The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) while commemorating the International Day of Education on Jan. 24, said 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, the highest rate in the world.
In May, Rahama Farah, Head of the UNICEF Office in Kano, Nigeria claims that the estimated 10.5 million figure was for 2021 and that currently, there are 18.5 million out-of-school children; 60 percent of whom are girls.
With the spate of insurgency which has spanned almost 10 years and multiple kidnaps of school children, it is no wonder the huge figure projected by UNICEF stands.
Insecurity and economic downturn occasioned by the Coronavirus Pandemic has also resulted in the loss of jobs and small businesses, forcing poor parents to withdraw their children from school.
In Kuje, one of the six area councils in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, 82 children have had the rare opportunity to be enrolled in school, paying a meagre sum of N100, an equivalent of 30 cents daily.
N100 accords each child’s knowledge of all subjects with great emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education, guarantees two sets of uniforms, sportswear, books, a monthly set of sanitary pads for girls and a free meal.
Mrs Irene Bangwell, co-founder of the Knowledge Skills Solution and Creativity (KNOSK) N100-a-Day Charity Secondary School Kuje, where she oversees the school with her husband, says the school is a beacon of hope for poor out-of-school children who ordinarily cannot afford good education.
“Having done teacher training, designing curriculum and resources to just improve learning experiences, we had a rude awakening in 2016 where we noticed that the same crop of few private schools and teachers showed up.
“So, we started doing this research, and then it hit us when UNESCO said that 83 percent of Nigerian children go to public schools.
“We also discovered a limited school chain for training, meaning that if you are a poor man’s child, there was a limit to the education you could get and a limit to the potential that could be harnessed in that child.
“So, we decided, let’s try and design a private school for children who will ordinarily not be able to access public education.
“Let’s put everything that a poor man’s child needs; we tap into their potential so that they can become the very best version of their lives,” she said.
Mrs Bangwell says it was a difficult task finding a suitable location for the school and sourcing funds to start it but having researched and seen the success of crowdfunding for people and institutions in need, the option was explored.
Crowd-funding involves funding a project or venture by raising money from a large number of people who each contribute a relatively small amount, typically via the internet.
The school, through research, also found a property in Kuje where the landlord was willing to let out for schooling.
“In June 2019, we went online and asked people to give us money to set up the school. Before that time, we had tried to apply for pitches and grants too but they didn’t come.
“I remember the first time my husband Kingsley said the model was going to be N100 a day, I did the financials and exclaimed, excuse me, how are we going to pay for this?
“He said we are going to go online to do crowd funding.
Then I asked, me, beg people for money? I can never do that. It’s been three years; I do that every day; I do that for a living now,” she said.
She says sourcing funds from ordinary Nigerians have been worthwhile as Nigerians responded positively to their plea for funds to educate poor children.
“This project has been sustained by Nigerians, 95 percent Nigerians most of whom do not know us, they hear about the school online, on social media.
“The first thing we did was to go online, talk to people and get some of our friends to team up with us; we have a long list of these people that jumped on the boat without fuss,” she said.
The results recorded in the school with success in STEM education, have spurred them to continue to source more funds online to keep the school open.
The co-founder of the school, Mr Kingsley Bangwell, gives a breakdown of how the school is run daily.
“Children pay N100 a day to come to school. So, for N100 a day, they get books, uniforms, lunch and the girls get sanitary pads every month and they get STEM-based education.
“If you put N100 for a term, it’s about N6,000 but N6,000 cannot provide all that for a child or a family, it’s actually N66,000 a term.
“So, what it means is that they are just paying 10 percent of the fees, we have to look for the other 90 percent which is N60,000 using crowd matching.
“We are on social media showing our events, reaching out to people, writing proposals, putting out fliers; that is how we get money to run the school.
“It is worth it because the project targets children that are out of school, children who can’t go to school.
“The whole idea is how do they get back to school and also stay in school to get a transformational education that can help them break out of poverty which is the core of what we are doing,” he said.
What criteria does the school engage to select and enroll students?
The school supports brilliant children of minimum wage earners, children whose parents or guardians have low job listings like cleaners and petty traders.
It employs the Know Your Student (KYS) system which it achieves with house visitations and interviews to determine if a family or child is deserving to be enrolled due to the limited number it can accept every year.
The school management says it can only accommodate 30 students annually due to funds and limited space.
It then conducts an entrance examination where the selected students must score at least 50 percent to be enrolled.
“When we visit homes, we ask what’s your family’s income? We’ve had parents here who are minimum wage earners but not from the perspective of the government; they work for the private sector and they earn as low as N10,000.
“We look at the quality of the houses they live in, we also ask families for their stories; for example, homes where children have been out of school, even if it is for two terms, that is inconvenient enough.
“Because I think that the harder thing for a Nigerian parent to do is to keep the kids at home when their mates are going to school; for their neighbours to know that the child didn’t go to school, that’s hard enough.
“So, we have children here at the KNOSK School who have been out of school for one year, for two years and we are able to take them in,” Mrs Bangwell said.
How students are educated at the KNOSK N100-a-Day Charity School
Victoria Simon has been a student of the KNOSK School for three years. She says without fee initiative, her confidence in learning has greatly improved.
“The school has helped to improve my reading, writing and vocabulary, especially in oral pronunciation.
“In my former school, I knew nothing about oral pronunciation but this school has helped me speak better and confidently too, from all I’ve learned, I would like to be a journalist.
“Also, with the sanitary pads we receive monthly, I have no excuse not to be in school because I don’t have to worry about staining myself,” she said.
Another JSS 3 student, Favour Linus, says her love for science and engineering spurs from the lessons and opportunities offered her in the school.
“This is the first place where I have seen and operated a computer, I learned how to use Microsoft Word, and research on topics because of the STEM and computer education we get.
“From the STEM Lab, I’ve learnt things like fixing a snap circuit, using the solar panel and doing scratch. I would very much like to be an aeronautical engineer,” she said.
For Faridat Bakare a JSS 2 Muslim student, she says she is well integrated and loves to play football during sporting days.
“This school is enjoyable for me and I’m very excited when I’m inside this compound.
“I have Muslim and Christian friends and we all learn together. I love playing football.
“Right from JSS 1 we are taught to use the computer, power point, coding and scratch to make games, pictures, sounds and stories, I would like to be an engineer when I grow up,” she said.
The KNOSK School also makes room for the physically challenged.
Daniel Ikwenze, a JSS 1 student, is born to deaf parents. Although 4 points short of the 50 percent average to qualify for enrolment, the school made an exception for him, explaining that having to move around with his hearing-impaired family, his brilliance shone through to score 46 in the entrance exam.
Daniel, a hearing-impaired child, has also introduced his friends to sign language. He says he faces no discrimination in the school as he dribbles them in football.
“I have deaf parents but that doesn’t make me different, I have a lot of friends in school and I learn coding with them. I love the food they give us in school too, it’s so delicious. I would like to be a doctor,” he said.
Has N100 a day payment reduced the burden of education on low-income families?
Parents said that with less pressure to hustle for huge amounts for fees, they can concentrate on other areas of the children’s upbringing.
Mrs Victoria Linus, a petty trader, says having more of such schools would improve the livelihood of low-income families.
“With this N100-a-Day School, I am happy because it gives me rest of mind; as it is, I can now face other issues of life knowing that my child’s schooling is taken care of,” she said.
For Pastor Bedison Bwalsom, another parent, he says paying that meagre sum of N100 daily was still a herculean task for some extremely poor families.
“You see, some people take N100 a day as nothing but there are households where even paying that N100 is a burden to them.
“The school management has tried, N100 is nothing if you look at it critically, it’s as if they are giving it out freely but still, it is a burden to people.
“Someone like me, I’m a cleric, I don’t work for the government nor own a business. I keep myself for God so you see, if I don’t move out, I cannot see N100 that I can give him daily to go and pay, it has been a burden to me and some other people.
“The school has passion, zeal and an open heart, they are used by God to help the less privileged get quality education because they understand the pains of parents,” he said.
How KNOSK teachers cope with an unconventional wage-paying system
Mr Apotieri Babatunde says he first joined the school as a volunteer teacher but has grown through the ranks to become the Lead Learning Resource Officer.
“As the Learning Resource Officer, just like every other teacher in the facility, we don’t really see ourselves as teachers, we help children to find the necessary resources that make learning happen.
“One thing that has always worked for us as a school is that people who work here work first because they have a heart for the school.
“I wouldn’t like to say that we are not bothered that the school depends on charity to pay us, but we understand what we work with and that is always the first thing.
“The children are always the priority for us before our salaries come into play and God has been faithful; it is the heart first before the mind for us,” he said.
Another pioneer teacher of the school, Mrs Blessing John, says she joined the school through an advert in 2019.
“Actually, it was not my dream to be a teacher; I was not passionate about teaching but when I came in here, I loved what I saw and I decided to teach.
“From there, I developed so much passion for the work, I was encouraged; I owned the work.
“Now, it’s not just a work for me, it’s as if I am fulfilling my purpose on earth so I embrace the work and that has led me to the position of the Head of Admin of the school.
“Working here generally is like a family because it’s team spirit here, we give each other moral support and we make it so comfortable for teachers to stay here; teachers actually look forward to coming to work every day,” she said.
How does the school hope to sustain this venture?
Catering to 82 students with no steady source of income is not without its challenges, Mr Bangwell admits.
“The first challenge is how do we continually bridge that gap, balance the difference between what the families are paying and what the actual fee is?
“By the way, there are a lot of families who do not pay that N100 a day. We have families that came into this school since 2019 and have never paid N100 or some paid just that first week and they have not been able to pay again because they are really poor.
“When a family has just N200, N300 at home and they have 5 children, it will be difficult to take out N100, a whole N100 for that child to be in school that day, so we understand with them.
“That is why our model is ‘do not send children back from school’, we don’t do school fee drive as a policy and because we raise most of the money from members of the public, the ability to raise that money remains a challenge,” he said.
Another challenge is space for expansion. As the school gains grounds in Kuje and its environs, more students are qualified but only the top 30 can be accepted yearly.
With a new location to erect a permanent and expanded structure, it could go a long way to accommodate more students, the school management says.
“Space is a big factor for us now and then when we are using a rented facility, we are maxed out.
“Last year we had over a hundred applications but where are you going to keep them and this year it’s going to be more because people are knowing more about the school.
“In fact, we are getting calls from Suleja, Gwagwalada, we are getting calls from Kafanchan, Masaka; people are saying they want to bring children and we are saying don’t bring because space is a factor.
“Now, we are trying to look for land so that we can build a school where we can have 600 children, where we can have a hostel, classroom, school farm, technical centre, tech hub and a media centre,” Mr Bangwell said.
In all, the school management and teachers have a strong belief that there are poor children with great potential who need the right kind of education and opportunity to unlock and ignite it.