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Nigeria: Newsline

Promoting girls' eduction: The experience of Nigeria

The Executive Governor of Bauchi State, his wife, The First Lady of Nigeria and Minster of State for Education at the official launch of the Bauchi State Chapter of NGEI in Bauchi.

NIGERIA, 27 May 2008 - Nigeria recognizes education as a fundamental human right and is signatory to the major conventions for the protection of the rights of children (girls and boys) and women. In 2004, the country enacted the Universal Basic Education (UBE) law to fast-track attainment of EFA Goals. The enabling legislation – ‘The Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act’, provides for a 9 year continuous education [comprising 6-year primary and 3-year junior secondary] known as ‘basic education’. All states have now passed UBE Laws.

The 2005 National School Census (NSC) revealed a net primary enrolment ratio [NER] of 83.71% [male=87.01%; female=81.39%] suggesting that a substantial proportion [16%] of the primary school age population [6-11 years] was not enrolled in primary schools. This may look encouraging but there are large geographical and gender disparities between the south and north regions of Nigeria, partly due to underlying socio-cultural factors. Girls’ NER in some states in the South are as high as 70% while some in the north are as low as 24%.

The picture is worse in secondary schools with the national female enrolment ratio at 44%. The regional breakdown shows an alarming disparity with girls NER of 60% in the south-west while the North West shows a dismal 10%.

Between 2002 and 2005, completion rates have improved for boys by 3% (from 83.4% to 86.4%), while they declined for girls by 8% (from 83% to 75 %).  Gender participation (measured by gender ratio - GR]) still favoured males with wide variations in gender gap in access to primary education across the states and zones.

The underlying causes include the low value accorded by parents to girls’ education, early marriages, poverty, low quality learning environments and low value accorded to girls’ education, harmful practices, local beliefs, and norms that impact negatively on girls’ education. Against this backdrop, the Federal Government is making efforts to ensure that children everywhere, both boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary education. This is done in close partnership with development partners, civil society organizations, private sector, philanthropic individuals and organizations.

UNICEF Nigeria and other development partners have been working with the Government of Nigeria to promote girls education and various initiatives have been undertaken including the current Girls Education Project (GEP) geared towards promoting and enhancing girls’ participation in education. The GEP was inspired by an earlier initiative, the African Girls' Education Initiative (AGEI) delivered through UNICEF and its government partners and funded by the Norwegian Government. This intervention recorded remarkable progress including a 28% increase in Girls’ GER and an 80% decrease in drop out rates for girls in the intervention schools. AGEI emanated from the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) and led to the establishment of the Nigerian Girls’ Education Initiative (NGEI) whose main aim is to improve the quality of life of girls in Nigeria through a collaborative approach to their education, with strong networks with CSOs and Federal and State governments.

© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Nesbitt
A young girl participates in a class session at a primary school in Dass Town of Bauchi State.

Subsequent to AGEI, UNICEF also supported the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) to develop the Strategy for the Acceleration of Girls’ Education in Nigeria (SAGEN), after Nigeria's inclusion in the UNICEF supported '25 by 2005' global initiative in 2003. This national FME/UNICEF initiative then developed into SAGEN+ in early 2004, with support from other major international development partners.

The Girls’ Education Project (GEP) emerged from this broader strategic alliance as a tripartite undertaking by DFID, the Government of Nigeria and UNICEF. It is also the largest DFID/UNICEF partnership in the world with the aim to boosting girls’ participation in Northern Nigeria where it is being implemented in six northern States (Bauchi, Sokoto, Jigawa, Katsina, Borno and Niger). The girls’ education initiatives take an inter-sectoral approach, including interventions in the fields of health, water and sanitation and income generation activities to support girls in school to accelerate progress towards MDGs 2 and 3, but also impact on the other six MDGs, especially the health MDGs.

The Girls' Education Project has continued to record success in acess to eduction for girls since its inception. Increases in enrolment and attendance rates and decrease in gender gaps have been experienced during the project implementation phase. On average, in the project implemntation focus communities, girls’ enrolment has increased by an average of 73% from 2005. This has resulted in an overall reduction of gender gaps in the GEP focus schools from 44% in 2005 to 31% in 2007. Attendance rates have also improved, with an 11.9% increment in the GEP focus schools, with that of girls increasing by 39%. Much of the overall success is attributable to sustained political commitment at the federal and state levels including increased funding to support girls education, development of policies incuding the National policy on Gender in Basic Education, focussing on mainstreaming gender in educational planning and implementation, the establishment of School Based Management Committees in all schools in Nigeria, the multi-sectoral policy for Integrated Early Childhood Care and Development, the National School Health Policy and the Ntional Education Sector HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan.

These major outcomes exemplify the overall systemic impact on the girls education interventions and the education sector as a whole. Government efforts in addressing gender issues in education have been strong. Currently, in close collaboration with DFID, UNESCO Paris and the MDG support Team (UNDP New York), UNICEF is supporting the Federal Ministry of Education and State governments in developing well costed sector plans factoring in the issues that affect girls’ education. Other interventions include:

Strong Partnerships: Strong networks through the NGEI, with partnership with NGOs that support girls’ education.  NGEI’s grand patron is the First Lady of the nation, while the wives of Governors at the state levels are the patrons of the State chapters. Their involvement and push for support for girls education has garnered in more support for girls education, pushing for results, increased funding, improved facilities and evidenced based advocacy with traditional and religious leaders in favour of girls’ participation in schools.

School Based Management Committees (SBMC): The establishment of SBMCs is a policy requirement in all schools in Nigeria. The SBMC is a structure representing all key stakeholders of the community working with the school to improve the management and ensure improved teaching and learning for the children.  They represent the participation of the community in school administration and have the potential to transform, sustain education, and promote school governance at the grassroots level. The SBMC involves the head teacher, teacher representatives, pupil representatives (when appropriate), representatives of the PTA and other stakeholders from the community, including religious and traditional leaders.

SBMCs have been rallying points for collaborative actions; the communities through the SBMCs have been empowered have a voice in the running and management of the school as well as providing support to girls education. Women’s participation includes involvement in mobilization and sensitization of other women folk on the need for the education of the girl-child, and ensuring gender mainstreaming in school management. The involvement and support of stakeholders at the community level has been a key to the success and the sustainability of the effort in reducing the gender gap and moving towards equity in education.

Kusada LGA GEP Steering Committee, Katsina State provided bicycles to six girls to facilitate their transition to the Junior Secondary School.

Student Tutoring, Mentoring and Counseling (STUMEC): The Student Tutoring, Mentoring and Counseling (STUMEC) programme is an initiative aimed at supporting children, especially girls, throughout their learning period to help improve learning achievement and retention in schools. The support is provided by peer tutors, teacher tutors, mentors and role models from the community. This is especially for children at risk of failing or dropping out, particularly girls, who are prone to vulnerabilities due to many factors, among them the socio-cultural influences. Through the implementation of this initiative, learning has become more participatory, with mentoring and counseling contributing to the retention of children in school, lowering drop out rates. The initiative also contributes to improvement of internal efficiency through reducing the percentages of students who repeat a class or are expelled from school. This is achieved through the provision of developmental, preventive and remedial services to pupils as a means of helping them reach their goals.

Advocacy and Sensitization: Raising national awareness in girl-child education has increased political and financial commitment through advocacy and sensitization of policy makers at all levels,  parents, school authorities, other leaders and girls’ themselves. High level advocacy to policy makers, traditional and religious leaders as well as continuous sensitization/mobilization of communities promote commitment to implementation, ownership and sustainability of girls education interventions. The high level advocacy included meetings with state governors and leading Islamic figures, such as the most revered Sultan of Sokoto who provides leadership to the traditional rulers for and targeted communication strategy that has contributed to effective advocacy towards girls’ education. Use of and consistent reinforcing of key messages such as the call that educating all children is a religious duty, drawing on evidence from the Qur’an and other religious texts, has influenced many parents to take their children, particularly girls to school. It has been experienced that when properly informed, community leaders play a crucial role in tackling issues of low priority for girls’ education, child labour, early marriages, wrong perception of ‘Western’ education as being incompatible with traditional/religious/cultural beliefs and practices and the skeptical attitudes towards the benefits and outcomes of  educating girls.

School Health Programming: The girls’ education interventions have integrated strong component of health, hygiene and HIV/AIDS education. The notion is to reduce morbidity among girls and thus improve retention and achievement.  At present, all project focus schools have environmental health clubs which facilitate hygiene promotion. The schools also have water and sanitation facilities which are necessary for promoting health of pupils especially girls. Materials for learning on health education and family life and HIV/AIDS education developed in the schools have also provided opportunities for girls to improve their health.

The provision of quality education services at the school level, and ensuring that the minimum standards of a child friendly school environment are met leads to increased confidence of community members on education and increased enrolment and improved attendance, especially that of girls. Water and sanitation facilities in the communities and in schools in particular have contributed to improved life of not only school pupils but parents as well and greatly contributed to increased enrolment and retention of children in school, particularly girls. Young girls have reported that having clean toilets available at school has really changed their attitudes to attending school.

Other interventions undertaken include: (1) establishing child-friendly school principles as minimum benchmarks for effective schools linked to community empowerment and development; (2) Building institutional capacity for promoting girls’ education and the capacity of stakeholders on gender sensitivity and sexuality; (3) Collaborating with Government and other stakeholders in reviewing existing curricula and teaching materials for gender sensitivity, promoting the employment of more female teachers to serve as role models and mentoring out-of-school girls; and (4) Monitoring and evaluating of girls’ education programmes and mobilizing and strengthening inspectorate for effective service delivery.

A key challenge identified is the need to ensure that supply side issues meet the high demand for education generated to sustain and avoid erosion of the gains made through pupil drop out.  This concern is being addressed to a significant extent; the Federal ministry of Education, through the MDG funds (located at the Presidency) is making provision to schools to address the supply issues, particularly providing teaching and learning materials. In addition, state governments are increasing funding to education; however, a lot more still needs to be done.


  • Federal Government of Nigeria 2003. Universal Basic Education Law. Abuja: Federal Government Press
  • FME (2007). Statistics of Education in Nigeria: 1999-2005.
  • FRN (2004). The Compulsory, Free, Universal Basic Education Act 2004 and other related matters. Official Gazette. No 66 Lagos. Vol. 91. 4th August, 2004.
  • Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey -MICS (2007)
  • UNICEF (2007): Situation Assessment and Analysis Report
  • UNICEF (E-2005). SAGEN Study 2 Classroom Interactions in Nigerian Primary Schools.
  • UNICEF 29 Dec 2007) Third Annual Progress Report to the UK DFID
  • UNICEF Dec 2006) Second Annual Progress Report to the UK DFID


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