The United Nations Childrena��s Fund (UNICEFa��s) decision to introduce a Cash Transfer Programme, which supports beneficiary girl-childa��s family with at least N5, 000 per term, is fast addressing the problem of poor school enrolment of girls in the northern part of the country, writes FELIX KHANOBA.
Nigeria has over the recent years consistently maintained top spot at the global level in the humiliating list of countries with highest numbers of out-of-school children.
With the nationa��s out-of-school children ranging from 10 to 11.4 million year in year out, various efforts of successive administrations to stem the ugly tide only succeeded in scratching the problem in the surface.
Like the Almajiri programme, which seek to integrate traditional quranic education programme into basic school, the Federal Government had in 2011 initiated a�?Special Girls Schoolsa�� programme aimed to attract girls of school age, but despite the construction of beautiful structures, the schools failed woefully to boost enrolment.
Experts have often blamed this educationa�?s apathy, which is highly visible in northern part of the country, on deep-rooted poverty, cultural/ religious beliefs and of recent, insecurity, even as large chunk of the out-of-school children are made of girls.
a�?It will take a long time for government to get it right on the issue of out-of-school children in the North. Apart from poverty, which is also as a result of no education, many people still see western education especially as it relates to girl-child as something strange,a�? an educationist, Timothy Audu, said.
However, the introduction of a Cash Transfer Programme (CTP) by UNICEF appears to be a magic wand in addressing the perennial problem of poor enrolment of the girl-child in some states in the northern part of the country.
The Cash Transfer Programme which was first initiated in 2014 in two states, Niger and Sokoto, has not only increased girls enrolment but it has also contributed in the retention of girls in basic schools.
Terry Durnnian, UNICEF Chief Education officer, who spoke on the CTP during a briefing and dissemination of Impact Evaluation Report of the programme in Abuja on Thursday, said the two-year scheme which has been extended to Kebbi and Zamfara states has recorded a huge success in boosting enrolment as well as providing financial support to families.
a�?More than 23,000 girls have benefitted from the Cash Transfer programme in Niger and Sokoto states alone,a�? the visibly elated Durnnian said.
According to the Impact Evaluation Report, 12,314 and 11,341 girls have benefitted from the programme in Niger and Sokoto respectively, with each caregiver of beneficiary girls enriched with N5, 000 in each academic term.
This, according to the report which was carried out by CAPRA International, led to 29.4 per cent increase in enrolment in beneficiary schools in Niger and 32.4 per cent in Sokoto State.
In Kebbi and Zamfara states, where the Cash Transfer Programme targets 41,391 child beneficiaries, female caregivers (family member) of children within the age of 6 to 11 in selected communities with the highest proportion of out-of-school children are receiving N24,000 per year.
A caregiver beneficiary of the programme from Sokoto State, simply identified as Fatimah, who spoke in her native Hausa language during the presentation of the CTP report, testified to the massive impact of the scheme, saying she was able to buy a second-hand refrigerator from the money received as a caregiver of her daughter.
Fatimah, who now engages in the selling of cold drinks, said the programme has impacted massively on her household income even as her child remains in school.
This may not be far from the truth as the UNICEFa��s CTP report says apart from attracting many families to send their children to schools, the cash transfer programme has been a major financial boost to poor households.
a�?The CTP significantly increased the income of poor households in the two states with programme impact of 15.9 per cent and 12.6 per cent in Niger and Sokoto states respectively,a�? Dr. John Adeoti, who presented the key findings of the programme, said.
a�?The change in average weekly income of caregivers in Niger and Sokoto states was N1, 123.40 and N419.91 respectively,a�? he added.
While stakeholders, including the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), have continued to laud the massive impact of the programme, many have expressed concern over its sustenance by beneficiary state governments.
But UNICEF has, however, vowed to provide technical assistance to states to ensure its sustainability, adding that both Sokoto and Niger states have put in place budgetary provisions to continue with the programme, with a similar move expected from Zamfara and Kebbi governments.