To boost school enrolment and attendance, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, falls back on the Child’s Rights law, an international convention that safeguards the rights of every child
When Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan met just six pupils in a classroom during a surprise inspection tour of projects in the education sector in Abigborodo, Delta State recently, he was evidently demoralised. It was the confirmation of the 2013 terse report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, that eight per cent children in Delta State are out of school.
But the governor thinks the UNESCO statistics is even conservative. “Well, we accept that rating; but for us as a state, we also believe that it’s more than eight per cent. We believe that up to 40 per cent of the children that are supposed to be in school are not in school and it was very obvious yesterday. I think that estimate may have been from the urban areas but a lot of children who are supposed to be in school in the rural areas, are not yet in school”.
However, Uduaghan is determined to change the status quo. As far as he is concerned, education is the bedrock of development in every society and Delta State would not be found wanting in that area. Uduaghan is convinced that no child living in the state has any excuse to stay out of school. He is right. Education at the primary and secondary level in the state is free while government pays for external examinations like the West African Examination Council, WAEC, and National Examination Council, NECO. Since 2008, the governor has spent more than N3.7 billion for the payment of Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination fees.
With these interventions, the governor went back to the drawing board with his think tank and the Education Marshal, EduMarshal, a special task force which whisks children found on the streets during school hours to school, was born.
The aim of the EduMarshal programme is simple yet profound. Describing the scope of the programme, Stella Blaize, Special Assistant to the Governor on Education and EduMarshal boss, said it is all about, “eradicating street culture and bringing about learning culture, that is the idea. When we are talking about street culture, we are talking about kids who are out there, not doing anything, playing football and gamble. And in the case of the girls, just hanging in street corners or just talking. We are trying to eradicate that and replacing it with learning culture.’’
The Child’s Rights Law, an international convention signed and ratified by Nigeria on the survival, development and protection of children, backs the Education Marshal, popularly called EduMarshal in Delta State. A basic provision of the law, which had since been adopted in the state, mandates parents, guardians, institutions and authorities in whose care children are placed, to provide the necessary guidance, education and training to enable the children live up to their responsibilities.
Like a wildfire, the strategy is already spreading and working. Blaize says her team has recorded 85 per cent success rate taking school children off the streets in target areas. For any child found hawking on roaming on the streets during school hours, that child is taken to a school and is automatically enrolled. “ The success rate, I would say, is 85 per cent… But the other 15 per cent are those who come from other states and are being used as what I call slaves and that is something that we are trying to tackle”, she said.
In the estimation of Patrick Muoboghare, Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, the EduMarshal project is basically to enforce Governor Uduaghan’s reforms in the education sector. “If you ask me to say one singular thing the governor has done, apart from every other thing he did, it is the Delta State Education Marshal”.
To underscore its commitment to ensure child enrolment at the primary and secondary school level, the state government is perfecting measures to sanction parents and guardians who send their children hawking during school hours. Erring parents and guardians who fall short of the provisions of the Child Rights Law face prosecution and end up paying fines.
Just few months into the establishment of the EduMarshal programme, the state government has realised that the task to enforce school enrolment in the state is not shallow water. The programme has led the state government in uncovering cases of domestic and sexual molestations often behind child labour practices. According to Blaize, this development has led to a robust collaboration with different ministries and the police in relocating these children.
Recalling some of these instances, Blaize said, “I will start with a girl we found hawking water. We discovered that she was serving somebody. But form serving somebody, we got to find out other things. She was being molested by the sons of her master. So we had to actually move her from that place totally. Also, we have had cases where children were found sleeping in the bush and very early in the morning, they are up and gone. They hawk Gala and all those things and at night, they retire”.
Stories like these have only fired the zeal of the state government in ensuring that no child loses his or her dignity and opportunity to compete favourably with children from all background. Uduaghan has also emphasised that no child in Delta State would be academically disadvantaged under his administration. “ An educated society is easier to convince on lot of issues; but where the people are not educated, where they are not literate, it takes a lot of efforts to convince them on issues they need conviction on”, said the governor.
Though the EduMarshal programme is still a pilot project with operations in six zones in the state, Governor Uduaghan says it would soon spread to other parts of the state after the necessary sensitisation and awareness has been done. He is also hopeful that the lessons, feedbacks and recommendations from the initial phase would be useful as the program spreads to other parts of the state.
With the holistic approach the governor has adopted in the reformation of education sector, getting the children to stay beyond the first day has not been an uphill task. According to the governor, every aspect of the reform process has been vital. “The issue of infrastructure where we have intervened, the issue of teachers where we have done a lot of employment and we are still doing more; the issue of even retraining of the teachers we are embarking on; the issue of making education accessible to children in terms of funds where we have also done a lot of interventions, ensuring that they do not pay school fees at the primary and secondary levels…”