As part of the global goals, the Sustainable Development Goal Four (SDG 4) seeks to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” SDG 4 establishes that equal access to quality education and life-long learning opportunities is a Universal Human Right. Hence, one of its major focal points is to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant effective learning outcomes. This informs that children’s access to inclusive and equitable quality education is sacrosanct and non-negotiable. Education remains the bedrock of development.
Although Education in Nigeria has been at the top of the priority lists of some previous Nigerian governments yet the education system is still far from being ready for the challenges of the new century. For example, while some experts have identified socio-cultural patterns, religious misconceptions, poverty, teenage pregnancy and early marriage as factors militating against girl-child education; UNICEF reported that millions of children are still out of school; just as poor learning environment has hindered the provision of quality education that would allow students to achieve their full potential. Also, there are still a lot of children- of primary school age- experiencing physical and psychological violence both in schools and within the family environment.
Instructively, UNICEF statistics show that girls’ access to basic education in Nigeria, especially in the northern states, has remained low. With only about 20 percent of women in the North West and North-eastern parts of the country being literate and/ or have attended school. In fact, the national literacy rate for females is only 56%, compared to 72% for males, and in certain states the female literacy, enrolment and achievement rates are much lower. For example, girls’ net enrolment in Sokoto, one of the six target states under the UNICEF African Girls’ Education Initiative, is 15%, compared to 59% for boys. In the North and some parts of the South most parents do not send their children, especially girls, to school with the attendant high rate of child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
Boys who are out of school are made to go through child labour which keeps them on the streets instead of school. Some others do not attend school because their labour is needed to either help at home or to bring additional income into the family. For others, the distance to the nearest school is a major hindrance.
In the last few years, especially since the launching of the Universal Basic Education Act, much has been achieved in the reconstruction of dilapidated school buildings and construction of new ones, supply of desks and other needed furniture as well as the provision of toilet facilities.
Nevertheless, there is still more to be done to ensure equitable access to quality education especially in the Northern states of Nigeria. Every Nigerian must always be conscious that education is an important tool to attain development while education of the girl child has a double impact on not only her but also her children and her community. Some other efforts of the Nigerian government, and UNICEF to ensure that this goal is achieved include passing into law the Child Rights Acts, the Universal Basic Education law- which provides for a nine -year free and compulsory basic education to fast-track education interventions at the primary and junior secondary levels. All these are geared towards achieving girl child education.
The government of Nigeria and UNESCO Abuja Regional Office, under the project, ‘Revitalising Adult and Youth Literacy in Nigeria’ are addressing literacy issues across the States with low literacy level. However, this should not be left alone for the Nigerian government and the UN system to handle. Every individual, community, public and private entities need to ensure that both boys and girls are given access to education and more importantly that girls in the Northern part of Nigeria be given more opportunities to be educated. By so doing, Nigeria as well can achieve the target to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant effective learning outcomes. As government provides the right policy and learning environment for inclusive and quality education, parents should also ensure that no child is left out. Every child is entitled to go to school. Do not deprive children of their right to education.
Written by Ms Ifeoluwa Akinola (An intern)