The American University of Nigeria has re-launched its Feed and Read school project and Global Centre for Out-of-School Children aimed at discovering, teaching out-of-school children basic literacy and numeracy, and feeding them a square meal a day.

The program was relaunched at the AUN’s north campus, in Yola, Friday.

AUN’s president, Margee Ensign who is the pioneer and initiator of the project said the program started in January 2015 with the desire to see a remarkable reduction in the number of out-of-school children roaming the streets and begging for alms.

She said the relaunch started with a total of 100 pupils; 50 girls and 50 boys, carefully drawn from host communities and surroundings.

Dr. Ensign who narrates how the program started, shared alarming figures of the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria, with a particular interest in the northeast region which suffered challenges occasioned by over a decade of Boko Haram insurgency.

“According to UNESCO, 61m children around the world are not in school. They live mainly in rural areas, are poor and the majority of them are girls. According to UNICEF and UNESCO, Nigeria, as we know, has the largest number of out-of-school children ranging from eleven to eighteen million. Why don’t we know? The fact that we have difficulty in finding precise data about how many beautiful children are out of school means we have not taken it seriously.

“There are an estimated 2.8 million out-of-school children in our region, the northeast and in addition to that 802 schools remain closed, and another 1,392 are damaged and can’t be used,” she said.

Even though the pictures appear to be bleak, Dr. Ensign assures that the AUN community is poised to ensure it achieves its target of reaching out to as many children as possible and teaching them basic literacy and numeracy.
“AUN has a long history of working with children who are out of school during a conflict situation. We started something called TELA (Technology Enhance Learning for All) where 22,000 refugees children were educated with radios and with computer-assisted learning. So, AUN has unusual experience in this area,” she said.

She added that the institution’s wealth of experience in this area is “one of the reasons we are launching not only feed and read but our Global Center for Out-of-School Children. This is a global problem, we will put up research to see what works and what doesn’t work and we will begin to connect the rest of the world to take on what is a basic human right, the right to go to school, the right to learn how to read and write.”

Jacob Udoh-Udoh Jacob, the Dean of Graduate School and Research of the institution said the alarming number of out-of-school children has made it a global challenge that should be treated as such. He said AUN will liaise with other institutions across the globe to share data as well as enhance its teaching models and processes.

“Today we are re-launching the Feed and Read initiative, and this time making it even bigger and integrating it with our teaching and research through the Global Center for Out-of-School-Children,” he said.

He added that as the world grapples with the numbers of persons that need humanitarian help and protection rising, there is a need to widen access to education particularly in areas affected by environmental and human conflict.

Dean Jacob said “today will go down in history as the beginning of something very powerful. In 30 years or 40 years from now, some of these children that you’ll see today would probably be medical doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, journalists, political and thought leaders. You remember this moment when it all started and remember a name, Dr. Margee Ensign.”

Also speaking at the re-launch, the principal of AUN schools, Nkem Uzowulu said the target of the program has been to reduce and eventually eradicate out-of-school children roaming the streets without any form of formal education or wAs dropped out of school. “We teach them personal and environmental hygiene and hold moral classes with them on how to be better persons in society and assets to humanity.

“What I see in these children are potentials, I see the greatness that if not quickly tapped and explored, will go to waste and the coming generation needs them,” she said.