IHI Academy: Addressing the Burden of Out-of-School Children in Yimitu Community

7 Mins read

By Beti Baiye and Ikemefuna Igwe (Lead Writers)

Education plays a critical role in equipping girls with knowledge and confidence, enabling them to make meaningful contributions to their communities and make informed decisions about their health. However, despite the well-documented economic benefits associated with educating the girl child, several factors, such as cultural norms and poverty, pose a hindrance to their education. Families struggling with poverty often prioritise immediate needs and would choose boys’ education over girls.

Societal norms that prioritise boys’ education over girls’ education contribute to gender disparities in primary education. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

For Tabitha Bulus, who lives with her family in Yimitu Community in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), it took some convincing for her father to enrol her in school. He preferred to send his male children to school because he considered it pointless to educate female children as they could be married off early.

In His Image Academy is located in Yimitu Village, a low-income community on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. Members of the community are predominantly farmers, small business owners and unskilled workers. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

When he did enrol her at the age of seven, it was because the school, In His Image Academy (IHI), located in Yimitu Community, was tuition free. Tabitha was an exceptional student; today, at twelve years old, she is in junior secondary school (JSS) 2, and a philanthropic Nigerian is sponsoring her secondary school education.

Drone footage of In His Image Academy showing the three buildings that make up the Academy and the pupils and teachers at assembly. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Like Tabitha, a good number of the pupils in the Academy are either starting school at an older age or returning to school after a long hiatus because their parents could not afford the cost of their education. However, many of the pupils are also starting school at the right age, and they can only do this because of the opportunity afforded them by the Academy. Although basic education is free in Nigeria, hidden charges in government schools prevent children from indigent families from accessing education.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 aims to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes” by 2030. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Maranatha Arikpo, the founder of IHI Academy, said this is why she established the school for indigent children in the community.

During an outreach to the community, I noticed that there were many children out in the streets despite it being a school morning. I spoke to several parents who said they could not afford to send their children to school. I then asked them, ‘If I start a free school here will you bring them?’ They all said yes, and that is what birthed the Academy,” Arikpo said.

Poverty hinders education access as many families struggle to afford school fees, and other associated costs, leading to a significant number of out-of-school children. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

She met with the community head, who showed her two uncompleted buildings she could use, and in July 2018, the not-for-profit school for children in hard-to-reach areas officially opened.

Apart from school entry and completion, SDG Target 4.1 also seeks to ensure that students achieve a basic standard of learning while they are in school. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

A fundamental right

Education is a fundamental right and the basis for progress in every country. Higher levels of education often lead to better employment opportunities, income stability, and improved access to resources, including healthcare. Improved health outcomes, in turn, contribute to increased educational attainment and better socio-economic prospects.

Providing girls with equal educational opportunities helps to disrupt intergenerational poverty by empowering them to pursue higher education, gain skills for employment, and improve their economic prospects. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 aims to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes” by 2030. However, according to a policy paper on the out-of-school population in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria has 19.7 million out-of-school children, the third largest globally. The report further revealed that the number of out-of-school children of primary school age increased by 50% from 6.4 to 9.7 million, as the out-of-school rate has remained constant at 28% since 2010.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Several factors, including economic challenges, such as poverty, prevent many families from affording education-related expenses like school fees, uniforms, and textbooks, contributing to the high rate of out-of-school children.

IHI Academy started with two classes, 26 pupils and two volunteer teachers. In June 2023, the Academy now has six classes, 140 pupils and five teachers. Photo Credit: IHI Academy

Adjusting the strategy

In His Image Academy aims to nurture indigent children in a loving and conducive learning environment, preparing them to become builders of a healthy society where families can thrive regardless of their social status. “We started with two classes, 26 pupils and two volunteer teachers. In June 2023, five years and 11 months later, we have six classes, 140 pupils and five teachers,” said Arikpo. The school follows the curriculum approved by the Federal Ministry of Education and accepts students from pre-nursery to primary five.

Education and health outcomes are closely tied to socioeconomic status. Higher levels of education are associated with better health outcomes and access to healthcare services. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

The focus on pre-primary education is particularly notable as, according to the Lancet, recognising and prioritising early childhood education will help strengthen a country’s education system and population health.

“Attending an early childhood education programme is one of the strongest predictors for supporting a child’s readiness for school, regardless of household or national income level.” Source: UNICEF. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

In the beginning, the school was tuition free for all pupils. “Individuals donated money for school uniforms, we received used books, and our teachers were volunteers, so we could run it free. But when community members saw our results, they began withdrawing their children from other schools and bringing them here,” said Arikpo. Therefore, they introduced tuition fees. However, two things stood out: their fees were lower than what pupils in other schools pay, and instead of sending pupils away when they do not pay their fees, they agree with the parents to pay in instalments.

Empowering widows and the girl child

IHI Academy is particular about the plight of widows and the girl child. They identify the pupils whose parents cannot afford tuition fees and place them on a scholarship. Esther Samaila, from Borno State, said, “When we run from our village, we no get money, so I no fit put Brskilla for school. As Aunty start this school, she come help me make I bring Briskilla when she be nine years put am for this school, and we no pay any money. When I bring Brskilla she no dey fit write her name, but now dem don teach am well and she don enter secondary school.”

By prioritising gender equality in education, societies can create a more equitable, inclusive, and prosperous future for all. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Diana Bitrus, a mother of two, says she would never have been able to enrol her then-six-year-old daughter, Rebecca, but not for the scholarship she received. Rebecca is now nine, and Diana says it was one of her best decisions. However, there’s no scholarship for her 2-year-old daughter, and she is waiting until she can afford the fees to enrol her in the Academy.

Esther Samaila, Diana Bitrus and other mothers are grateful for the scholarships their children have received from the Academy. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Beyond education: Hygiene and birth registration drives

Arikpo revealed that where other schools carry out fee drives during which they send children home from school for non-payment of fees, IHI does hygiene and birth registration drives. “I noticed that most parents didn’t appear to know much about personal hygiene, which showed in the children. So, I started a hygiene drive — we would send home any child who looked unkempt. I also started speaking with the parents during their PTA meetings. And gradually, we began to see changes.”

Hygiene and education in pre-primary settings are closely intertwined, as promoting good hygiene practices among young children is essential for their overall health, well-being, and educational development. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Furthermore, since many mothers in the community gave birth at home, they were unaware of the importance of registering their children’s births. As a result, when they brought their unregistered children for enrolment, the Academy would request them to visit the Primary Health Centre (PHC) in the neighbouring community of Waru to register the child and obtain a birth certificate as proof.

Parents were encouraged to treat their children’s birthdays as special. Photo Credit: IHI Academy
IHI Academy partnered with Slate centre in Miatama who came to teach the children Robotics but because there is no light in the community, they could not sustain the training. Photo Credit: IHI Academy

Towards a sustainable model

Undoubtedly, IHI Academy is helping to create a brighter future and foster a more inclusive and prosperous society for the indigent children in Yimitu community. However, funding is a pressing issue as this initiative is solely funded by donations from family, friends and well-wishers, a model that is not sustainable.

Two rooms were recently added to the school which helped to decongest the classrooms. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Enoch Alaska, a teacher at the Academy for two years, said that while the pay may not be substantial, he takes pride in their accomplishments. However, he is sometimes unable to afford the 200-naira motorbike ride from his residence in Waru to the school, so he resorts to walking.

Enoch Alaska, an experienced teacher, has been teaching at the Academy for the past two years. He has witnessed remarkable transformations in the children under his guidance, which has brought him immense satisfaction and pride. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Arikpo emphasised that adequate funding is critical for achieving their future plans. Their goal is to provide the pupils with quality education comparable to that of children in urban cities. For this, the Academy needs to employ and train more teachers, buy more books, and build a perimeter fence and a toilet, among other things.

A fundamental determinant of health

Education is a fundamental determinant of health. Access to quality education equips individuals with the knowledge, skills, and information necessary to make informed decisions about their health and well-being. Good health, including physical, mental, and emotional well-being, positively influences a student’s ability to concentrate, participate actively, and excel academically.

The Academy partnered with a dentist who shared books and toothbrushes to teach the children oral hygiene. Photo Credit: IHI Academy

The intersection between education and health is critical to overall human development and well-being. These two sectors are interconnected and mutually reinforcing, playing a significant role in shaping society. Therefore, collaboration between the education and health sectors and the alignment of education and health policies is critical for maximising the potential impact on people and communities.

Furthermore, investing in girl child education and health is a vital step towards achieving gender equality and sustainable development. By addressing the barriers imposed by poverty, societies can unlock the potential of girls, creating a brighter future for them and their communities.

To make faster progress towards multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is important to combine efforts between the health and education sectors, as well as nutrition, child protection, and social protection. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch
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