UNICEF is committed to doing all it can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with governments, civil society, business, academia and the United Nations family – and especially children and young people.
Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school in the world.
By Patrick Moser
The Day of the African Child is celebrated every year on 16 June. The theme for 2014 is 'a child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa'.
In Nigeria, more than 10.5 million children are out of school, according to the most recent data, most of them in the north of the country, and many of them girls. UNICEF is helping persuade parents of the importance of getting children to school and ensuring girls are not left behind.
Nailatu responds to question from her teacher at Gyezmo primary school.
Respected community members like Toro have a major role to play as drivers of change in a region where opposition to formal education, particularly for girls, runs high. As a malam – as Koranic teachers are known in the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria – he has a strong influence with other parents.
Many children in northern Nigeria attend only Koranic schools, where they are taught to memorize and recite the Koran, but not the numeracy, literacy and life skills needed to function effectively in today’s world.
Of the 10.5 million children in the country who are out of school, 60 per cent are in the north, and most of them are girls.
“We still see resistance to sending children, and particularly girls, to school. This is in part due to mistrust of what is considered Western education, but also a low perception of the value of education and the often poor quality of teaching,” says Abdulai Kaikai, who heads the UNICEF field office in Bauchi.
Many parents simply can’t afford to send their children to school.
While Nailatu is learning about anatomy at the Gyezmo Central Primary School in Toro, a young boy leads a herd of cattle on the grassy field outside the classroom.
Nialatu shows her schoolwork to her father, Mallam Kasimu Liman Toro, who runs a Koranic school in Toro.
He says his name is Hamsa and that he is “about nine years old”. But he is too shy to answer other questions. An uncle who accompanies him explains the boy did go to school for a few years but had to quit when his father sent him to tend a relative’s cattle.
“Some of the children can’t come to school because of the needs in the family,” explains Nailatu’s teacher, Lami Samuel. “Some of the families are poor; they cannot cater for their children’s education. So some of those children go to the market to do some kind of petty labour, so that they may obtain some money.”
Access to education
The Girls’ Education Project, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), aims to get 1 million more girls into school by 2020, and at the same time to improve the quality of education. The project also calls for the deployment of more than 10,000 female teachers to rural areas, where the predominance of male teachers deters many parents from sending their girls to school.
The project is also helping traditional Koranic schools incorporate core subjects, such as mathematics, science, English, Hausa and life skills. And an increasing number of parents have taken it upon themselves to ensure as many children as possible have access to education.
Hadiza Ahmadu holds a meeting with the Mothers’ Association. "We want more girls to get education so we can have women doing every type of work,” Ms. Ahmadu says.
Just outside the classrooms at the Gyezmo primary school, a group of women from the local Mothers’ Association sit on woven mats on the ground, discussing their awareness-raising campaign and school attendance.
“When a pupil drops out, we go to the child’s home to talk to the parents. Some don’t have enough money to send the girls back to school,” says Hadiza Ahmadu, who chairs the association. “We use the little money we have to help those girls buy pencils and other materials they need.”
“What motivates us as women is that we find girls are left behind in education. We want more girls to get education so we can have women doing every type of work,” Ms. Ahmadu says. “We have challenges from men, because most men don’t want women to go out to offices and work. We talk to them to make them understand that it is very important for girls to get an education.”
Nailatu, for one, says she is determined to study hard.
“Education is very important, because when I grow up I want to be a doctor,” she says timidly. “I want to help people. I want to help my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters.”