Towards an equitable and free education

A video of a young girl (child) of about five or six years old went viral on Nigeria’s social media platforms. In the video the girl can be heard talking to an adult in Pidgin English and expressing her resolve to go to school even though they will “flog” her for not paying ‘her fees’! The video – Sapele Child Berates Her Teachers For Chasing Her Away For Non Payment of School Fees” (YouTube) – generated a lot of reactions on Nigeria’s social media, and some people even offered to assist the girl’s family by offering the little girl scholarship up to higher education level, while an official of the Delta state government was reported by a twitter handle to have reached out to the girl’s family, gifting the little girl some money and promising to provide financial aid to the girl’s family to set up a business.

Listening to the conversation between the little girl and the adult – whose voice was audible but could not be seen – in the video, I felt sad for the state of affairs in Nigeria’s public education sector. The video made me to take a step back and reflect on my childhood days in Lagos in the 1980’s and how I never for once thought of the need to pay ‘school fees’ as a determining factor for me to consider before I went to school because I attended public schools funded by the government – at state and federal levels – throughout my compulsory education years up to university education – where we had to pay nominal tuition fees.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to dwell on the debates that emanated on the video, as my main concern is that children in Nigeria are being deprived access to equitable and free education as a fundamental human right, which is contrary to the spirit, essence and legislation of the UBE Act 2004. As citizens – adults in particular – continued the debates on who’s at fault with regards to the unfortunate situation, which is a product of the society’s failure. However, a bigger issue is that education has been turned into a commodity that only the ones with the purchasing power can access the ‘best education’ in the country.

It is high time that education – as it was in the 1960’s to 1980’s – is seen and discussed as a public good of public value and a social good for the benefits of everyone, irrespective of any individual’s socioeconomic background. Not until adults come to the reality that the social perception of education as a commodity that pervades the Nigerian society in the 21st century is unjust, unfair and unsustainable, regrettably, cases like that of the little girl in the video will remain the norm.

Furthermore, I would like to remind you that: for every of that little girl in the video, there are 13.2 Million out-of-school children in Nigeria, including children – orphaned, disabled, traumatised – in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in the country. Also, there are homeless children who live on the streets and those that are enslaved as ‘housemaids’ who are not in school. Likewise, there are children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), who are not in education due to lack of adequate provisions for their needs in the public education sector.

Lastly, please take action by engaging constructively with political office holders. Tag them on social media and remind them, politely, about their civic duties, obligations and responsibilities. Write constructive open letters to them. Write or talk to them in private – if and when possible; advising them constructively and positively for the common good of the society.  If you believe in the power of prayers, like I do, pray for them for God’s guidance and success. The goal is simple and achievable; it is for all children in the country, irrespective of their socioeconomic backgrounds or peculiar needs, to have access to equitable and free education.

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