The Challenges Of Girl Child Education In Nigeria
Nigeria is signatory to many international conventions aimed at bridging the gender imbalance in education. Despite this the girl child, especially in the northern part of the country, is still lagging conspicuously behind, reports Stella Eze.
The 1984 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person has a right to education. In 1990 also, the world conference on Education For All (EFA), which was held in Jomtien, Thailand, declared among others, that every person shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs. However, much as the two declarations do not have exclusion or exemption, the girl child, especially in the third world countries is to be their least beneficiary.
Danladi Mamman, a teacher, adequately captures the fate of the girl child in his article titled ‘Girl Child and Education’ when he writes “it is a well known fact that many parents in Africa give preferential treatment to the boys, especially in matters concerning education. It is really sad that up till now in some societies, girls are still made to live in their shadows, denied education and other rights, and socially exploited. Their rights to attain womanhood before going into child bearing are being aborted abused”.
What’s more, despite the passage of the Child Rights Act in to law in 2003, by the lawmakers in Nigeria, experiences and available data reveal that the issue of girl child education is yet to be fully addressed. The child rights law seeks to facilitate the realisation and protection of the rights of all children in the country regardless of their tribe, gender and parents’ status. Of course, Nigeria as a nation recognises education as a fundamental human right and is signatory to the major conventions for the protection of the rights of children and women; especially the convention on the rights of the child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
But there continues to be a national gender disparity in basic education enrolment, and retention and completion against the girl child. There are also regional variations in gender disparity in education with girls and women from northern Nigeria and rural communities generally at a disadvantage. Girls undergoing this kind of treatment, according to Danladi Mamman have been relegated to low social status as well as denied extra power and wider horizons that education brings. “She is denied an instrument which will empower her to participate in the socio-economic and political life and to make her contribute to the speedy and sustainable development of her community,” he said.
Besides some cultural beliefs and practices that tend to make the girl child play second fiddle to her male counterpart, and also bar her from certain socio-economic activities, thus relegating her to the background, in total obscurity; there is also poverty as a major factor that hinders girl child access to education.
Former minister of education, Mrs Chinwe Obaji said, “Many parents are so poor that they pull their children out of school for income generating activites, rather than paying for their children’s school fees so as to sustain their families”.
As the Universal Basic Education (UBE), which provides for a 9-year free and compulsory basic education to all Nigerian children, came into play to fast-track education intervention at the primary and junior secondary levels, gradual access to formal school by girls still remains a hurdle to cross. Statistics available reveal that about 10 million children, 60 per cent of which are girls, are presently not in school. The problem of drop-outs is more pronounced at grade six level, where more than 17 per cent of children drop out of school yearly.
In a paper presented by the Nigeria delegates on gender based forum held in China titled “Nigeria’s Experience with Girls Education and Linkages with Action on Adult Female Literacy to Impact on Poverty Alleviation”, it was noted that the drop-out issue has multifarious dimensions, the most important of which are: early marriage for girls in the north, boys and girls engagement in income-generating activities to supplement house income in the south/eastern and north/eastern parts of the country respectively, as well as in major state capitals. The poor quality of the education system and perceived weak employment prospects for school and university leavers are also key factors affecting drop-outs and low transition from primary to junior secondary schools”.
While it is gratifying that the federal government, however sabotaged, has not relented on efforts at providing at least the basic education for all Nigerian children, it is equally relevant to add that much still has to be done. There have been a lot of collaborations between the federal government with bodies like UNICEF, UNESCO to promote schemes such as Girl’s Education Project (GEP), and Africa Girls Education Initiative (AGEI). GEP focuses on national awareness on girl-child education and increasing political and financial commitment through advocacy and sensitisation of policy makers at all levels, parents, school authorities, other leaders and girls themselves. It equally aims at developing the technical capacity of schools and teachers’ pedagogical skills to create girl-friendly school environments that enhance the participation of girls and improve learning outcomes.
What, however, remains critical of all these is whether all these have translated into more enrolment, retention and completion of basic school by girls. AGEI reports between 2002 and 2004, revealed that remarkable progress was recorded in terms of enrolment and retention. The evaluation report revealed that there has been a 28 per cent increase in girls’ education retention and 80 per cent decrease in drop-out rate for girls in the 22 pilot primary schools.
Even as many states in Northern Nigeria such as Kano, Gombe, Bauchi, Niger and Yobe have also made commendable efforts at making education available to female children in their respective domains, the time has not come to rest on their oars. The place of monitoring, inspection and evaluation in the whole exercise of girl child education project remains paramount at all time. And having a balanced educated society would serve as the needed impetus to the realisation of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), targets on eradication of poverty and hunger, diseases and maternal mortality rate. It is against this background that the various challenges against girl child education must be totally removed.
INDIA'S first female Prime Minister, Indira Ghandi, once made the assertion that girl-child education is even more important to a nation than educating male children. Viewed from the surface, Ghandi's position on girl-child education may seem somewhat controversial and chauvinistic.
However, it does appear there is a grain of truth in this often-quoted statement from a woman who had at a time led the second most populous country in the world. This is because the girl-child grows into the woman who by virtue of her paramount role in the upbringing of children, is the first teacher and educator in society.
Consequently, the importance of girl-child education to national development cannot be over-emphasized, at all strata of social development. This can be deciphered from the numerous phenomenal contributions from educated women, who have proved to be true Amazons in their chosen fields of endeavour.
Like the proverbial collossus, women have straddled their worlds as academics, medical professionals, sports women, seasoned administrators, captains of industry, crime-busters, presidents, governors, initiators and drivers of public policies and programmes, broadcasters, change agents, etc. In the contemporary Nigerian context for example, the remarkable contributions of Dora Akunyili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesilie, Diezani Allison Madueke, Abike Dabiri, Farida Waziri, etc to national development offer a sparkling testimony to the importance of girl-child education to a nation.
At yet another level, girl-child education furnishes the would-be mothers the social and intellectual armament they need to succeed as parents, in raising up socially-responsible, morally-balanced and intellectually-sound children. This functionality is accentuated by the woman's increasingly role at the home to supervise children's after-school assignments, teaching of Bible passages, and reading stories to children at bedtime, etc.
Girl-child education also significantly contributes to a healthy nation, because an educated mother better appreciates the benefits of hygiene, balance-diet and healthy eating habits. The educated mother is also more predisposed to meticulously follow drug prescriptions and dosage, than do mother's without formal education, with the result that a child born to an educated mother is more likely to be healthier than one whose mother is uneducated.
Moreover, because the health of a nation is its true wealth, girl-child education is a vital desideratum, given the changes in dietary habits and consumption patterns occasioned by the exponentially rising proportion of foreign diet on the Nigerian dining table.
It must be stressed that girl-child education, besides being a potent force for eliminating poverty, is a fundamental human right all female children are entitled, in view of its wide social implications for balanced development. Additionally, it creates a productive future for them by adequately equipping the girl-child with the necessary skills and knowledge to survive in today's globalized, knowledge-driven economy. Further, it furnishes her the educational wherewithal needed for her to adopt healthy life-styles, which in turn can place her in a better stead to fight against all forms of criminality, abuse and injustice against women in all parts of the world.
It is dialectically expedient to state that girl-child education, as desirable as it is, still contends with challenges like forced under-age marriages, girl-child labour and trafficking, displacements from armed conflicts, as well as unhealthy and discriminatory cultural practices which condemn female children in many climes to a life of misery and missed opportunities.