The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says school attacks and student abduction in parts of Nigeria have instilled fear among communities stopping at least one million children from returning to school.
UNICEF said there have been 20 attacks on schools this year, leading to the abduction of 1,436 children, 16 deaths and more than 200 children missing.
“As more than 37 million Nigerian children start the new school year this month, at least one million are being left behind; afraid to return to school due to insecurity.
“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.
“This is due to the spate of school attacks and student abductions in Nigeria over the last several months and the current climate of insecurity.
“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 statement read in part.
It quoted Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, calling for an end to insecurity as it increases the risk of children never stepping into a classroom.
Hawkins also called on the Federal Government to make its priority of providing a safe space for children to benefit from education clear by addressing insecurity.
“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.
“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,” Hawkins said.
The UN official said that it was unacceptable for communities to be worried to send their children to school for fear of being abducted from an environment that should be a safe space for them.
He also called for an end to the spate of insecurity to enable children to return to their normal lives and benefit from being at school.
Hawkins said that UNICEF and partners around the world were set to join a global ‘digital freeze’ on Sept. 16, to protest children’s inability to access the classroom due to COVID-19 restrictions.
He said that as part of the protest, social media platforms would be frozen to draw attention to the number of children at risk of missing out on an education.
“UNICEF estimates that a return to school has been delayed for an estimated 140 million children globally due to COVID-19.
“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 in 2020, along with the additional challenge of school closures due to prevailing insecurity across the country.
“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,” Hawkins said.
He said that while countries worldwide, including Nigeria, are taking some actions to provide remote learning, many students are not being reached.
Hawkins listed the contributing factors to lack of reachability to include poor access to technology, poor learning environment, pressure to do household chores or being forced to work.
The country representative said studies show that positive school experiences are a predictor of children’s future social, emotional and educational outcomes.
He said that children who fall behind in learning during the early years are, therefore, likely to stay behind for the remaining time they spend in school adding that this 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.
“It is an opportunity to expand their horizons, maximise their potential and build their country’s future.
“With each passing moment, countless amounts of opportunity are lost. We must put our children’s future first.
“We can and must tackle insecurity, stop attacks on education, and keep schools open. The clock is ticking for our young students.” Hawkins said.
He said that unless mitigation measures are implemented, the World Bank estimates a loss of $10 trillion US dollars in earnings over time for the present generation of students globally.
Hawkins said that based on evidence, the cost of addressing learning gaps is lower and more effective when tackled early and investments in education, support economic recovery, growth, and prosperity.
UNICEF urged governments to reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible and provide a comprehensive recovery response for students.
Together with the World Bank and UNESCO, UNICEF called on governments to focus on three key priorities for recovery in schools.
These priorities include targeted programmes aimed at bringing all children and youth back to school, effective remedial learning, and support for teachers.