Socio-cultural and economic factors have resulted in a wide disparity in the ratio of boys to girls’ access to education, entrepreneurial and economic opportunities in Nigeria and the statistics for the country’s northern half is even more scaring
By Adam Alqali and Ibrahim Badamasi
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 11 million children in Nigeria are out-of-school and a huge percentage of this figure are girls, majority of whom (60%) are in the country’s northern half, particularly the northwestern and northeastern regions.
A combination of sociocultural and economic factors – at the heart of which are the duo of poverty and ignorance – including early marriages, child labour, hawking, and misinterpretation of religion (Islam) as well as lack of security around schools among others, are responsible for the low enrollment and retention rates for the girl-child in schools across northern Nigeria.
Moreover, accessibility issues which are to do with the location of some schools being far away from rural communities; as well as cultural beliefs that favours the education of male children over that of female children because of the societal perception that educating boys is more valuable than educating girls, have further contributed to the poor statistics of girl-child education in the region.
Lack of access to education by the girl-child translates to low access to employment, entrepreneurial and economic opportunities for girls; according to the United Nations Development Program’s yearly Human Development Report, women who constitute not less than 50% of Nigeria’s population, earned only 42% of what was men’s income in 2002.
Another major factor militating against even in-school-girls’ access to entrepreneurship opportunities is the obsolete nature of the education system in Nigeria, one whose approach was until recently, developmental – and not entrepreneurial. This means whereas school girls acquire literacy and numeracy skills they are lacking in terms of entrepreneurial skills which are critical not only for the continuity of their educational carriers but also overall carrier development.
According to the Nigerian women affairs ministry’s gender statistics for 2006 and 2008, 65% of the 70% of Nigerians living under the poverty line were women and while men constituted 76% of the federal government’s workforce, only 24% and 14% of employees of the country’s federal civil service were women and management positions were occupied by women, respectively.
Thus, the Skills4Girls4Life project is a capacity building program of the development Research and Projects Centre (dRPC) whose major goal is to expand empowerment opportunities for schoolgirls in the northwestern states of Kano and Jigawa, to make them self-reliant. And it is being implemented with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The project’s major objectives are strengthening the commitment and leadership skills of decision makers in the ministries of education in Jigawa and Kano states to position life-skills subjects of the new West African Examination Council (WAEC) curriculum as a central component of a new girls’ education policy thrust emphasizing transferable skills.
Other objectives of the project are to expand the capacity of the states governments’ in-service teacher training agencies to design and deliver training programs for teachers of civics and craft subjects in a cost effective and sustainable manner as well as expand knowledge and learning opportunities by leveraging transferable skills in the new West African Examination Council’s curriculum for empowering girls in northern Nigeria.
Speaking during a recent dRPC consultative workshop on the link between craft education and income generation among secondary school girls held in Kano, Professor Bala Kofar Mata of the Centre for African Entrepreneurship Research and Training, which is partnering dRPC on the project, said over 7 million Nigerian girls were not in school and instead were engaged in street hawking, domestic labour, drug abuse among other social vices which have negative consequences on their future.
“There are girls who are from less-privileged backgrounds and so their parents are unable to support them to forward their education. There is one of such girls who after graduating from secondary school decided to venture into entrepreneurship and is doing very well now. Idleness and unemployment are responsible for many of the social vices our boys and girls engage in, which is why we need to teach them entrepreneurship skills to help them achieve self-reliance,” says Professor Kofar Mata.
He stated that it was fundamental that the society provided economic opportunities to both schoolgirls and boys to pursue entrepreneurship carriers and thus provide them with the chance to contribute to the social and economic growth of the society by creating employment opportunities for others hence the need for collaboration between government agencies, private sector organizations and NGOs to achieve that goal.
Also speaking at the event, Olakunle Sunday Akinsola, director in charge of the northwest region at the National Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) said the introduction of craft education at secondary schools was critical in making school boys and girls self-reliant after graduation.
Binta Nuraini Yusuf is director in charge of child welfare at Kano state’s ministry of women affairs, who represented the state’s commissioner for women affairs at the event. She said the Kano state government had introduced an empowerment program for women and girls including those that have graduated from secondary schools so as to help them startup businesses and become self-reliant.