The profound role of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of the United Kingdom on girls’ education in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. As a big brother to Nigeria, the United Kingdom has continued to show exemplary leadership by funding the Girls’ Education Project (GEP) considering that poverty in any society cannot be utterly eradicated without paying critical attention to child education, particularly girls. Understandably, the concern is borne out of commitment that education is a fundamental human right which every child should enjoy, and no child should be left behind. The attention on girls’ education is premium and synchronizes an adage; when you educate a girl, you educate a nation!
Unfortunately, common gender norms continue to put girls at a disadvantage, lead them to drop out of school at higher rates as well as engage in harmful practices such as child marriage. Every day, girls face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms and practices, poor infrastructure, violence and fragility, and many others. In developing nations including Nigeria, tradition pushes parents to prioritize the education of their sons over their daughters and reduce them to mere child-bearing and house-keeping. These are misnomers. Educated girls are emphatically, healthier citizens who raise healthier families to contribute to economic growth of the countries. Globally, women play critical roles in the economic growth of nations when properly educated. Examples are Ms. Amina Jane Mohammed and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; the Deputy UN Secretary-General and the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) respectively, among other high-profile women in key positions around the world.
From records, there are 18.5 million out of school children currently in Nigeria, 60 percent of these out-of-school children are girls – that is over 10 million girls are out of school. It is also held that 1 in 5 of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. Data also shows complex and multidimensional constraints in accessing and completing secondary education for adolescent girls in northern Nigeria. Meanwhile, education remains the most impactful way to empower girls and eradicate inequality. It must be noted that educating a girl changes many things – her destiny, as well as those of her future children, and ensures that she can contribute meaningfully to the economic life of her community.
According to World Bank report in 2012, “Girls’ education, especially at the secondary level, is consistently found to not only positively influence girls’ lives, but also drive other positive development outcomes, including a reduction in child and maternal mortality rates, improvements in educational outcomes of offspring, and reducing poverty and promoting equitable growth”. Malala Yousafzai, a renowned Girls’ Education Rights activist and Nobel laureate underscored this position.
“Girls have the power to boost economies, create jobs, make communities safer and drive change… If leaders are serious about building a better world, they need to start with serious investments in girls’ secondary education. When 130 million girls are unable to become engineers or journalists or CEOs because education is out of their reach, our world misses out on trillions of money that could strengthen the global economy, public health and stability”, Yousafzai stated.
However, through the FCDO-funded interventions, access to education for girls is gradually being expanded, resulting in no fewer than 1.4 million girls currently having access to education in northern Nigeria. The interventions on girls’ education in Nigeria termed GEP (Girls’ Education Project) which is presently at the third phase is comparatively yielding positive results.
In Kano State, for example, through GEP-3 funded by FCDO, 300 SBMC members have been trained, and selected schools have developed School Emergency Preparedness and Response Plans to mitigate the impact of potential and actual threats on schools. At Ja’en Special Primary School in Gwale LGA precisely, the school which used to record low school attendance in classrooms is now in dire demand of more teachers and classrooms to cope with the upsurge as a classroom and teacher now cater for as much as 180 pupils and even leading to morning and afternoon class sections. The PDM (professional development meeting) for upgrading and retraining teachers is pertinent. The encounters from a field trip recently are reassuring.
Nonetheless, a lot still needs to be done to ensure that every girl in Nigeria is enrolled, attends school and completes her education. The female enrolment ratio according to NPA/UBEC Survey by grades (2017/18) shows that girls enrolment and sustenance in schools are gradually picking up through the interventions. UNICEF, with funding from FCDO collaborates with the government in building the capacity of School-Based Management Committees (SBMCs) and Community-Based Management Committees (CBMCs) on enrollment drives, school safety and security, and to make communities more resilient. Also, the unique integrated approaches – involving mothers as well as girls-for-girls is creditable.
Now, the unpleasant part is that the GEP-3 which started in 2012 will round off on September 22, 2022. The project currently covers the five states in northern Nigeria viz. Bauchi, Niger, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara, (and later Kano from 2018) that have the highest proportion of out-of-school girls. It is therefore dangerous, ill-timed for FCDO to pull out at this point. By the said figures of out-of-school children particularly girls, a lot still needs to be done for a desirable future.
Instructively, education is a powerful agent of change which improves health and livelihoods, contributes to social stability alongside drives long-term economic growth. On the other hand, the costs of not educating children, particularly girls, are titanic. Let’s not go there. It literally affects the entire society in the long run. Uneducated populace often manifests through public nuisances, banditry, kidnapping, religion extremism and other social vices as prevalent in Nigeria presently.
Thus, FCDO and other stakeholders should considerably do a review towards sustaining the momentum. It should be seen further than ‘Nigeria’s internal affair’ considering that the beneficiaries could migrate to other countries including UK, USA, others when they grow up. Thus, the investments in children will certainly produce good harvests wherever they may find themselves as adults. So, teamwork remains the way forward.
Umegboro is an Associate of The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (United Kingdom), public affairs analyst and social advocate.