Young people in Nigeria will help build the future for generations to come.
Nigeria, a country in West Africa, will be the third most populous nation in the world by 2025. A more dubious data point is that many Nigerians will be young, illiterate and jobless.
Instability and chaos there have the potential to create the same elsewhere, especially in Europe, which already knows well the cost of upheaval near its borders.
Today, Nigeria leads the world in children not in school. In the northeast part of the country, near the border with Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the situation is even more troubling. Many schools have been destroyed by the terrorist group Boko Haram, and teachers haven been driven from the region.
“Today, Nigeria leads the world in children not in school.”
The situation, though dire and made more so by a looming famine, is far from hopeless. The Nigerian army has put Boko Haram to flight, and while its members still engage in random bombings, they no longer hold territory or engage in widespread atrocities.
Reconstruction of the region is next on the agenda, and while the national government is strapped for cash because of the drop in oil prices, the international aid community shows signs of stepping up.
But smaller scale, less heralded pushes to increase literacy in Nigeria also deserve our attention and support, as we struggle to make a basic education a basic human right for all of the world’s children.
That’s why there was much excitement when a UPS truck recently trundled up the road to the American University of Nigeria (AUN). AUN is the only American-style university in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The truck carried children’s books and school supplies donated by a group of Nigerian expatriates in Washington, D.C. The UPS Foundation supported and arranged transportation for the items, which weighed more than a ton.
Feed and read
The books, many featuring black characters, and the writing tablets, pens and pencils, will be used by 300 children (an equal number of boys and girls) in AUN’s Feed and Read program, where kids as young as 5 years old receive instruction and a hot meal three times a week.
Everything is supported by private donations, and a new group starts every six months. At the end of the program, student progress is, according to an AUN official, “off the charts.”
The children are desperately poor. Some of them are orphans, their parents killed by Boko Haram. Others are almajiri, children sent away by their parents to study the Koran. They learn to memorize but not much else.
“Teachers need not fear replacement by donated books or technology.”
“The ability to read, write and do simple math can be life-changing,” said Dr. Margee Ensign, the AUN president. “Many of the kids will be eligible to enter public schools in the city, and those who have no schools can independently build on what they learn in our program here in Yola – and our other programs that use radio and notebook computers to reach children in rural areas.”
The radio and computer-based instruction reaches more than 20,000 children, and there are plans to reach even more kids.
Teachers need not fear replacement by donated books or technology. In this part of the world, there are few or no teachers. New models, some of which rely on technology and the recent arrival of the internet, are needed now to bring instruction and hope to millions of children.
They — and the prospects for their country — can’t wait for traditional forms of schooling to emerge here.
Education and the jobs enabled by it will not address all the grievances affecting young people in Nigeria. But it will provide a chance for a better life here at the edge of the Sahara Desert.
For some children, thanks to AUN, UPS and others, education has already paved a path to a brighter future.
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