By MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria has expressed disappointment that at least one million children are being left behind – afraid to return to school this month due to insecurity.
It noted that more than 37 million Nigerian children started the new school year this September.
UNICEF said that it is joining partners on global call and ‘digital freeze’ to urge children’s access to education.
It pointed out that learners are being cut off from their education and other vital benefits schools provide, as families and communities remain fearful of sending children back to their classrooms due to the spate of school attacks and student abductions in Nigeria over the last several months and the current climate of insecurity.
“A child’s first day of school should be an exciting event for parents and children – a landmark moment in their young lives, signaling new learning and new friends that will impact their futures. This moment is being stolen from around a million Nigerian children this year, as insecurity threatens their safety and education,” Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, said.
“It is unacceptable that communities should be worried to send their children to school over fears they will be abducted from what should be a safe space. It is unacceptable that children need to fear returning to their friends and classrooms – and that parents are afraid that if they send their children to school, they may never return. This insecurity must end so that children can return to their normal lives and benefit from all the important things being in school brings to them,” Hawkins continued.
“UNICEF and partners around the world are joining in a global ‘digital freeze’ on 16 September to protest children unable to access the classroom due to COVID-19 restrictions or other challenges, with social media platforms ‘frozen’ to draw attention to how many children are at risk of missing out on an education. The organization estimates that a return to school has been delayed for an estimated 140 million children globally due to COVID-19,” the international authority on children’s well-being stated.
According to UNICEF, for an estimated eight million of these students, the wait for their first day of in-person learning has been over a year and counting, as they live in places where schools have been closed throughout the pandemic.
“In Nigeria, education was delayed for many children due to COVID-19 restrictions during 2020, along with additional challenge of school closures due to prevailing insecurity across the country,” UNICEF Nigeria wrote in a news statement issued on 15th September 2021.
In the statement titled: “First Day of School ‘Indefinitely Postponed’ for at Least 1Million Nigerian Students – Organization Joins Global Call and ‘Digital Freeze’to Urge Children’s Access to Education,” UNICEF stressed that so far this year, there have been 20 attacks on schools in Nigeria, with 1,436 children abducted and 16 children dead. More than 200 children are still missing.
“The first day of school is a landmark moment in a child’s life—setting them off on a life-changing path of personal learning and growth. Most of us can remember the excitement of returning to school, and the joy of meeting our teachers and fellow students again. But for so many Nigerian children whose education already suffered during COVID-19 lockdowns, that important day has been indefinitely postponed – and for many children still missing, it is unclear when they will ever come back home or enter a classroom again,” Peter Hawkins, said.
“For the most vulnerable children – including children affected by conflict, girl children and children with disabilities – their risk of never stepping into a classroom in their lifetime is skyrocketing. We need to end this insecurity and make our priorities clear – that Nigerian children can and must be allowed to benefit from an education in a safe space,” he added.
While countries worldwide, including Nigeria, are taking some actions to provide remote learning, many students are not being reached. In addition to lack of assets for remote learning, the youngest children may not be able to participate due to a lack of support using the technology, a poor learning environment, pressure to do household chores, or being forced to work, UNICEF disclosed.
According to the UN agency, studies have shown that positive school experiences are a predictor of children’s future social, emotional and educational outcomes. Children who fall behind in learning during the early years often stay behind for the remaining time they spend in school, and the gap widens over the years. The number of years of education a child receives also directly affects their future earnings.
“Every hour a child spends in the classroom is precious – an opportunity to expand their horizons, maximize their potential and build their country’s future. With each passing moment, countless amounts of opportunity are lost,” Peter Hawkins said. “We must put our children’s future first. We can and must tackle the insecurity, stop attacks on education, and keep schools open. The clock is ticking for our young students.”
UNICEF advised that unless mitigation measures are implemented, the World Bank estimated a loss of $10 trillion in earnings over time for this entire generation of students globally.
Existing evidence shows the cost of addressing learning gaps are lower and more effective when they are tackled earlier, and that investments in education support economic recovery, growth and prosperity, it declared.
“UNICEF is urging governments to reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible, and to provide a comprehensive recovery response for students. Together with the World Bank and UNESCO, UNICEF is calling for governments to focus on three key priorities for recovery in schools:
“Targeted programmes to bring all children and youth back in school where they can access tailored services to meet their learning, health, psychosocial well-being, and other needs, effective remedial learning to help students catch up on lost learning, support for teachers to address learning losses and incorporate digital technology into their teaching,” the UN organ stated.