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Getting and keeping girls in school in Nigeria

© UNICEF Nigeria/2010/Nwosu
Some of the trainee-teachers in the UNICEF-DFID supported scholarship scheme at Sokoto State’s Shehu Shagari College of Education travelled to the airport to meet Dr. Suomi Sakai, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, and Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Reg

Sokoto, Nigeria, 7 July 2010 - When Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, visited Nigeria in June, he met Rahina Husseini, a community mobiliser at the Kundus Primary School in Kundus village in the Rabah Local Government Area of Sokoto State in northwest Nigeria.

Rahina Husseini is 58 years old and one of seven women on Kundus Primary School’s 29-member management committee.

Her passion is to go house-to-house in the village to make sure all the girls are enrolled at school.

She believes that lack of education has denied her a lot of opportunities in life and doesn’t want the same for the younger generation.

Access to basic education for both girls and boys is still very low in Sokoto State. Less than 60% of primary school aged children are enrolled in school.

The 40% gender gap is among the highest in the country
Only about 184,000 of 369,000 girls of primary school age in the State are enrolled; 426,000 of eligible 732,000 boys are registered for school.

Of the girls who manage to complete primary school, just 68% go on to junior secondary.

But in communities with active school-based management committees, enrolment and attendance of both boys and girls are up.

These committees, which are a "best practice" in education development and are now in schools around the world, have members from the entire community, not just parents and teachers: religious and traditional leaders, local government officials, business owners, elders, community organizers—and, of course, parents and teachers.

They work together to make sure that the school in their community is well managed and maintained, has the equipment and supplies it needs—including sanitation—and is providing quality education.

One of their key roles is to do what it takes to get all the girls and boys in the community enrolled in school—and attending regularly. “Lack of education is a big disadvantage to women today,” says Rahina. “I want today’s girls to be different, to have all the benefits of education I never had. I don’t want to see them hawk or marry early.” It is now Nigerian national policy to have school-based management committees in all schools.

Every school in Sokoto State has a committee (there are 1,963 altogether), and the good ones really work: before the Kundus committee started, there was only one girl at the school; now there are 97, alongside 125 boys.

 

© UNICEF Nigeria/2010/Nwosu
The whole of Kundus village turned out to greet the UNICEF team when they came for a tour of the primary school.

And there is a woman teacher as well
One of the reasons for low school attendance among girls in the northern states of Nigeria is the lack of women teachers.

Parents are more comfortable to sending their daughters to schools where there are women teachers on staff, but there are very few of them to go around: of the 68,000 qualified teachers in the north, only 37% are women.

The lady teacher at Kundus Primary School is among the first graduates of the Nigeria Certificate of Education Female Teacher Scholarship Scheme, a project initiated by UNICEF and DFID in partnership with the Sokoto State Government under its Girls’ Education Project. Girls with high-school credits from rural areas are nominated for the scheme by their communities and a government committee selects those who will attend teacher’s college.

The scholars are housed by the college and receive a scholarship to cover their expenses; in return, they do their practice teaching in their communities of origin, and agree to return there to work when they graduate.

Four hundred young women are now involved in the programme in Sokoto State alone.

The women who go to villages like Kundus are a role model for girls, showing them the advantages of staying in school.

But it takes more than motivation for a girl to stay in school: it also takes money.

Rahina is afraid that all the committee’s—and the girls’—efforts will amount to nothing if the girls do not stay in school.

She is happy that ten girls from Kundus village are now at secondary school, but, she says, "I’m afraid that they may drop out due to poverty. This I know: if one drops, the other nine will drop too."

If things continue this way...
But Rahina isn’t prone to despondence: she has novel ideas about how the school-based management committee could be expanded to deliver other social services, even becoming a single community structure that coordinates all levels of interventions.

"I am already doing that. I don’t just talk about girls’ education when I do my house-to-house mobilisation," she says.

"When I enter a house, I talk about sanitation. I talk about health education too."

In a male-dominated society, how is it that men and women now sit in a committee to discuss community issues and take decisions together? Rahina remembers that when the committee first started, it was not easy.

The men discriminated against them but things gradually improved. Everybody is now fully on board; the men respect the women, and when the women give reasonable advice, it is accepted by all.

She believes that if things continue this way, "Kundus will develop and will have a female nurse - and a female school principal."

By Geoffrey Njoku and Paula Fedeski

 

 
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