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Scaling up northern girls’ interest in education

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Northern school

Nigeria ranks amongst nations with a high rate of out-of-school children. This is why the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is running a pilot project, the education Cash Transfer Programme (CTP), which is already being implemented in Sokoto and Niger states. UJUNWA ATUEYI writes on the need for northern governors to adopt this initiative and include it in their education budget for the sustenance of the intervention.

There is a dispute of figures between the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which puts the figure of out-of-school children (OOSC) at 10.5 million and the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who insists the figure has dropped in the last three years to 8.6 million.

But either of the two figures are not pleasant, as Nigeria is still home of the world’s largest out-of-school children.

Statistically, northern states have the higher percentage of children in this category, in spite of international development agencies’ interventions committed to the region to achieve universal basic education.

The reason for this development is not farfetched; as several researches reveal that poverty is the major reason parents from the north do not send their children to school, coupled with the recent insurgency.

One of the international development agencies that have taken a leading role in reversing this trend is the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its ongoing campaign through the basic education Cash Transfer Programme (CTP) is already paying off going by the evidence in the states and communities where the programme has been implemented.

From the testimonies of pupils, teachers, parents, community leaders and the CTP coordinators during a two-day ‘Media dialogue on Educate-A-Child (EAC) Cash Transfer Programme in Northern Nigeria,’ it was evident that it won’t cost an arm and a leg to convince parents in the north to send their wards to school and ensure they stayed and complete basic education.

UNICEF introduced and implemented the basic education CTP, as an intervention aid.

The project funded by the United Kingdom Aid (UKAID) and the Qatar Foundation provided cash to caregivers/mothers of children of school age to encourage them to send their wards to school.

Under the scheme targeted at increasing girl child enrolment in northern states, the sum of N5,000 was given to each beneficiary, per term depending on the number of female children in each family, and the fund went a long way in empowering the families, thereby improving parents’ desire to send their girl-child to school.

For children growing up in conflict zones, schools have been the biggest casualty.

Attacks on students, teachers and schools have become part of the protracted conflicts, and the long-term effects on education are disastrous.

Where we fail to protect children in schools from conflict, we pass an unthinkable decision onto their parents.

In effect, we ask them to decide whether to send their children to school and give them the transformative gift of education, even when there is a risk of them being caught up in violence, being sexually assaulted or never coming home at all, or to shun education and force their wards to stay out of school.

In the grim situation, the girl-child is the most vulnerable.

The CTP is being implemented under two projects. The DFID supported Girl Education Project (GEP 3) in Sokoto and Niger states, which lasted for two years, 2014/2015 & 2015/2016; and the Educate A Child (EAC) programme, currently running in Kebbi and Zamfara states.

From The Guardian’s observation during its visit to New Rimawa Nursery and Primary School, Goronyo Local Government of Sokoto State – one of the schools where the CTP was successfully implemented – there might be a shift and change in the narrative that the region is educationally backward if only the northern leaders would genuinely take the gauntlet from UNICEF and fashion out a more sustainable educational policy to get the kids back in school.

The success of the exercise has proven that if all northern leaders will toe the path of UNICEF, and incorporate CTP in their yearly allocation, the statistics of out-of-school children in the region will drastically reduce, if not entirely eliminated.

The implementation strategy adopted in the pilot states did not only capture parents’ heart and wooed them to champion the cause of sending their wards to school, but also rekindled their entrepreneurial spirit, as most of the care-givers started small-scale business with the cash received.

The idea was good according to the project implementers’ as the project has changed the business mindset of caregivers.

Education Specialist, UNICEF Abuja Office, Azuka Menkiti, said the GEP 3, project aimed at motivating girls’ education in northern Nigeria has made significant impact.

“In total, 23,655 girls benefitted from the programme, 12,314 in Niger and 11,341 in Sokoto.

Net increase in average girls enrolment of 29.4 per cent in Niger and 32.4 per cent in Sokoto were recorded. And so we urge government at all levels to support UNICEF as we cannot do it alone.

“Not only that, it also significantly increased the income of poor households in the two states with programme impact of 15.9 per cent and 12.6 per cent in Niger and Sokoto States respectively. The change in average weekly income of caregivers in Niger and Sokoto States was ₦1,123.40 and ₦419.91 respectively.

“Evidence from the results of the analysis attest to the effectiveness of the CTP in removing financial barriers to girls’ enrolment and attendance at school in Niger and Sokoto; 68.9 per cent and 60.7 per cent of caregivers interviewed in Niger and Sokoto stated that the CTP has to a very large extent helped in removing financial barriers to girls’ enrolment and attendance at school.”

At New Rimawa Nursery and Primary School, Sokoto, the project exposed the rot in the government-owned school.

Following the cash disbursement, mentoring and sensitisation programme incorporated into the CTP, parents responded and released their wards to attend school, but unfortunately, the classrooms weren’t adequate and conducive for learning.

Not only were the classrooms overcrowded, there was also no furniture and teaching staff to attend to the increased population, making the school not suitable for a favorable learning environment.

The 48-year-old institution’s facility is currently in abysmal condition, and has not witnessed any form of renovation since inception, as the unfenced compound looks abandoned.

Head teacher of the school, Mr. Yusuf Abubakar, said with the high number of pupils, there is an urgent need for qualified teachers, additional blocks, chairs and desks, among other tools needed for teaching and learning to sustain the students’ interest in education.

“The number of pupils before the CTP intervention was less than 300, but presently, we have a total of 1,170 pupils comprising 575 boys and 595 girls.”

A parent, Mrs. Lawan Hauwa, said the decrepit infrastructure discourages parents from sending their wards to school.

“Not only that the pupils sit on the floor during classes, the roof and ceilings of the classrooms were worn-out and most of the teachers displayed poor understanding of the tenets of basic education.

“The CTP has helped us in providing educational needs of our children and also in starting up a small business to sustain them in school when the programme ends, but the problem is that there are no chairs in the classrooms for pupils and teachers.

With the CTP a lot of parents have sent their wards to school, but no facility to contain the influx of students. We need government to come and help New Rimawa School.”

From all indications, there is an urgent need for northern stakeholders to rally together and develop the educational framework, a first step would be expanding the scope of the CTP, to partnering development agencies, multinationals, and non-governmental organisations, in improving education, particularly at the basic level.

The Sokoto State CTP/PIU coordinator, Ministry of Basic & Secondary Education, Sokoto, Mahmuda Galadima, assured of proper integration of CTP in its education budget.

“We believe this will enhance girls’ access to education; enhance equity, social inclusion and poverty reduction; promote integration, synergy, complementarity, active community participation and ownership.

Affirming that CTP was designed to address poverty related challenges preventing girls’ enrolment and retention in basic education, he noted that the overall success recorded in Sokoto, indicated an increase in girls’ enrolment from 12 per cent in 2014 to 40 per cent in 2016 in the pilot programme.

He said: “Following the successes recorded during the pilot programme, the state government plans to sustain and scale up the programme across the 23 LGAs of the state.

In the first phase of the state scale-up, a total of 10,120 beneficiary girls were targeted.

Each of the primary caregiver of beneficiary girl will receive ₦5,000 per term (₦15,000 annually) for a period of three years (2017-2019).


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