Koleoso Gafar, an orphan, was 11 years old when he was picked from the street and enrolled into the sought-after Creative Academy, a tuition-free school in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
And due to his background, having lost touch with education from a tender age, Gafar said he was told that he was supposed to start from nursery one, but he knew nothing, including the alphabets. He said the English alphabets were not his only challenge, as he could neither speak nor understand English.
The founder of the school, Anfela Tolulope, said now, at 14 years old, Gafar is in primary three and is an inspiration to many people in the community, including herself, with his academic progress.
“He is now catching up and has been my source of inspiration,” she said.
The Igboore-born teenager in Abeokuta, is one of the 80 indigent students enrolled at the tuition-free school, which has been taking several children from the streets to the classrooms for over seven years.
According to data published in the 2018 digest of basic education statistics by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), 10 states top the chart of the country’s about 10.2 million out-of-school children.
Kano State had the most with 989,234, while Akwa-Ibom (581,800), Katsina (536,122) and Kaduna (524,670) followed closely.
Other states that ranked high on the list are Taraba (499,923), Sokoto (436,570), Yobe (427,230), Zamfara (422,214) and Bauchi (354,373).
According to the statistics, Ogun State has 26 per cent of the out-of-school children.
A former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, described the menace as a time bomb waiting to explode.
Despite various interventions and programmes by the state governments, there are still children that roam the streets during school hours.
Located on the rustic Olorunsogo Street, Saraki, Adigbe in Abeokuta metropolis, the school accommodates indigent pupils and offers them education with free uniforms.
The pupils come from different parts of Abeokuta, Adigbe, Onikolobo and Igboore, among others.
The founder of the academy, Anfela Tolulope, said the challenges of running the academy free are enormous, noting that the support systems have become lean.
“Most of our pupils presently are children of widows and single mothers who are not really buoyant enough; they are people that are really struggling. Those are the parameters we use in admitting pupils here. And we also have some people that walk in to meet us when they hear about what we do, about the school and they tell us about their story and they bring in their children. But we make our own findings too, to be really sure that what they are saying is true.
“We give them uniforms, which they don’t pay for; we give them textbooks, notebooks and other educational materials.
“At the moment, we have 80 pupils. In 2017, we started with less than 25 pupils and we have been able to train quite a number of children,” she said.
She explained that over the years, the financial burden of the school has been overwhelming, most especially teachers’ salaries.
The school is operated in a bungalow owned by the founder’s husband.
The educationist hinted that she has devised a means of using the money she makes from her art works to pay salaries, but the burden remained enormous.
“For instance, since January, I have not been able to pay any of my staff, and this is because I have not been able to sell any art pieces so far, and that has been discouraging, particularly for my staff. But we are still struggling to see how far we can still go,” she told Daily Trust.
On the future of the children: “If we shut down the school, most of the children will go back to where we picked them from. Some of the children even come to school without food: that is the truth.
“So, is it the school that is even struggling to pay salary that would now say we want to start feeding the children? The situation is that bad. If the school eventually shuts down, then I’m afraid of what will become of the children.”
Some of the pupils who spoke with Daily Trust commended the founder for the opportunity given to them to acquire formal education.
One of the teachers, Mrs Ruth Alabi, said she is not teaching because of the money, but the need to make an impact on the lives of the indigent students.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Primary and Secondary Education, Mrs Ronke Soyombo, who visited the facility, applauded the management of the school for helping in reducing the number of out-of-school children in the state.
She also encouraged the founder not to shut down the school for the sake of the pupils. She also directed for a speedy registration and approval of the school by the government.
A professor of education management, David Bamgbose, blamed the current insecurity challenges on the menace of the out-of-school children which is not peculiar to Ogun State but the entire country.
He said the trend is a national phenomenon that is worrisome and disturbing.
“All these challenges we face in the country have one or two things to do with the menace of the out-of-school children, the Boko Haram and the almajiris that we have neglected for so long.
“Government needs to do the needful, but education should be taken beyond the limits of government.
“All over the world, stakeholders matter in the development of education. Corporate, charity organisations, churches and individuals play key roles,” he stated.
Bamgbose also urged owners of schools established to address the needs of indigent children to look beyond the government.
According to him, education should be taken beyond the limits of government by allowing stakeholders like corporate organisations, churches and individuals play key roles in the development of education.
He said: “Such persons should be encouraged. Well-meaning people should rally round and support this kind of vision.
“Yes, government should do the needful but all of us must join hands together. Like what she is doing, if she had waited for government, she would not have gone that far.”