Editor's note: Girl-child education in Nigeria has remained a major source of concern to the government and stakeholders. In this piece, Chizoba Ogbeche, an Abuja-based seasoned journalist examines crucial issues in girl-child education in the country, highlighting its importance to grassroots development.
Twelve-year-old Amina Jubril hails from Biu in Borno state. She was barely four years old when 276 students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents.
However, that incident put paid off her chances of ever getting a formal education. Her father, Alhaji Jubril, a farmer, whose means of livelihood had been disrupted by activities of members of the sect, had vowed that none of his female children would get formal education since it could expose them to the risk of being kidnapped and even killed.
Her story is not much different from that of thousands of other girls in the North, which was first rated as educationally backward and in recent times as educationally disadvantaged, but still struggles as far as education is concerned.
Amina’s story is no different from that of some of her age mates scattered across communities in the South, where poverty, teenage pregnancy, and early marriage, among others, have conspired to deprive not a few girls the opportunity to enrol in school or complete their basic education despite efforts by government and other stakeholders, including development partners, to curb the trend.
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Nigeria is ranked high on the hierarchy of countries with out-of-school children. The girl-child dominates this figure as a result of which girl-child education has continued to suffer setbacks with a large number of the girl-child being denied education and many others dropping out of school, especially in the rural areas.
According to United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF):
"Around the world, 129 million girls are out of school, including 32 million of primary school age; 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67 million of upper-secondary school age.
“In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries.”
On its part, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) data has indicated that:
“One in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 per cent of 6-11 year olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.
“In the North of the country, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53 per cent. Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge.”
The situation has, however, got worse as indicated in the latest global data on out-of-school children by Dafalia Dimitra, a media specialist, with the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM), which was developed by an independent team and published by UNESCO in September 2022.
According to the data, Nigeria now has 20 million out-of-school children, just as India, Nigeria and Pakistan have the highest figures for out-of-school children, globally.
The UN organisation had in April 2022 noted that: “In Nigeria, a total of 11,536 schools were closed since December 2020 due to abductions and security issues. These school closures have impacted the education of approximately 1.3 million children in the 2020/21 academic year.
“This interruption of their learning contributes to gaps in children’s knowledge and skills and may lead to the loss of approximately $3.4 billion USD in these children’s lifetime earnings. This risks further perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality.”
In 2003, Nigeria domesticated the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child cumulating in the Child’s Rights Act (CRA), which basically guarantees the right to health, education, family life, play and recreation, an adequate standard of living and to be protected from abuse and harm.
Sadly, 19 years after, eight states in the North: Adamawa, Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Yobe, Kano and Zamfara, some of which are ravaged by insurgent onslaught leading to the closure of many schools, were yet to domesticate the Act into law. Little wonder the situation has continued to deteriorate.
Similarly, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration on March 21, 2019, ratified the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD). The Declaration is an intergovernmental political commitment that provides countries with the opportunity to express support for protecting students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack during times of armed conflict.
Commenting on the development, the Education in Emergencies Working Group Nigeria (EiEWGN) expressed hope that the Nigerian government would put in place a national policy to guide the implementation of the SSD nationwide.
It is worth noting that the SSD ratification came five years after the kidnapping of the 276 Chibok girls many of who have not been found, while others have returned as young mothers with a bleak future.
Nothing much appears to have changed following these interventions as noted by UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins while commenting on the eight years anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping.
“UNICEF today calls on the authorities in Nigeria to make schools safe and provide a secure learning environment for every child in Nigeria, especially for girls, to increase girls’ enrolment, retention, and completion of education.
“Today marks eight years since the first known attack on a learning institution in Nigeria on 14 April 2014, in which 276 students at Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, in North-east Nigeria were abducted by a non-state armed group.
“Since then, a spate of attacks on schools and abductions of students, sometimes resulting in their deaths, has become recurrent in the last two years, especially in the North-west and North-central regions of Nigeria.
“Since December 2020, 1,436 school children and 17 teachers have been abducted from schools, and 16 school children lost their lives,” Hawkins stated.
According to UNICEF Representative, “Unsafe schools occasioned by attacks on schools and abduction of students, are reprehensible, a brutal violation of the rights of the victims to education, and totally unacceptable. Their occurrences cut short the futures and dreams of the affected students.
“Attacks on learning institutions render the learning environment insecure and discourage parents and caregivers from sending their wards to schools, while the learners themselves become fearful of the legitimate pursuit of learning.
“The invisible harm school attacks inflict on the victims’ mental health is incalculable and irredeemable.
“Girls have particularly been targeted, exacerbating the figures of out-of-school children in Nigeria, 60 per cent of whom are girls.
“It is a trajectory which must be halted, and every hand in Nigeria must be on deck to ensure that learning in Nigeria is not a dangerous enterprise for any child, particularly for girls.”
For Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL) in its Most Significant Change Case Study 2021/2022: JG-3, Education Reform; March 2022 Progress update, “The share of citizens input reflected in the education sector increased from 1.5 per cent in 2021 to 23.3 per cent in 2022.
In 2021, 82.34 per cent of the amount budgeted for the education sector was spent, sustaining above-average budget performance in the sector.
“Recurrent expenditure recorded a high performance of 96 per cent which indicates that adequate resources are being provided to sustain the machinery of government that provide services in the education sector.”
According to the update:
“PERL facilitated the formation of a coordination platform for girls’ education including the development of a Jigawa Girls Education Policy, a draft bill to support Free and Compulsory Basic Education, the development of the Medium-Term Basic Education Strategic Plan (MTBESP) and a results framework to support the implementation of the Teacher Recruitment, Deployment and Replacement (TRDRP) Policy recently approved by the State Executive Council. 4,500 volunteer teachers were also engaged to bridge the State Pupils Teacher Ratio and funding for girls in the nomadic education space was improved.
“Other achievements include the formation of Community Education Partnerships in three local government areas (LGAs) which led to islands of effectiveness in the three pilots LGAs.”
It further stated that:
“PERL’s interventions in the education sector is strengthening institutional processes and systems and galvanising support for reforms in girls’ education, teacher quality development and improvement in allocation/release of resources for the benefit of the learning population of Jigawa who constitute more than 40 per cent of the Jigawa population.”
Convinced that investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries and the entire world UNICEF has continued to work to promote girls’ education with communities, governments and partners as it concerns removing barriers to girls’ education and promoting gender equality in education, even in the most challenging settings.
“Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families,” the UN organisation has maintained.
According to UNICEF:
“This will only be achieved when the most disadvantaged girls are supported to enter and complete pre-primary and primary education.”
For PERL, implications for forward planning entail that an analysis of the various partnerships should be considered in the future.
“Notably, while effective donor coordination in the education sector remains a challenge, the BESDA – PERL collaboration model has proved effective,” the update further noted.
On his part, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Lamido Sanusi, providing the girl-child education and the opportunity to earn income and contribute meaningfully to society was a single silver bullet that would address many of the other SDGs.
Speaking at a three-day education summit tagged ‘transforming education through grassroots innovation: a localised teacher-led approach’ on the sidelines of the just concluded UN General Assembly in New York, he said:
“If you educate the girl child, you deal with so many other socio-economic issues and make progress towards breaking the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy and poverty.”
He has at different forums enjoined governors of the northern states to provide proper education for girls from primary to, at least the secondary level, describing it as an effective way of improving maternal, newborn and child health.
Going by the words of former US President Barack Obama:
“… If you have a team and you don’t let half of the team play. That’s stupid. That makes no sense. And the evidence shows that communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons, they are more peaceful, they are more prosperous, they develop faster, they are more likely to succeed.”
It follows that the Nigerian government needs to implement provisions of the CRA, SSD and other related policies in order to facilitate girl-child education and accelerate development especially at the grassroots.
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