To say that the future of any society lies in her ability to develop an efficient educational system that gives all citizens equal right to education is just a reaffirmation of universally acknowledged fact. Even the categorisation of countries as developed, developing or underdeveloped is simply and basically by looking at the functionality of educational institutions and policies. If these institutions are designed to work, and are seen to be working, it, therefore, means that human development in such a society is guaranteed. According to United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), about 263 million school-age-children, adolescent and youth worldwide are out of school. That is, one in every five children is out of school globally. And it is on record that one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria, two-thirds of those who cannot read and write are women and over sixty percent of children not in school are girls; majority of them in northern Nigeria. Quite sure, northern Nigeria had produced some influential women that are recognized nationwide and internationally.
For instance, Justice Binta Nyako, a Nigeria’s federal high court judge, is a woman from Adamawa state of Nigeria who in the past few months nullifies a multi-billion-dollar sale of Etisalat to Teleology Nigeria Limited and voided the steps taken in relation to the exchange of the ownership. Had she not been educated, she couldn’t have risen to the position she is occupying now talk less of making any impact in the country. Amina Muhammad, an indigene of Gombe state in Nigeria was the country’s former minister of environment and currently the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations. This couldn’t have been achieved without education support. The general belief is that when you educate a man, you educate only one person but when you educate a woman, you educate an entire nation.
Despite decades of educational reformation in Nigeria, many girl-children have little or no access to basic education and majority of them are situated in the north with the number increasing every day. One of the problems is the displacement of the societal recognition of the value of girl-child education in the north. This arose because of many reasons including the standpoint that a woman’s place is in her husband’s home and primarily to take care of her husband and children. Thus, many girls in the north are not fortunate to have education past the secondary school level. From the moment a girl child attains the age of 12 in a typical northern community, elders begin to feel it is high time she got married.
Only a handful talk about her education and are consequently tagged as westernised and polluted. When a girl is given out on marriage at a very tender age, she is usually deprived of her right to education and is doomed to be an illiterate forever except for the few lucky ones whose husbands give them the opportunity to school after wedding. Some girls are even withdrawn from secondary school simply because of the belief that the higher the girl’s educational qualification the lower her chances of getting a suitable husband. The problem could also be linked to the economic stagnation of the north. The impoverished condition of the citizenry serves as a barrier to girl-child education. It is now common to find school-age-girls engaged in hawking rather than attending school. Most parents preferred street hawking and early marriage to sending their wards to school. This attitude and other traditional beliefs, to a large extent, hamper the girl-child education.
Above all, some people believe that it is not necessary to educate girls because they do not carry on the family name like boys. If at all they send their children, it is usually restricted to the male children who according to such parents would occupy their place in the case of death while the girls would at the end of their education be taken to another person’s house after marriage. For this clumsy reason, they think educating her is a waste of resources and misplacement of priority forgetting the fact that whatever a girl-child becomes in life, she would still maintain that linkage with her family no matter what.
Indubitably, education is a prevailing organ that thrusts individuals and nations to a desirable position and to achieve this, both boys and girls should have equal access to these resources. Girls must be treated equally with boys to attain educational qualification, which is necessary to increase their participation in different development programs. But before this could materialize, there is need for parents and community at large to recognise the importance of girl-child education. They should see the economic and social benefits of girls’ education against the dowry which they value more.
For this reason, the government should strengthen the basic adult literacy programmes. These programmes could assist parents to recognise the value of formal education and in turn discard the out dated cultural practices that hamper girls’ access and participation in education. If the government could implement policies to ensure gender parity and enrol back girls who dropped out of school, it will go a long way in alleviating the problem.
Bello writes from Department of Mass Communication, ABU, Zaria via [email protected]