Education As Investment in the Girl-Child

We sat staring at the report for a long time speechless and disturbed.The report made us sad. The research was produced by a group of Nigerians from various sectors, from the academia, legal profession, development partners and civil society groups.

The report showed that education in Northern Nigeria was in a poor shape. According to the national summary of primary school statistics, some states in the north such as Jigawa, record girls' completion rates as low as 7.8%. Factors such as parent unwillingness to send their daughters to school due to the position of girls in family, accounted for this. Similarly, the net enrolment rate for girls into secondary school by 2008 was 22%. Although there is a policy of free education in Nigeria, data suggests that there are still significant disparities between girls and boys education and literature reveals that there exists hidden cost which deter parents and cause girls to drop out of school.

Without losing sight of the fact that it is the duty of government to provide education for all Nigerians, we also felt that government should not be left to do it alone. We decided that it was a wakeup call for Girl Child Concerns to do more and developed a proposal. Girl Child Concerns GCC is a registered non- governmental organization in Nigeria dedicated to improving the lives of youth particularly girls through improved education opportunities while ensuring availability of qualitative broad based education for all young people regardless of class or gender in the country. It has established The Female Student Scholarship FSS scheme, through which we hope to offer these children educational opportunities and also instil in them a sense of social responsibility and a commitment to helping others. We currently have 54 girls on our scholarship scheme in three states, fourteen in Kaduna, twenty in Katsina, twenty in Jos while selection for Sokoto beneficiaries is ongoing.

This project aims at giving girl children opportunities to attain the highest level of educational pursuits in their lives without financial constraints. The scheme provides scholarship to girls in secondary schools. These girls must meet the criteria of being above average intelligence in academic performance and come from a poor family background. The scholarship is responsible for all academic expenses which include school fees, uniforms, books and other academic requirements. We decided to write proposals to funders to expand our FSS project

With the following goals:

  • - To increase girls' enrolment, retention and completion of secondary education in Kano state
  • - To enhance transition from primary to secondary education among girls in local communities in Kano state Nigeria
  • - To create community awareness and sustain interest of community members in girl child education
  • - To build the confidence of girls and empower them to be responsible members of society and have a focus on pursuing education.
  • - To discourage and reduce early marriage, hawking and child labour
  • - To expand access to secondary education for underserved girls in this region. (A major category of these underserved girls are the married adolescent girls, hawkers and those sent on child labour

We see it as a paradox and are concerned that the states with the poorest education statistics are predominantly Muslim states whereas Islam makes education compulsory for all. Education is a fundamental right for girls and fulfilling this basic right is the only way to realize other rights of the girl child. In Nigeria, there is a sharp decline in the standard of education, particularly in the northern part of the country and there is a corresponding decrease in girls' enrolment, retention and completion of senior secondary school in the region. Early marriage is common in Northern Nigeria, and girls are often married shortly after puberty, i.e. between the ages of 12 to 13 and this is the period when most are expected to transit to secondary school. This high rate of early marriage not only deprives them from pursuing their education but it is also linked to early sexual initiation and early exposure to reproductive risk, early and unattended first birth, and other related health and social problems like VVF, divorce, broken homes which by extension has its attendant problems on society.

Although, the Universal Basic Education provides for Primary and Early Secondary Education in Nigeria, this initiative has not succeeded in bridging the gaps between girls and boys enrolment in particular, and increased enrolment and completion of secondary education in general. To date, the disparity between girls and boys enrolment in secondary education remains a threat to government especially in achieving its Millennium Development Goals that seeks to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and at all levels of education no later than 2015.

The GCC project is designed to mobilize and strengthen communities to come together and be the vanguards and agents of change by ensuring an increase in the number of children that transit to secondary school especially girls. It also aims at building community- based programs that emphasize on the importance of girl child education and the effects of early marriage so that parents and other community players become sustainable agents of girl education. The need to encourage all girls to be enrolled in school and to retain them in the school system is imperative as education not only improves the worth and self esteem of the girl child but also enables her to become an economically productive woman and delays her marriage age.

The GCC project will address key, locally based issues affecting girls' enrolment, retention and completion of secondary education in Kano state. Community orientation and inadequate awareness on girl child education, which mould the opinion of community members, remain one of the major problems affecting girl child education in northern Nigeria. Proper reorientation of parents and other community actors will be done to build their confidence and regain their interest in girl child education. The transition process from primary to secondary education is a major barrier. The project has designed a transition facility that will aid easy transition for girls. It is a known fact that low completion of girls in primary school invariably result in decrease in girls' enrolment into secondary education.

To this end, this project is built upon the fundamental issue of lack of community awareness on girl child education. It is designed to test innovations for smooth transition from primary to secondary education and increase enrolment, retention and completion of secondary education.

Some of the activities GCC will undertake include:

  • - Ground Breaking Assessment: This involves community assessment and familiarization tour; identifying key community players, community based women groups, community forums and PTAs.
  • - Pre- sensitisation workshop, which will be community based and as such involve community people who will be trained on the importance of girl child education, advocacy strategies and communication skills. This is to equip them with requisite skills for reaching out to other members of their communities.
  • - An advocacy and sensitization campaign will be embarked upon in identified villages in Kano state. This will involve trained community members, including GCC scholarship beneficiaries. They will carry out sensitization messages to the general public, community leaders, and local government authorities on the importance and benefits of girl child education in their communities and the nation. The girls will share their testimonies with them in local languages and encourage parents of girls to support their daughters in school.
  • - Community Forums: These forums will be organized exclusively for village heads/ community leaders, religious leaders, women forums/associations, local government authorities, PTAs. If our proposal gets funded, we would have contributed our quota to easing the education emergency in Northern Nigeria.

Daily Trust, Written by Hajiya Bilkisu (mni)