NIGERIA’S EXPERIENCE WITH GIRLS’ EDUCATION AND LINKAGES WITH ACTION ON ADULT FEMALE LITERACY TO IMPACT ON POVERTY ALLEVIATION

 

By Mrs. Chinwe Nora Obaji, the Honorable Minister of Education, Federao Republic of Nigeria

 

It is indeed my pleasure to address you at this UNGEI Technical Meeting with the theme: “Girls' Education and Female Adult Literacy: From Vicious Cycle to Virtuous Cycle”. Permit me to first extend to you very warm greetings from the President, and Commander-in-Chief, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR , the Government and people of Nigeria . Permit me also to express our sincere thanks to our hosts, the Honourable Minister of Education of the Peoples' Republic of China and the Chinese Government for the wonderful arrangements made for this meeting.

 

Nigeria recognizes education as a fundamental human right and is signatory to the major conventions for the protection of the rights of children and women, especially, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In 2003, the Government of Nigeria passed into Law the Child Rights Act. This Act is aimed at facilitating the realization and protection of the rights of all children. In the quest to achieve the objectives of EFA and MDGs, Nigeria also enacted the Universal Basic Education (UBE) law, which provides for a 9-year free and compulsory basic education to fast-track education interventions at the primary and junior secondary levels. The Government of Nigeria has been working in active collaboration with International Development Partners such as the UNICEF, DFID, UNESCO, USAID, JICA, World Bank as well as Civil Society and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) to achieve the EFA/UBE goals.

 

Gender equity in education has been one of the main goals targeted by Nigeria since the 1990 World Conference on Education For All (EFA), in Jomtien , Thailand . This commitment has been renewed in several international fora, including the United Nations Decade for Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI).

 

In Nigeria, there is a national gender disparity in basic education enrolment, retention and completion against girls . In addition there are regional variations in gender disparity in education with girls and women from Northern Nigeria and rural communities generally at a disadvantage.

 

Nigeria 's Strategy for Girls

 

Building on existing Child Friendly School Initiative which is supported by UNICEF, Nigeria has developed the Strategy for the Acceleration of Girls' Education, which evolved into SAGEN+ and now being reinforced by the new Girls' Education Project (GEP). This is a substantial joint undertaking by the Federal Government of Nigeria, DFID and UNICEF to boost girls' schooling in Northern Nigeria and accelerate progress towards the MDGs, especially with respect to gender equity.

 

The major objectives of the Girls' Education Project (GEP) include:

  • Raising national awareness on girl-child education and increasing political and financial commitment through advocacy and sensitization of policy makers at all levels, parents, school authorities, other leaders and girls themselves.
  • Developing technical capacity of schools and teachers' pedagogical skills to create girl-friendly school environments that enhance the participation of girls and improve learning outcomes.
  • Establishing Child-Friendly School principles as minimum benchmarks for effective schools, linked to community empowerment and development.
  • Creating school management committees with community involvement and participation.
  • Building institutional capacity for promoting girls' education and the capacity of stakeholders on gender sensitivity and sexuality.
  • Collaborating with Government and other stakeholders in reviewing existing curricula and teaching materials for gender sensitivity.
  • Promoting the employment of more female teachers in the rural areas, where they are most needed to serve as role models and assist in the mentoring of out-of-school girls.
  • Monitoring and evaluating of girls' education programmes and mobilizing and strengthening the Inspectorate's role in this process.
  • Promoting synergy between girls' education and poverty alleviation programmes.
  • Improving service delivery with all stakeholders, providing more girls' only schools where appropriate, and improving facilities (including access to safe water and separate toilets for girls) and instructional materials for the promotion of quality education.  

In pursuance of these objectives, advocacy visits have been extended to six Northern States of Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Katsina , Niger and Sokoto states.

 

Support Programs in the FME

 

A number of programs and projects have been undertaken by the Federal Ministry of Education to strengthen the GEP so as to ensure its sustainability. Some of the activity nodes include:

 

  • The restructuring of the Federal Inspectorate Service through quality control capacity building efforts in collaboration with International Development Partners like UNESCO, World Bank, DFID, etc., to address the falling standard in teaching and low learning achievements among pupils. This is designed to enhance competences of teachers and pedagogical skills. The Inspectorate service is therefore being enhanced to develop a framework to guide quality assurance at the primary and secondary levels of education.
  • The National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC) in collaboration with UNICEF, UNESCO and the Cuban Government provide support for adult literacy through education radio programmes and supportive materials. This collaborative initiative enhances the nexus between adult literacy and girls' education. The use of radio is a key strategy in providing education to nomadic populations through Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) which is supplemented by print and audio-visual materials. The scheme, which has two components, (school-based IRI and adult education IRI) is being implemented by the National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE).
  • The impact of HIV/AIDS has increased the number of school dropouts and reduced access to education, while increasing the number of school-age children who are out of school. My Ministry's HIV/AIDS Unit, in collaboration with our development partners, has developed the Family Life HIV/AIDS curriculum and revived the Education Sector Response to Adolescent, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and has up-scaled the education sector intervention through advocacy programmes.

 

Recent Achievements and Impact

 

As a result of increasing government commitment, greater awareness has been created nationwide on girls' education, with the launch and dissemination of the SAGEN in July 2003 and a pledge by my Ministry to mainstream girls' education into the EFA Plan. Some States in northern Nigeria have already promulgated edicts to support the promotion of girls' education. For example, Kano State has prohibited the collection of all forms of fees in Girls' Secondary Schools. Similarly, Gombe State promulgated an edict against the withdrawal of girls from schools, while Niger , Bauchi and Yobe States have removed financial disincentives affecting girls' enrolment in secondary schools. Those who have dropped out as a result of early marriages and/or teenage pregnancy are encouraged to return to school, as is the case with the Women Day College in Minna , Niger State.

 

The effort of Federal Government of Nigeria and UNICEF in promoting the African Girls Education Initiative (AGEI) (2002-2004), which was funded by the Norwegian Government, recorded remarkable progress in terms of enrolment and retention. The AGEI Evaluation Report revealed a 28% increase in Girls' Education Retention (GER) and 80% decrease in drop-out rate for Girls in the 22 pilot primary schools supported by the programme. The gender gap in states that benefited from the AGEI reduced appreciably, for example Sokoto the gender gap fell from 41% to 38%, while AGEI ensured that more communities assumed ownership of schools, through increased vibrancy of schools' mothers' clubs, the tracking of school age children not enrolled in schools, advocacy for HIV/AIDS protective behaviour, and the abolition of harmful traditional practices.

 

Persisting Challenges:

 

The following differences and gender disparities still pose residual challenges:

 

1. Gender and geographic disparities persist and the age group disparities constitute a formidable challenge for Government. The 2004 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) EdData showed that a significant proportion of primary school pupils fall outside the official age range for primary schooling. Whereas the primary school Net Attendance Ratio (NAR) is 60 percent, the Gross Attendance Ratio is 91, indicating that for every 60 pupils aged between 6 to 11 years, there are 31 pupils who are either younger than age 6 or older than age 11. As is the case with the NAR, the male GAR (98) exceeds the female GAR (84), producing a gender parity index of 0.86.

 

2. Geographic differences in both net and gross attendance ratios are also substantial. The primary school Net Attendance Ratio in the South-West (83 percent), in the South-South (82 percent), and in the South-East (80 percent), are nearly twice as high as the NAR in the North- West (42 percent) and North-East (44 percent).

 

Literacy differences between the various geographic zones are also dramatic. In 1999, the national adult literacy rate was estimated to be about 50 - 58% for males and 41% for females (a 17% gap). The overall literacy rate for urban males was 75% compared with 59% for females (16% gap), while gender disparity was higher in rural areas than in urban areas with 51% of rural males being literate compared with 34% rural females (17% gap).

 

3. Access to formal schooling still poses a problem. It is estimated that 7.3 million children, of whom 60% are girls, are not in school. D ropout is more pronounced at grade six level, where more than 17% of children drop out of school yearly.

 

4. The drop-out issue has multifarious dimensions, the most significant of which are: early marriage for girls in the North, boys and girls engagement in income generating activities to supplement household income in the South Eastern and North-Eastern parts of the country, respectively, as well as in major state capitals. The poor quality of the education system and perceived weak employment prospects for school and university leavers are also key factors affecting drop-out and low transition from primary to junior secondary schools.

 

5. Recent Monitoring Learning Achievement studies conducted on primary four and six pupils in the formal system, as well as adolescents and youths in post literacy classes in the non-formal system in Nigeria, revealed much weaker than expected performance in the three key skill areas of literacy, numeracy and life skills for both boys and girls in both systems. This low level of learning achievement is attributable to poor teacher quality, scarcity and/or inadequacy of teaching and learning materials and a general absence of learner-friendly environment.

 

Alternative Approaches

 

It is encouraging however, to see that parents in some parts of the country, especially in the North, are willing to let their daughters participate in other forms of education/training which are of shorter duration, close to their area of residence and have flexible scheduling. These learning centres are perceived to be more compatible with their cultural beliefs, and more likely to give them functional skills and assuring them of future employment. For the aforementioned reasons, the Non-formal approach to education, which includes Islamic education, has found greater appeal in the northern part of Nigeria .

 

Since 1997, UNICEF has been working with the Federal Government of Nigeria through the National Mass Literacy Commission and with other agencies to provide three forms of Non-Formal Education Programmes: (i) Non-Formal Education Girls' Education, (ii) Non-Formal Education Qur'anic Education and (iii) Non-Formal Education out of school boys' Education. These three modalities specifically target out-of-school children, adolescents and youth between the ages of 8-18 years, who are unable to complete formal primary education, or have never been to school. The Non-Formal Education Qur'anic education programme, which has a great appeal in the Northern states, especially Borno, Sokoto, Kano, Bauchi, has integrated four core subjects (mathematics, English Language, Basic Science and Social Studies) into the conventional Qur'anic curriculum. The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Law also makes provision for the integration of Non-Formal Education, including Qur'anic education, in order to ensure that the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized children are equally addressed.

 

In the needs analysis that informed the design of Girls' Education Project (GEP), it became clear that illiterate women in the focus communities were also very keen to become literate and numerate. Adult literacy was therefore included in the project design. One particular activity that exemplified how linkages are being established between skills training , literacy, income generation and girls' attendance in primary school is the training of mothers and older girls in literacy and skills, including provision of resources for school uniforms for their daughters.

 

Expanding Partnerships

 

In support of Strategy for Accelerating Girls' Education in Nigeria (SAGEN), other major partners are also reinforcing their efforts for girls' education. The World Bank has recently recruited a focal point for girls education; UNESCO has commissioned research in this area, United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) has been supporting girls' education to ensure that more girls' remain in school longer and USAID are considering scaling up their work with Islamiyah schools in Northern Nigeria, as such schools often recruit more girls than boys. The Ambassador's Girls Schooling Programme (an initiative of USAID) provides US$60 per child for indigent families. A total of 13 states are targeted with two states per geo-political zone plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Fifteen pupils per state are to benefit from the programme with the funds disbursed through NGOs. Furthermore, all the major partners are mainstreaming gender across their work.

 

Working with civil society

 

In Nigeria , UNICEF works in close partnership with Civil Society in both formal and non-formal sub-sectors, including partnership with Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All ( CSACEFA), the Civil Society Coalition for Education – an umbrella organization encompassing NGOs around the country. As a result of this collaboration, the Nigerian Girls' Education Initiative was created this year and involves over 20 NGOs operating under Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA). The NGEI forum meets quarterly to synergize plans with NGOs involved in girls' education around the country. The last meeting this year will benefit from good practice sharing in both formal and non-formal interventions at the grassroots level. The Non-Governmental Organization for Literacy Support Services (NOLGASS) operates under Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All to coordinate NGOs in Non-Formal Education. There is regular information sharing, participation in planning, capacity building and in monitoring and evaluation activities. The NGO sector constitutes a good delivery alternative especially in some parts of the country where access is not easy.

 

Conclusion :

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Despite the above achievements, a major challenge remains as over 7 million school-age children still do not go to school, while at least 17% of those who go to school do not complete primary 6. Additionally, the quality of what is learned at school still requires substantial improvement in teacher competences and learning environment. This low capacity not only reduces the level of learning but also compromises literacy and employment opportunities.

 

Poverty has been a major factor in the chronic under-enrolment of all pupils, especially girls. Many parents are so poor that they pull their children out of school for income generating activities, rather than paying for their children's school fees so as to sustain their families. In such cases, non-formal training can improve both literacy and employment prospects by providing “second chance” education to take care of drop-outs. Measures should be taken to ensure that more non-formal educational opportunities are made available to help children escape the poverty trap.

 

 

Thank you for your attention.