It is no doubt that comprehensive education of any country for its citizens will always remains a challenge for even a serious government, let alone a nation like ours of over 200 million people. But, due to COVID-19 pandemic, 60 percent of the world’s children cannot access education.
The percentage might even be higher in Nigeria as before the pandemic, over 13 million school-age children in Nigeria were out of school. The current education access among Nigerian school children during the pandemic remains unknown. However, available data on poverty as well as the lopsided nature of the government’s education policy do not suggest a positive outlook.
The recent poverty and inequality report from the National Bureau of Statistics indicated that almost 83 million Nigerians live in poverty. With a poverty rate of 40.1 percent, four in every ten Nigerians are poor. Whereas the poverty rate in urban is relatively lower (18 percent) and mostly in the slums, 52.1 percent of Nigeria’s rural population live in poverty. An additional 12.9 percent of Nigeria’s population are just on the poverty line.
Among other things, Nigeria’s poverty outlook points to the extent of inequality in the country and projects a possible exclusion margin. With a significant portion of the population in poverty and a corresponding descent in quality of life measurement, Nigeria’s development remains an uncertain future. Also, with the proliferating growth of poverty, it is certain that many poor Nigerians in slums and rural areas will continue to see a widening between education as it is and what is expected.
The poverty report from the National Bureau of Statistics reflects the urgent need to close the unsustainable poverty margin through qualitative education to every Nigerian. This is because poverty is like a disease linked with negative conditions that can, in turn, generate a chaotic situation for the country; only education can cure it. Already, growing insecurity, increasing rate of crime, and decline in health are some of the effects of poverty in Nigeria.
Perhaps, the government can borrow a leaf from one man who through his Slum Art Foundation has taken it upon himself to bridge this gap between good education and one of the underserved people in Nigeria; slum dwellers.
He is Adetunwase Adenle, a teacher, artist, and marketing consultant who holds the record for the only Nigerian to hold four Guinness World Records and they all have to do with his work with children.
According to the BBC, he holds the record for the biggest painting that has been painted by the largest number of people. This record was made with the aim of teaching 350 less privileged kids how to paint, draw and celebrate Nigeria at 50 in 2010. The painting measures about 63.5m (208 ft 3.99 in) x 49.3 m (161 ft 8.94 in).
Adenle earned his second world record when he organized the highest number of children reading together in a particular place and at the same time in his bid to encourage reading habits among Nigerian students. This was done in 2011 with a record 4,222 children.
He also set a new Guinness World Record when he brought together the highest number of children washing their hands at the same time. This was to emphasize the importance of cleanliness. As part of the celebrations for “Lagos at 50,” Adenle set a new record by creating the biggest post office stamp in the world.
As incredible as his record is, the focus of this article is not on him but on what the government can emulate from him in providing education for the underserved communities in Nigeria. He was the guest speaker at the Freelanews Leadership Session, FLS and he spoke on the topic, “Bridging the Education Gap: Why Underserved Communities Deserve Governments Developmental Attention.’ One of the things he has demonstrated to government is that the billions of naira is not necessarily expended to get basic education to the slums and rural areas. As one man, he has done that consistently for years.
The construction of the physical structure of a school for arts using plastic bottles by his Slum Art Foundation proves this. The project, which is officially named the Slum Art “Pet Bottle” school, is an educational monument for children living within the slums in Ijora Badia, Lagos State aimed at empowering the children with an enabling facility to be trained with the skills of Art.
Through this foundation, he has been able to empower children living within slums in Lagos State through mentorship, reformation of mindset to develop creative talent and skills, to make them useful to self and their immediate communities.
Explaining the plight of the ‘ghetto child’ in his FLS session, he said, “Through interactions with various slums in Lagos, it has been observed that a major percentage of children from the slums are illiterate and lack formal education, have low self-esteem and a subjective mindset.
“Growing up in such an environment causes a negative effect on the child, consequently, this has a major impact on contributions to economic development and realizing a promising future. Children from this environment are unable to secure employment and or obtain entrepreneurial skills to remain useful for the government, and his/her community.
“Often times, these issues are attributed to poverty and lack of training to unlock and develop in-built potentials. The child in question is vulnerable and open to bad influence when idleness is maintained. This is a potential threat to safety, security, mental and economic growth; therefore, a solution must be implemented.”
He then revealed that the Slum Art project which is a charity organization with the mission to mentor and build up creative art talent of young people from the slums has had a five year framework to give young people voices and equip them with the right artistic skills to help reduce poverty over a long term period. These skills in art include painting, drawing, textile, graphic, animation, etc.
“Launched the Slum Art project with Canon on the UN Day of Action on 25th September 2018. This was attended by the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), and the project goal was discussed in the 73rd UN assemble to create a sustainable change in Africa and the World at large.
“I have a five year framework with my team which consists of forty-three volunteers and we have a clear road map to run Slum Art “pet bottle” schools in ten slums within Lagos state with a mission to mentor, restructure the mindset and to build up creative talent of children from the slum. These children will be put under thorough tutorship by creative art teachers to help develop their skills and in turn make income for themselves and their communities,” he said.
He further explained, “This project will have twenty intakes (children from each slum) between ages ten to seventeen. They will undergo trainings from the School of Art. The training runs for three months with two streams in a year. Artworks will be made by each student every week which will be showcased and sold during the exhibition put together by School of Art at the end of each stream. After the artwork sales, funds generated will be shared as 40% to community development, 30% to the child artist to sustain his education and mental health and 20% goes to the sustainability of the project and 10% for the art gallery.
“In the course of the 3 months training, each child has the benefit of mentorship from his trainee as well as one on one consultation. This gives the child a chance to a better mindset, orientation and fulfillment. At the end of each stream, a total of 200 children will have undergone life transformation with guidance and support into adulthood via art and mentorship with 400 creative artworks which include painting, mosaic, drawings, watercolor painting, and charcoal drawing, will be created by these children, artwork will be framed and exhibited.
“In the next five years, we will have mentored and guided 2,000 children and prepare them for adulthood, by not just developing their creative skill, but also focusing on their mental and personal wellbeing as children with less privilege whom are been prepared to be integrated into a proper society, with the right mindset.”
From Adenle’s work at the slums and with the safety, security and wellbeing of the society in sight, the government must come to the urgent realization that the slums can be breeding ground for tomorrow’s criminals or the launching pad for tomorrow’s leaders. Proper qualitative education at cost effective rates must be provided for them as a matter of priority. Children there have skills and talents that must not be ignored.