had gone to burgle a trading shop at around 11 pm in Abeokuta, a 19th century town that is home to Olumo rock in South-West Nigeria. As I watched the video, multiple thoughts flashed through my mind. I thought of the age of the boys and I thought to myself ‘these poor kids are just like my own child’s age mate’, and thinking of what has befallen them at such a tender age I couldn’t help but to feel deeply sad and worried for the poor kids, their families and above all – a society that allows young and innocent lives to be potentially destroyed at infancy.

My mind also flashed to the story of a poor boy that was beaten and burnt alive to death because it was claimed that the boy stole. That story could easily have come out from Teju Cole’s Every Day Is for the Thief, except for the fact that in this case it wasn’t a fictional event, this time around it happened in the harsh and cold reality of a perverse world of some heartless and soulless adults that suffer from cognitive dissonance. I thought to myself that at least the boys have not been beaten by the people as far as could be seen from the video, at least they were magnanimous enough to spear their lives – such is the cruel world of ‘public justice’ through mob actions. In an article by The Atlantic France was reported to have had a similar problem of ‘public justice’ through mob actions up to the early part of the 20th century, so, the problem is not unique to Nigeria in history but it is time for the Nigerian government to not only outlaw such a barbaric act but also criminalise it – it isn’t the way of any sane society, needless to say civilised society.

Mob rule — or to give it its technical name, “ochlocracy” — was not invented in Nigeria. Theories of the mob predate ancient Rome.

Teju Cole (‘Perplexed … Perplexed’: On Mob Justice in Nigeria)

And this brings me to the issue of people acting as mobs and taking justice into their hands for whatsoever reason up to the point of burning a fellow human being to death – all in the name of the burnt person of ‘stealing’, an act that most of the perpetrators involved in the burning were not immune from. It is important that people realise the importance of not taking laws into their hands, particularly such an extreme interpretation of law. However, it is the duty of the government to put an end to such an act of barbarity by any individual through the proper implementation of law and order in the society.

In the midst of this storm of thoughts, my attention went to the issue of public education and compulsory education in the country. Two of the kids in the video said they attended a traditional Islamic education school, which in the context of what and how it was said could be just learning under an individual teacher or in a traditional Islamic school. However, this post isn’t about the context in which the school exists in, but the fact that children of compulsory school age in Nigeria were found not to be on the government’s register of school children. It is important that government at all levels go beyond the rhetoric of “compulsory education” and implement and monitor the implementation of the policy. Children that are of compulsory school age should be registered with the relevant government institutions with regards to where they usually are during school hours and terms, and the government should vet the education that these children are accessing; making sure that their educational, social, health and emotional needs are fulfilled. And in order to achieve the fulfilment of these needs, it is compulsory for the government to support these institutions.

That children are educated through homeschooling, unaccredited private schooling, un-schooling or un-registered religious education schooling isn’t a problem on their own because they are all different means of delivering education to children, however, the government must get them registered and make sure that those institutions meet the educational, emotional, health and social needs of the children under their care, and also, the government should economically support such institutions by providing them with teaching and learning resources, teacher training programs and systemic approach to assessing children’s learning, such that the teaching and learning taking place in such places will meet the provisions in the national curriculum, particularly is areas of literacy, numeracy, religious education, computing and civic studies.

The other problem highlighted by the video is the issue of homelessness. This reminds me of my undergraduate years when there used to be children who normally would have left their families to live on campus illegally, working as hostel servants to students, doing basic chores for the students at a pittance. Strangely, in retrospection, I can’t remember a single moment in which I saw any attempt or press release on campus by the school authority to pick up those children and return them to their parents. But it is important that the issue of youth homelessness is addressed with urgency in the country because not only are homeless children and young people exposed to the torment of being homeless, they are also deprived of familial love and care. They are more likely to be exposed to asocial lifestyle, experiencing social vices in their childhood or teenage lives, which invariably have negative effects on their social and health wellbeing.

Sometimes the loss of a parent or both parents can lead to homelessness for some children or young people, especially if there are issues that relate to social stigma against such families. It is important that the government look more into supporting children and young people that are orphans by providing economic assistance to families that are willing to involve in the upbringing of orphans. Also, the government need to engage with extended families in cases in which a family member has agreed to bring up an orphaned child and recognise such individuals as the legal guardian of the orphaned child or young person.  This economic support is most needed from the government in this generation because most families are living below the poverty level in the country, hence, this is one of the many factors that are more likely to lead to the destruction and disintegration of the extended family structure and even the nuclear family structure to an extent in the country. And without radical intervention programs to stem this trend, the problem might end up becoming malignant. It is important that the government realises the need to fund programs that focus on children, young people and families, particularly those that live or are from disadvantage communities.

There is the urgent need to invest in children, young people and family issues in order to have a more peaceful and prosperous society. There is the need to address social issues as what they are – social, and move away from the approach of addressing them as criminal issues. By seeing these issues first and foremost as social issues, it would be easier to look at the social factors that they emanate from, tackle them head-on before they become criminal issues.

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