Economic recession is a merciless monster which devours just about everybody, especially the most socially and economically vulnerable.
In just about every society in Africa, women and children constitute the most vulnerable, even in the best of times. They are, once again, set to be the worst-hit victims of the just confirmed recession.
It is obvious that malnutrition and infant deaths will be on the increase, more babies will be abandoned or thrown into pits and many more will be neglected. But, there is already an army, ten million strong, of deprived Nigerian children whose numbers will swell this year. That is the army of school-age children not in school. Every September, the country is confronted with a fresh crop of kids ready for nursery and primary schools. And each year Nigeria fails to find space for them all.
That accounts for the accumulated figure of ten million. For thirty years, this nation experienced no recession similar to what we have now. Yet we could not educate all our children to primary school level. The recession of 2016 will mark a watershed in Nigerian education because it is likely to increase the number of kids out of school. Unfortunately, many of the new dropouts might be kids who were in school until July this year but whose parents can no longer afford to send them to school. The ominous signs are everywhere, from pre-nursery to primary, secondary to university levels.
The most expensive schools are experiencing low new intake and unprecedented levels of withdrawals. And public schools might find more applicants at their gates than they can cope with.
Educational accessories, in addition to fees, have gone through the roof. Books, mathematics and science sets, exercise books, uniforms, shoes and berets are available at unprecedented prices – at a time when parents’ discretionary incomes are shrinking on account of rising inflation. Never in Nigerian history have so many parents been in doubt about where the money would come from to meet the avalanche of financial obligations – rents, transport, food and health bills. Invariably, when this sort of situation arises, the priorities are food, rent, and transport. Only when there is a surplus, after meeting those obligations, will the paying of school fees be considered.
One thing is certain, as schools open in the third week of September 2016, the Nigerian education sector would experience massive shocks. Apart from the need for government to step up to ensure that parents have more money in their pockets to cope; all Nigerians must make massive adjustments in lifestyles. We must all come down from our high horses and abandon our old life of false affluence. We must face our new reality squarely.