Aisha Umar Adamu is the Kaduna state Team Lead in Nigeria. She provides technical and managerial direction for successfully implementing TaRL activities in Kaduna state in Nigeria. Her blog focuses on the role of community groups in improving school attendance in Northern Nigeria.
It is about 8:30 am, and I am driving on the streets of one of the cities in Northern Nigeria to observe Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) classes in one of the public schools. However, I could not help but notice the number of primary school-aged children roaming the city streets. While some were in their school uniforms, others were dressed in casual clothes. This indicates either one of three things; late coming, absenteeism, or out-of-school children.
In a 2020 report, the World Bank estimated that about 11 million out-of-school children between the ages of 6 and 15 in Nigeria. Likewise, in 2018, UNESCO identified absenteeism as a significant challenge bedeviling education globally. A study about absenteeism in Nigeria, conducted in 2019, revealed that public schools in Nigeria have excessive absenteeism, negatively impacting learning and truncating the teaching process leading to a decline in overall student academic performance. The study explained variations in the rate of absenteeism across states and between urban and rural areas. The absenteeism rate ranges from 15 percent in urban centers to 45 percent in rural communities. Learners’ late coming and absenteeism has been a concern and challenge across states where TaRL is being implemented in Nigeria. This situation ultimately affects the attainment of the desired learning outcomes for students.
Though the reasons for absenteeism are multi-dimensional depending on the context, certain factors cut across different communities. For instance, a study conducted In the Southern region of Nigeria, Cross River state in 2015 identified lack of money by parents, sicknesses, distance to school, and lack of interest by the students as reasons for absenteeism. Likewise, discussions with residents in communities in Northern states highlighted poverty, preference for Quranic schools over western education, and lack of interest by students and parents as part of the reasons for the menace of school absenteeism. Mallam Ibrahim, a resident of Ikara town, said that parents prefer their children to go to the farm and make money instead of going to school because the rewards of farming are immediate. At the same time, there is no guarantee of a financial breakthrough when students go to school.
Over the years, there have been many efforts by the Government and development partners to tackle the issue of out-of-school children and improve the school attendance rate. Such measures include the free and compulsory basic education policy, making primary education in all government-owned schools free.
In the same vein, concerted efforts have been made by State Governments with support from TaRL Africa to tackle the issue of absenteeism. For instance, in 2020, at the launch of the TaRL program in Kano, a town hall meeting was held to discuss the issue and develop solutions. It was agreed that religious and traditional leaders serve as advocates of TaRL and get parents to send their children to school regularly and timely. Several advocacy meetings have been conducted with stakeholders, and town criers [people that go around town making public announcements on the streets around the community] were engaged in improving school attendance in Kano.
Just like in Kano, the TaRL Africa team in Kaduna is working closely with executives of the School-Based Management Committee(SBMC) to tackle the issue of poor school attendance. In the Ikara local government of Kaduna state, an advocacy committee was constituted with traditional and religious leaders, School-Based Management Committee executives, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) representatives, and staff from the Local Government Education Authority being part of the committee. Their role is to get children to attend TaRL classes and invariably improve learning outcomes.
The question remains, why does the issue of absenteeism persist, especially in Nigeria, despite all efforts being made by various stakeholders? Indeed, there’s a need to look deeper into the root cause of the unsavory situation. A viable path would be to treat the issue of absenteeism as a community problem where community members take on a more active role in providing solutions. Community members will have a deeper understanding of a problem. There is a need to re-strategize and adopt a bottom-top approach to eliminate this situation for good. Advocacy efforts should be more strategic, targeting not only recognized highly influential people such as religious and community leaders but also include pressure groups such as youth and women groups. It is a known fact that women’s groups have a powerful voice. Researchers agree that women have continued to make immense contributions to development in Nigeria via collective action, which has been a strong pillar for economic empowerment.
The saying that “all hands must be on deck, “though cliché, is needed now more than ever to ensure children are enrolled back to school and attending classes regularly and on time!