10/05/2012 10:05 pm ET Updated Dec 05, 2012

Beyond Enrollment: Keeping Our Children in School -- A Perspective From Nigeria

The fall season is a good time to talk about school in the United States. Right now in the U.S., primary-school students are tightening their backpack straps. They'll learn colors and numbers, history, the building blocks of science. They'll learn how to read and write. This is also a month when our world leaders will gather in New York for the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly, where the subject of school will be on the agenda.

Thanks in part to a renewed focus on primary education, set forth with the second United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG), school has now become a reality for millions of new students around the world, with significant improvements in global enrollment and completion rates over the past decade.

As a result, the horizons of those bound for school are now dramatically brightened. Whether or not we can see it just yet, statistics show that the opportunities these children will have as adults are now more promising than they were prior to becoming students.

Yet despite these vast improvements, critical challenges persist. The number of children who remain out of school is diminishing too slowly to meet MDG 2 by 2015. According to a United Nations report, as of 2010, about 69 million school-age children were not in school. Almost half of them were in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the efforts made by many countries in sub-Saharan Africa to improve the percentage of children in school, coupled with rapid population growth, have resulted in more students than ever before, which has led to a whole host of infrastructure problems brought on by a surge in enrollment. The types of problems we now face include teacher shortages and a lack of suitable classrooms and educational materials. In fact, estimates suggest we would need double the number of teachers in sub-Saharan Africa today to meet the 2015 goals.

While getting children enrolled is an important aim, keeping young people in school is equally important. The United Nations reports that dropout rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain staggeringly high, with more than 30 percent of students dropping out before graduating primary school.

So we must still wrestle with the issues before us. Fixing this problem is twofold, and it's an undertaking that the Oando Foundation takes very seriously. In Nigeria, where we work, we are squarely focused on getting African children into primary school and making sure that what awaits them is rewarding, competitive, and productive. Above all, we need to ensure that they stay.

The cornerstone of the Oando Foundation's education initiative is our Adopt-a-School Program, which works hand in hand with the Nigerian government on the development of adopted government-owned primary schools. We are renovating facilities, building teacher capacity, securing learning aids, providing training in information and communications technology (ICT), and supporting libraries. The aim is to adopt at least 100 primary schools across West Africa by 2015.

Today, our challenge is much greater than simply enrolling young people into classrooms. It is determining the most efficient distribution of resources to keep them in school and ensure that they receive a quality education. We are hopeful that the international community will join us in marshaling resources not only to bring children to the classroom but also to ensure that they complete their education and have a positive experience while doing it.

The imperative for primary-school education is not esoteric. The World Bank and many others widely acknowledge it is the driving force behind reducing poverty, diminishing child mortality, promoting gender parity, and sustaining economic growth. Simply, the future of our global community depends on it.

In 2035 these children will be adults, and it will be time for them to live and serve as mature members of society. The decisions we make today will inform the reasonable expectations we can have for them.

What can we hope for the 69 million children who will not attend school this month? What can we rightly expect of them in years to come?