Education is the best investment in development. Not only is it a basic human right, but there is an undisputed positive correlation between the enrollment of girls in primary school and the gross national product and increase of life expectancy. Yet, 121 million children worldwide are out of school, 10.5 million being in Nigeria. This makes Nigeria the country with the largest number of out-of-school children in the world, with 80 percent being girls!
Barriers to girls’ education
There are various cultural and socioeconomic issues that prevent girls from going to school. One prominent cultural view is that it is better for the woman to stay home and learn to tend to her family instead of attending school. The Nigerian tradition attaches higher value to a man than a woman, whose place is believed to be the kitchen. Nigerian culture also holds the belief of male superiority and female subordination. These patriarchal practices give preference to educating boys rather than girls.
Many families also often cannot afford to send their children to school. With almost 70 percent of the population living below the poverty, parents can only send one child to school. Although in theory school is free, in practice parents pay fees i.e. textbooks, crafts etc. And because daughters have assumed responsibilities in the home, they are less likely to be the one to attend school.
Another barrier to girls’ education is early marriage. Early/child marriage is a common practice in Nigeria, with 47 percent of women becoming mothers before they reach the age of 20. Young married girls and mothers are less likely to attend school. Only 2 per cent of 15-19 year old married girls attend school, compared to 69 per cent of unmarried girls. Lack of education further limits girls only to their reproductive roles-submissive wives and mothers.
Schools also play an important role in girls’ education-or lack of it. Most schools have inadequate classroom space, furniture and equipment, and are often too remotely located. Water, health and sanitation facilities are usually inadequate. More disturbing, however, is gender inequity in classrooms. Some teachers are bias in their attitudes towards girls, further imposing a learning disadvantage and affecting their academic achievement.
Sexual harassment is commonly practiced in schools and universities, thus failing to provide a safe environment for adolescent girls. As one girl says:
“When I was in school, male teachers used to want to sleep with female students…. The teachers will trouble you up to the extent that if you do not accept them, you will fail their subjects and at the end of the day you will want to leave the school.”
The situation for girls’ education in Nigeria is clearly in need of urgent reform. After all, educated girls are known to develop essential life skills, including: self-confidence, the ability to participate effectively in society, and protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and sexual exploitation. Educated girls also contribute to national wealth and improve general health of future generations.
Girls and women have the potential to transform Nigeria. Investing in girls will not only improve productivity and growth, but will also lead to a more healthy and skilled future generation.
In general, it is recommended to keep girls in schools by:
Creating incentives for all girls to attend school and complete their education
Encouraging Nigerian states to allocate more of their budges to schools and teacher trainings
Creating incentives for teachers to provide quality education and equal treatment among students
Establishing policies and mechanisms to protect girls from sexual harassment i.e. awareness programs, help lines, counselling, medical assistance for those who have been sexually abused, and punishment and full application of the law on any proven and established case of sexual harassment within any educational institution
What can you do?
Support organizations that support girls and women’s education, such as DeltaWomen
Donate to organizations that have a proven track record of helping integrate girls in the education system
Raise awareness on the subject through DeltaWomen’s facebook, twitter, and blog site.
Online campaign: A great site for organizing online campaigns is http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?vl