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Girl child education, democratic governance and sustainable development in Africa: A call for action


Jonathan-8A paper presented as a keynote speaker at the occasion of the kick-off of the “Pan-African Girl Child Education Campaign” organized by the Boss Friendship Club in Nigeria in conjunction with the World Dynasty Pageant, held at the International Conference Center, Abuja, Nigeria.

I. INTRODUCTION Contemporary global events have, no doubt, drawn our attention to the necessity to have democracy, good governance and sustainable development on the continent of Africa, that can be more inclusive and promote the rights and welfare of all our citizens.

This will enable the fruits or dividends of democracy, development and good governance to be shared across the board, regardless of what ever social cleavages that exist in the individual countries.

By social cleavages, one is referring, following Frank Parkin, to those divisions in our nations and societies that are based on class, ethnicity, religion, language, region, gender or even caste.1 We are all living witnesses to the collapse of despotic and unpopular regimes the world over, including those on the African continent.

Subordinate groups, classes and other social cleavages, have sprang up with agitations for participation in the affairs of their nations and societies. They are now demanding equal rights, access and opportunities to acquire, for instance, education and other things that make life worth living.

In the last few decades, it is no longer news that gender and women groups of all kinds, have emerged across the world calling and demanding for equal rights and participation in all facets of political, economic, social, educational and cultural life of their nations and societies.

One of them, Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, articulated the purposes for their agitations recently in her message to the International Women’s Day and I quote her here at length: What we want for the twenty-first century is a rekindling of hope, the capacity for women around the world to bring their dreams of equality of access, opportunity and rights, freedom from discrimination, related intolerance and peace to reality, a better world for all.

2 Similarly, Myles Munroe stated recently: For thousands of years, in nearly every culture and tradition in the world, women have been devalued and therefore mistreated in some way… Only in the relatively recent past, mainly in industrial nations, have people risen up and agreed that the devaluing of women is not right.

3 This has no doubt, confirmed Gabriel A. Almond and Sydney Verba’s declaration in their study of “Civic Culture” across five nations, that “if there is a political revolution going on throughout the world; it is what might be called the participation revolution.”

4 There is no doubting the fact that the “participation revolution” has engulfed African societies as well. What still remains in doubt, is the particular forms this “participation revolution” has assumed and the impact it is having on the conditions of women, especially the girl child, within different African societies.

Particularly limited, it seems, is our knowledge of how this “participation revolution” has come to affect and is affecting the nature of democracy, good governance and inclusive sustainable development in African nations.

Besides, these developments have brought about severe consequences and challenges to the African women, especially the girl child, regarding the best ways to campaign for their cause.

Indeed, these women agitations for political, economic, social, educational and cultural rights and participation have posed challenges to African States and leaders as well, that need to be carefully and properly articulated and investigated.

It is only then that the challenges facing the African women, especially the girl child, could be appreciated and addressed by political, economic, social and educational leaders and governments on the conteninent.

5 What factors have militated against the girl child education? Why has the girl child not been able to enjoy the same rights, privileges, opportunities and participation freely in the educational systems of their countries in Africa as their male counterpart, the boy child? Can the challenges they face in this regard, be taken simply as technical issues that educational administrators and experts can address; or are they policy matters and therefore political, requiring the states and leaders of African nations to handle?

Furthermore, what intellectual and legal traditions have informed the debate on these matters so far, that would aid our better understanding and therefore, lend appropriate policy options which can address the girl child educational condition on the continent?

Is it possible that as democracy and sustainable development gain root in Africa and good governance becomes the norm, rather than the exception, for us to hope that these problems of the girl child education would be automatically addressed?

What really is the way forward on these matters? These are some of the issues that this Paper hopes to address. This Paper discusses these issues at the African continental level. However, it relies more on the data from Nigeria as a comparative case study.

Nigeria is an excellent case study because what she has gone through, particularly with reference to the question of girl child education, is symptomatic of other African countries.

Lessons learnt in this study can therefore, have some remarkable comparative import for most of the other African nations; systemic variations in the continent, notwithstanding. II GIRL CHILD EDUCATION, DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: CONCEPTUAL ARTICULATIONS It is certainly not my intention to bore you with a discussion of too much theoretical issues surrounding the question of girl child education, democracy, good governance and sustainable development.

However, some of the theoretical debate is absolutely necessary to a clear conceptualization and understanding of the issues at stake. THE GIRL CHILD, EDUCATION AND POLITICS In the last few decades, educational scholars and social scientists have examined the role of education in political socialization of citizens and leadership (or elite) recruitments in all spheres of life in our societies.

There is increasing interests in the role of schools and who attends them “in the complex processes of political development, modernization and nation-building”, in other words, sustainable development.

6 There has not always been such widespread interests in what one may call the “politics of education.” Education scholars instead focused on education; whereas political scientists and politicians focused on politics.

This disciplinary parochialism led educational scholars and educationists to think that the issue of who gets educated was simply a technical issue far removed from politics.

Consequently, political scientists and politicians were also of the opinion that the question of the quality of education was a technical matter to be left with educationists and educational scholars.

This led James S. Coleman in his classic book, Education and Political Development to lament that despite some notable exceptions, “political scientists in general have paid very little attention to the overall character of education – polity-nexus and very few empirical studies have been made which focus explicitly upon the specific ways in which educational systems affect the functioning of political systems.”

7 In other words, the question of who gets educated among the different sexes or gender divide, was not even on the agenda for consideration by education scholars and educators.

That the girl child education was being ignored and side tracked, which was basically a political and public policy issue, was not being given the deserved attention. Coleman blamed both political scientists and educators for disciplinary parochialism in the study of politics and education.

8 As Patrick V. Dias and Theodor Henry have observed, educationists were even harsher in their criticism of their own isolationism themselves and for failing to recognize early that the question of who gets educated in the society was not a technical educational matter devoid of politics; but there was indeed a lot of politics in education regarding who gets educated.

As they put it: Educators were even harsher in their criticisms of their own isolationism. They felt that scholars and practitioners were guilty of perpetuating the myth dating back to the turn of the century that scholars were ‘non-political’ or ‘apolitical’ and that education and politics were and should be ‘separate’. They accordingly urged their colleagues to free themselves from the ‘schoolman’s myopia’.

9 Consequently, Lawrence Jannacone, for example, who was clearly an influential representative of this educators’ group, now wrote a book titled, Politics of Education.

10 In it, he chastised educators and school people for their preferred “politics of pedagogies”

11 By this he meant “a closed system of professional association power structures”.

12 This type of politics, according to Jannacone, is protected by its putative mastery of the mysteries of educational expertise (i.e. technicalities), supported by the public’s emotional response to social values, and proceeding within the privileged sanctuary of its private preserves, with no reference to the larger societal political and developmental imparatives,

13 Hence, their parochial belief was that educators should do the best they could, using their educational expertise, to handle the pupils or students as presented to them, not minding their gender composition or from which backgrounds and homes they came from, since that was “politics”, outside the purview of educators. Such matters should be left to the politicians or at best, they were to be for the political scientists.

They were not for educators or educational scholars. In this their era of self-admitted parochialism and myopia, it became clear that educators and educational scholars forgot the warning of Harold Laswell that politics is simply about “who gets what, when and how”.

14 In our present case, the girl child, was not being given any education or qualitative education as was extended to the boy child. This certainly involves politics, and not simply a “technical” educational matter.

Yet they also forgot David Easton’s postulation that politics is simply, as he puts it, the “authoritative allocation of values” or even valued resources in a society.

15 Thus, identifying the girl child, her right to education was highly political, requiring a political approach to deal with. Most educationists and educational scholars also forgot then that politics is not even simply just about the “authoritative allocation of values” alone.

In this case, education or educational knowledge, as Easton claims. In fact, the evidence suggests that pertinent to politics is also the question of the legitimation of the extant social order.

This includes the viability and sustainability of the State, and the existing political structures, including the Government of the day. It also includes the sustainability of democracy and sustainable development as well.

16 That the legitimization aspects of politics which, as we quoted Harold Laswell above, have to do with “who gets what, when and how”; have not received much attention even in political science and public policy analysis literature, not to talk of educational research. Yet, it is no testimony to the fact that they are not important.

In fact, without due attention being paid to the legitimation aspects of politics and public policies, including education policy, especially as it concerns gender issues such as the girl child education, political systems and states, especially democratic ones, would not survive for long. Neither would inclusive sustainable devel0pment be attained.

As Murray Edelman states it cogently: Political systems allocate values, and they also legitimize themselves. The two functions can be independent of each other because governmental value allocations are always markedly unequal, requiring that the great majority who get the least of whatever is valued, receive psychological attention, promises and re-assurances which, together with some coercion, maintain their loyalty, docility, and services.

17 Whether one is concerned with the allocations of values or valued resources in a society, such as education to the girl child, or political system legitimation, how we ensure good governance and sustainable development in Africa, become very important.

INTELLECTUAL TRADITIONS, THE FAMILY AND THE GIRL CHILD EDUCATION There is growing consensus that some intellectual traditions have contributed to the lack of attention being given to the girl child educational needs.

There is therefore, the great need for the development of a theoretical framework that will guide policy actions on this subject. The absence of such a policy framework in the past, it seems, has hampered the development of a comprehensive approach to the girl child education problem.

Theory, they say, is to the policy makers what the housing plan designed by the architects, is to the building engineer or mason. So far, no such comprehensive theoretical orientation exists on this subject.

The most dominant and widely applied theoretical subject at the moment, seems to be the neo-classical micro-economics approach. Within this perspective, family decisions are seen as determined by the laws of demand and supply.

This is the rational choice model. According to this law, labour moves from areas of abundance and low returns to areas of scarcity and high returns.

It is argued by micro economists that this process serves to create labour equilibrium in terms of supply and demand between different social settings and members of the family – boys and girls.

Hence, the individual’s decision to migrate is said to be based on the rational calculations of potential benefits and costs after taking into consideration available information about labour markets opportunities.

18 The family or household heads influence these decisions. Within developing economies, internal labour movements and allocations by families are sometimes based on expected or potential benefits and costs.

This same argument is extended to explain external brain-drain. Here, it is argued that for highly qualified intellectuals and professionals, the demand for and returns on their skills are more in the developed North American, European and Arabian oil rich countries.

Consequently, these rational calculations of benefits and cost determine external brain-drain as well. Todaro states, for instance, The expected gains are measured by the difference in real incomes between rural and urban work opportunities and the probability of a new migrant obtaining an urban job.

Consequently, in his decision to migrate, the individual must in effect balance the probabilities and risks of being unemployed or underemployed for a considerable period of time against the positive urban-rural real-income differential.

19 Thus, in making these decisions, the boy child is always preferred over the girl child by family heads. This implies that when it comes to who goes to school at home or abroad or who stays to work on the farm or provide other services, the boy child is allowed to do the former; and the girl child the later.

As the study of Yoruba families’ rational decisions by Sara Berry concludes, it is actually true that, as she puts it: “Fathers work for their sons.”

20 All the accumulations are geared to taking care of the male children, rather than girls. The greatest weakness of this neo-classical micro-economics approach to the problem of girl child education, is its exclusive focus at the individual level; thereby ignoring the structural factors.

By so doing, it provides little insight into the structural determinants of girl child discrimination in education and other areas by the fathers.21 It is this deficiency that the historical-structural approach seeks to rectify.

This historical-structural perspective, on the other hand, seeks to explain internal and external movements and discriminations against the girl child education by examining social, political, cultural and economic factors that affect the demand and supply for labour and patterns of labour displacement, recruitment and renumeration.

22 The preoccupation of this perspective is the investigation of the factors that lead to the transformation in the organization and relations of production in different social settings that may cause movements, and gender differences in the assignment of roles.

For instance, it argues that the penetration of foreign capital in the developing countries has led to the destruction of the autonomous nature of these societies and has created new structural forms and conditions that have triggered off the process of labour migration and exploitation within the family along gender lines.

23 In addition, the accompanied foreign cultural artifacts that come with it, such as foreign films, records, and modes of dressing, painting, overtly exaggerated lucid and attractive pictures in foreign countries, that are sometimes difficult to resist when contrasted against the apparent squalor in our midst, aid this process.

Thus further promoting brain drain and the need to favour the boys in going to school abroad. Despite its strong appeal, the historic-structural approach has its basic weakness.

By focusing mainly on the structure, it ignores the individuals involved in the brain drain and the oppression by gender processes. In particular, its weak gender conceptualization of the decision-making process of individual professionals and intellectuals makes it relatively incapable of linking the micro-socio-economic structures to individual behaviour so as to explain the causes of brain drain, gender lines discrimination, and other behaviours at the individual levels.

24 Most recently, attempts are being made to integrate the micro-economic perspective with the historic-structural one in an effort to explain brain drain and gender inequalities.

For want of a better term, I refer to this present approach as adopting the household behaviour perspective. Basically, scholars researching in this perspective focus on the household in its attempt to maintain its welfare and reproduce as a productive unit.

25 Apparently, in doing this the interest of the girl child is sacrificed in the process to that of the boy child. Thus, the changing behaviour of the household can be viewed as a series of “sustenance strategies”, (brain-drain, denying the girl child education, labour strikes and public corruption, being only a few of them).

In this way, the household attempts to balance its consumption pre-requisite against the labour power it has and the possible alternatives for generating monetary and non-monetary incomes in given social settings.

This process tends to be influenced by the extra-local, legal, economic, cultural, and socio-political processes and institutions – all of which try to impose their particular constraints and opportunities on the household and seek to extract and regulate some of its surplus as the household manages to sustain and reproduce itself.

26 Invariably, therefore, the fact is that the welfare and prosperity of the household seems to be determined by its dynamic ability to adjust to those structural constraints imposed on social settings by the socio-economic, legal and physical environment. This, then, is the fundamental basis of brain drain and gender inequalities in Nigeria, as elsewhere in the Third World.

27 It should be obvious, therefore, that when a particular social setting is experiencing social, economic and political crises, the constraints on the household become highly magnified. When this is coupled with undue regulation of the workers, such as denying them all legitimate private avenues for additional incomes, desperate measures are adopted by the household.

These may include: They may resort to public corruption in their present jobs to augment the shortfalls in their household incomes and maintain acceptable levels of welfare and standard of living for themselves.

They also save some to be used after retirement knowing fully well the low pensions awaiting retirements; Those highly skilled intellectuals and professional ones (marketable elsewhere), may engage in internal and external brain-drain; The workers may simply ignore the legal and socio-political constraints imposed and engage in private practice and consultancy services anyway.

Or they could carry out these activities under the names of family members, relatives and friends. Some might engage in wholesale and retail trade or hold two or more jobs simultaneously to augment their incomes, disregarding the legal infrastructures against such practices.

28 These are prevalent in Africa now and we may well ignore them at the peril of the society; They may decide to send only the boy child to school and leave the girl child to be working on the farm or doing household chores; and or carrying out petty trading to augment the family income They may choose to remain in their job but engage their employer, (whether government or private) in labour fights to increase their salaries and provide better amenities through periodic labour strikes and crises.

This is where, for instance, the current strikes for increasing the minimum wage and fringe benefits controversy all over Nigeria (2015) come in. All these constitute part of what I have referred to above as “sustenance strategies”.

These have gotten worse since the introduction of the present economic conditions in the country, even in the face of declining returns from their jobs or farms, both in relative and absolute terms.

SHEKARAU-OKThis becomes more glaring (when placed against the hyper-inflation and devaluation of the Naira) and constitute the real and fundamental causes of brain drain, girl child abuse, public corruption, low worker capacity utilization and above all, the growing threats of gross instability from youths, labour crises and strikes.

All these are badly challenging our national security efforts and pushing our girl children into early prostitution or early marriages against their wishes or designs. Perhaps the most singular contribution for us intellectuals and policy makers of the family or household approach, has been to bring the family fully into history, not simply as a victim; but as an agent of societal change and regeneration.

This approach has forced us to recognize that the family (extended or nuclear) is indeed a historical force for national mobilization towards positive societal values. It has clearly made us to understand the distinctive form in which the family can play its role fully by deregulating and equipping its members, especially, the female ones (women).23 This will make it possible for all members of the family to realize their full potential and meaningfully contribute their quota to societal regeneration and national development. •Dr. Mou is a member, Presidential Jobs Board, State House,The Presidency, Abuja, Nigeria Email:


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