Education is the key to development. Yes, that is a truism. Whether you are a human being or you are an organization or, better still, you are a nation, you must have education if you must develop.

Nigeria: Problem of girl-child education

This is why for every nation that seeks development, education of the citizenry is a serious business. Given this scenario, Nigeria ought to be one of the serious nations that should be at the fore front of the quest to give their citizenry education preparatory to getting them contribute to the development process. Regrettably, however, we have been selective in our provision of education to the people in the sense that while the girl-child is being discriminated against in this regard, the boy-child gets all the attention. But experience has shown that there can be no significant, sustainable transformation of the nation and no significant reduction in poverty until the girl-child receives basic education she needs to take her rightful place as equal partners in development.

Based on this, United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) has advocated investment in girls' education as a way for all children to fulfill their right to a quality basic education. A singular focus on getting girls into school works would bring down the barriers that keep all children out of school. Removing these barriers often involves addressing issues of wider community development, such as water and sanitation and early childhood care. According to UNICEF current statistics, Nigeria is among the West African countries that have highest number of girls that were out of school. "More than 75 per cent of the 3.4 million children out of school are girls, representing a challenge of putting 1.5 million children in school in the next two years. In some parts of the country, more than 10 per cent gap exists between the number of boys and girls in school",UNICEF noted.

Due to this high number of girls out of school, UNICEF has been investigating the cause. This is why executive director of the Fund, Carol Bellamy, since her appointment in 1995 and reappointment to five-year term in 1999, has been struggling to get to the root of the matter through a collective effort of the Fund's research in the areas of “out of school girls in Nigeria”. One may wonder why UNICEF is this concerned about lack of education for the Nigerian girl-child. According to the fund's findings, girls make up the majority of the nearly 120 million children who are out of school. An even greater majority of those who get the opportunity of education do not reach the fifth grade. Girls, more often than boys, are consistently denied opportunities to go to school for an array of reasons including those related to HIV/AIDS, gender discrimination, domestic demands, traditional practices, safety concerns and inappropriate physical and learning environment at school.

Girls need a safe and supportive environment, free from abuse, with separate toilet facilities, safe drinking water, equal attention with boys and a gender sensitive curriculum. The school curriculum also needs to be revisited, to ensure gender and cultural sensitivity and to include life skills, HIV/AIDS education, citizenship and conflict resolution. According to UNICEF records, many states in Nigeria have developed their own Child Friendly School through strategic plans for Universal Basic Education. The Fund has also found out that introduction of Non-Formal Education (NFE), Access and Child Protection in schools will help in accelerating girls' education in Nigeria, pointing out that recognition of NFE is an integral part of education system and a way of main streaming basic education. “Non-formal education, essential to increasing access for out-of-school girls, needs to be accredited as a complementary means of learning. Nomadic and Koranic forms of education require our support, towards building a more effective and comprehensive curriculum. Child protection measures also need to be implemented to prevent the exploitation that all too often keeps children, especially girls, away from school,” UNICEF stated.

The unique and far-reaching benefits of educating the girl-child include the proven fact that educating her is the best investment for societal development. The short and long term benefits to girls are based on the evidence that educated girls develop essential life skills, including self confidence, the ability to participate effectively in society and protect themselves from HIV/AIDS infection, sexual exploitation and pressures for early marriage and childbirth. In its quest to ensure child-to-child sanitation awareness and promotion and make the school more friendly and hygienic, UNICEF has provided a total of 4,972 schools with environmental facilities and empowered about 73 schools with leaning materials.

There is every need for National Sanitation Policy to increase school sanitation and hygiene education as well as create girl-child friendly learning environment and hygienic habits. To ensure participation of all stakeholders. We must encourage girls to be enrolled in schools especially in northern part of the country. Also reaching children at most critical stage of behavior formation to become change agent is every essential, and reduction in low access to environmental sanitation.

However, if the Federal Government, all stakeholders in the private and public sectors and the entire citizenry will join UNICEF in the fight against girl-child discrimination in attaining basic education for the developmental processes of the nation, “Accelerating the Girl-Child Education” will be a fight won and a forgotten issue.

By Chinyere Amalu
4 November 2003