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Getting the Nigerian girl child back to school

By Rakiya Muhammad
07 November 2022   |   3:30 am
Ten-year-old Halima Aliyu from Sokoto State knows what it’s like to be a street hawker. For some years, she moved from place to place selling food, while her peers were in school.

Girl child… hopeful of a better deal. PHOTO: AlJazeera

Ten-year-old Halima Aliyu from Sokoto State knows what it’s like to be a street hawker. For some years, she moved from place to place selling food, while her peers were in school.

“I had the impression that school wasn’t necessary, but now, I know better,” Halima said, as she looked back on the past. “Now I realise how vulnerable a young female child is to dangers associated with street hawking. I now know the importance of education.”

Halima, a hawker, said that with the intervention of a non-governmental organisation, Mothers’ Association, which educated her parents on the dangers of street hawking and the benefits of sending her to school, her life would still have remained the same.

Ainan Abdullahi, a pupil at Sheikh Tijjani Ruggar Mallam Integrated Quranic School (IQS) in the Shagari local government area of Sokoto State, also had a similar tale.

She said: “Before I enrolled in school, I used to hawk food on the streets and thought those in school were only wasting their time, but all that changed after a mentor in the school approached me and gave me reasons I should be in school.”

According to data from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria is a `country of the young’ with about 46 per cent of the 200 million population currently under the age of 15. The current total for children under the age of five stands at nearly 31 million, while each year, at least seven million babies are born.

Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children anywhere in the world. Although primary education is officially free and compulsory, only 67 per cent of eligible children take up a place in primary school. If a child misses school for even a short time, there is only a low chance, about 25 per cent, that the child will ever return.

According to statistics, girls suffer more than boys in terms of missing out on education. In the northeast, for instance, only 41 per cent of eligible girls receive primary education and 47 per cent in the northwest. In north-eastern and north-western states, 29 and 35 per cent of Muslim children, respectively, attend Qur’anic school, which does not include basic education skills such as literacy and numeracy.

A national survey found that the country has the largest number of child brides in Africa, 23 million girls and women were married as children.

Statistics showed that about 129 million girls are out of school globally and one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.

UNICEF Education Manager, Miriam Mareso, at a media dialogue on girls’ education in Sokoto, noted that common gender norms have continued to put girls at a disadvantage, leading them to drop out of school at higher rates, pushing parents to prioritise boy-child education and engage in harmful practices, such as child marriage.

Mareso noted that a poor girl born in the north has less than 50 per cent chance of enrolling in primary school and less than a 30 per cent chance of transiting to secondary school.

The UN chief said: “If the girl comes from a rural community or poor household, she is doubly disadvantaged. A girl from the poorest wealth quintile has a 24 per cent chance of enrolling in primary school and only a nine per cent chance of enrolling in secondary school compared to an 87 per cent and 79 per cent chance, respectively, for girls in the south-south region.”

Mareso underscored the need to prioritise education for girls, noting that “limited educational opportunities for girls and barriers to completing 1 + 12 years of education cost countries between $15 and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.”

She added that education influences critical human development outcomes and reduces inequality.

According to her, educating a girl changes her destiny, as well as those of her future children, and ensures she can contribute to the economic life of her community.

Since 2012, UNICEF has been implementing a multi-year girls’ education project (GEP3) to change the narrative.

The project, funded by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is aimed at getting one million additional girls into primary and Qur’anic schools in six implementing states by 2020 when it was to end. The states are Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Bauchi, Niger and Kano.

At the end of the project in April 2020, it secured a no-cost extension up to July 2021 and another bridge extension from July 2021 to September 2022.

Enrolment Drive Campaign (EDC), Girls for Girls (G4G), High-Level Women Advocates (HILWA), and other initiatives under the bridge extension are among the interventions introduced to increase access to girls’ education. It also prioritised strengthening governance to improve girls’ education and capacity building for teachers to deliver effective learning.

Halima is a product of the Enrolment Drive Campaign conducted annually by School-Based Management Committees (SBMCs), Centre-Based Management Committees (CBMCs) and Mothers’ Associations, with support from state and local government areas.

Ainan and Halima are beneficiaries of GEP3, which was aimed at opening up social and economic opportunities for girls in northern Nigeria through increased enrolment in basic education, learning, and completion.

Malama Shagari is one of the 6,000 teachers trained under the GEP3 intervention to improve teachers’ capacity how to deliver effective learning for girls and boost pupils’ learning achievements in Sokoto State.

Shagari said the capacity-building training on numeracy taught her what to do to ease learning for pupils.

The capacity-building initiative included training facilitators of Integrated Quranic School (IQS), an initiative that integrates traditional Islamic learning, with formal education. So far, about 880 teachers have been trained in Sokoto.

One such beneficiary is Asmau Dauda, who initially attended IQS and later transited from there to a public secondary school following her outstanding performance.

Dauda is presently a senior secondary school student 1 and a role model to other girls in her community. She has gained the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to complete the entire education course.

She said: “I have benefited a lot from the GEP project. Before the IQS, I could not read and write. I am grateful to UNICEF for its efforts to improve our lives. Indeed, we have made progress, which is why we are even more grateful.

“I’m so happy I have a teaching aid and the numeracy project has motivated children to come to school more frequently as they enjoy the classes. Education improves life; one cannot compare an educated person with one who is not. Education is the light of life; it gives one the strength to achieve anything in life.

Acting Chairman, SMBC, Muhammad Bodinga, said what encouraged the community members to allow their girls to attend school is to open them to opportunities like the boys.

Bodega said the arrangement of separating girls from boys in schools also encouraged the community members to enrol their girls.

Education Secretary, Bodinga Local government area, Mallam Lawal Muazu, said in remote villages, marrying girls off as soon as they finished primary school was the practice, but because of campaigns and sensitisation on the benefits of education, girls now tend to further education to junior secondary school.

He added that establishing a junior secondary school has further encouraged the situation.

Muazu, while highlighting changes they have seen in their girls with the GEP3, said: “It is obvious how the girls now take care of themselves. There was this incident where a man invited a girl to have an affair with him, but she refused because she learnt under GEP never to allow a man to touch her unless married him.

“Key results of GEP showed that about a 1.3million girls had since 2012, enrolled in primary and IQS, exceeding its one million target.

UNICEF Chief Field Officer, Sokoto, Dr Marym Darwesh, said from annual school census data, 44 per cent of girls were enrolled since 2012 in GEP-supported schools in the state, translating to over 400,000 girls. She described it as an important step considering the time the project started.

However, while more girls in target states in northern Nigeria complete basic education and gain skills for life and livelihoods, others are still out of school.

But what happens to those left behind as the UK -funded phase three GEP Bridge extension ends by September 2022?

Commissioner for Education in the state, Alhaji Bello Guiwa, said the state government has developed a sustainability plan and assured of its commitment to speed up the interventions.

Guiwa said part of the plan is to ensure an enrollment drive campaign with the involvement of SBMCs and Mothers Association in school activities.

It also proposed scaling G4G to cover primary and junior secondary school levels to increase girls’ attendance, retention, completion and transition rates.

“Timely funding, political will and shortage of qualified teachers and facilitators constitute major challenges to effective sustainability of the interventions,” Guiwa said.

Speaking on challenges confronting the girl child, Executive Director, of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said the government has not done enough in addressing issues concerning the girl child and needs to get more girls into school.

According to her, “Nigeria still contributes to the highest number of out-of-school children. Looking at statistics, it has a regional dimension. There seems to be a higher number in the northern part of Nigeria, particularly where the Chibok girls were kidnapped.

“Secondly, education leads to development and growth and if we are not taking this seriously, it will impact our growth. Some of the issues affecting girls are early marriage, early childbirth, poor sanitation and a shortage of female teachers. If you do not have female teachers in schools, it might affect the girl child’s zeal to attend school. It is just like not having a female doctor; girls might not want to open up completely to a male doctor.

“There is also the issue of safety and security in schools; girls tend to suffer violence. From ages 15 and 24, about one out of every three girls has suffered violence one way or the other, either through sexual harassment, rape or incest. So it is important for the government to address the issue of sexual education, and provide incentives for girls to complete primary and secondary school.

“If you want to negotiate with parents who believe in giving their children out early for marriage, you must bring incentives by ensuring that school fees are affordable or free because it can deter parents from sending female children to school. By and large, it is the duty of parents and the government to ensure that girls are educated because it will benefit everyone.”

In the same vein, Executive Director, Centre for Corrections and Human Development, Mrs. Obioma Agoziem, said part of the challenges facing the girl child in Nigeria include gender discrimination, gender-based labour division, genital mutilation, early marriage, lack of education and sexual abuse.

“A girl child from the northern part of Nigeria is faced with more issues than her counterpart from the south. She has a higher tendency of not go to school; it is very easy to give her out in marriage as early as age 11. This has exposed so many to Vesico-Vagina Fistula (VVF) problems and some are eventually ostracised because of the nature of the disease.

“The most common and worrisome issue of the girl child is sexual abuse. The girl child is exposed to constant abuse from those close to them. Some cultures, particularly in the Southeast, discriminate against the girl child from inheriting any landed property. She is always at the receiving end,” she added.